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international relations

Interruption of Ramadan Might Bring Chaos into the World Order

Ramadan has come to an end. However, peace in the Middle East is yet to be established. During this year’s Ramadan, which started from March 10 to April 9, the holy month in Syria was violently interrupted by an airstrike operation. The embassy of Iran in Syria was destroyed to the ground with the efforts of anonymous international powers. At least, any possibly involved parties never officially confirmed the attack. On April 1st, it was still unknown; however, now that more information is available from diverse sources, it is more likely that the suspicions are confirmed.

In a recent New York Times article on the Iranian embassy bombing and tension in the Middle East rising, four Israeli military officials, who chose to stay anonymous, identified Israeli’s direct involvement in the seven deaths of Iranian military advisors during the strike, including senior officers. This appearance has led to an increase in tensions in the region. The Iranian media, after the New York Times release, stated that the most possible goal of the attack was the death of Zahedi, who is a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He is known for being the one building and strengthening the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and militant group based in Lebanon.

A comprehensive background of the region is necessary to understand the full picture. This was not the first time Syria’s sovereignty was violated. After the October 7 attack last year, Syria was struck by Israel in response, often interpreted by Israeli leaders as a “punishment” for their cooperation with Israel’s “enemies”, which includes Iran and Hezbollah. These attacks included two airport strikes, particularly on Damascus and Aleppo, and an assassination of a general, Razi Mousavi, in the Syrian capital. These events led to many casualties and the deaths of innocent civilians.

This combination of incidents led to Iranian officials issuing a statement that this violence and violation of the security of Iran and all their allies “needs to be punished.” 

After the attack, Iranian commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said that Israeli embassies were no longer safe, which is a direct threat to Israel by Iran. This leads to a direct rise in tension between the two countries and a high risk of conflict escalation in the Middle East region.

As their response to the embassy being burned down by the enemies, Iran did not stop there. Iran’s foreign minister on April 8th accused the United States of giving Israel the “green light” for a strike on their embassy in Syria, as neither of the states tried to stop the attack. This open statement, which was not too unknown to Iranian officials, increased the tension in the region and worldwide. However, denying US influence in this military operation is also impossible. 

Hezbollah, who is seen as the most powerful ally of Iran, also chose not to stay aside and openly stated in the media that “this crime will not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge.”

At the same time, Israel does not seem to question the methods being used in the process of deterrence applied to their immediate neighbors, “the Israelis are convinced that if they seek to hang back, the threat will grow and not diminish,” referred Jon Alterman to the methods.

The Iranian embassy bombing in Syria did not symbolize a new beginning, nor was it out of the blue. The constantly rising tension was once again fueled in the Middle East. 

Now, the world is once again left to wonder what will happen next.

Written by: Sofiia Lobas, Event Intern

Notes:

Image taken by Marek Studzinski

Iran aims to contain fallout in Israel response, will not be hasty, sources say | Reuters. (n.d.-a). https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-aims-contain-fallout-israel-response-wont-be-hasty-sources-say-2024-04-11/

Iran says Israel bombs its embassy in Syria, kills commanders | Reuters. (n.d.-b). https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-bombs-iran-embassy-syria-iranian-commanders-among-dead-2024-04-01/

Maloney, S. (2024, April 18). Iran’s Order of Chaos. Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/iran/irans-order-chaos-suzanne-maloney

Wikimedia Foundation. (2024, April). Israeli bombing of the Iranian embassy in Damascus. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2024_Israeli_bombing_of_the_Iranian_embassy_in_Damascus#:~:text=The%20New%20York%20Times%20reported,discussing%20the%20war%20in%20Gaza.

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Unraveling Alliances: Texas A&M’s Decision and the Future of Qatar’s Educational Diplomacy

Texas A&M ended its 21-year long-term education alliance with Qatar with immediate plans to end operations in Qatar by 2028. This unexpected turn is affecting Qatar’s public education diplomacy as the system board of regents of Texas A&M voted 7-1 in favor of ending its contract.

The university cited various factors that contributed to the withdrawal, including the heightened instability in the Middle East, the core mission of advancing Texas A&M solely in the United States, and the disinformation campaign regarding the Qatar campus potentially having a connection to nuclear reactor research done in Texas or the Los Alamos National Lab. 

The withdrawal of Texas A&M University had a negative impact on Qatar’s Education City, established in 1997. As of February 2024, Qatar hosts prestigious American universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medicine, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, and Northwestern University. These distinguished American Universities have allowed Qatar to successfully carry out education diplomacy campaigns to diversify its economy, attract global talent, address the nation’s developing needs, and promote cultural exchange. 

Texas A&M’s withdrawal paves a way for similar actions by other American universities, creating a domino effect that can ultimately alter the need for Qatar’s Education City and educational diplomacy efforts. 

Professors and students currently teaching or attending Texas A&M Qatar’s campus voiced their opinions and concerns across social media platforms. Khalid Al-Sada, the student government president and a senior majoring in chemical engineering at the Qatar campus, spoke to various media outlets, including the Texas Tribune, stating, “we were all just left wondering what is going to happen to the dreams, the hopes we had, our hopes, what we wanted to achieve with all the different studying and all of that.” 

Texas A&M’s exit could leave Qatar with a negative reputation in education and business. The potential negative reputation will have financial implications in Education City that will affect operational funding, causing Qatar to seek alternative funding sources or adjust its financial structure. Texas A&M’s decision would lead to a decrease in enrollment and the potential discontinuation of research and innovation programs that once filled an educational gap. 

Furthermore, this will prompt Qatar to reconsider its strategy for attracting and maintaining international educational partnerships. The new educational approaches would involve exploring fresh partnerships. However, the withdrawal of American universities can leave a gap, allowing Qatar’s Gulf neighbors and competitors, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Saudi Arabia, to influence higher education significantly. The U.A.E. has already established a New York University (N.Y.U.) Abu Dhabi campus and continues to establish American medical school campuses such as Baylor College of Medicine in Dubai. 

The future of Qatar’s education city and education diplomacy efforts are still being determined, with a trail of pressing questions. If Qatar’s Education City begins to fail due to the withdrawal of universities, will Qatar pivot and focus on its ambitious climate change and sustainability goals? How will Qatar persuade its international peers that it is a stable and safe region to do business after the disinformation campaign? Either way, with the anticipation of Qatar’s responses, the Texas A&M board will continue to implement its plan to withdraw from Qatar by 2028, thus leading to an unraveling of alliances between Qatar and Texas A&M that could negatively impact the diplomatic relationship between Qatar and the United States. 

Samia Rodriguez is a master’s candidate in Northeastern University’s Global Studies and International Relations program. 

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Tackling Terror in the Sahel: Steps to Counter Resurgent Islamist Militancy in the Lake Chad Basin Region

A spate of mass kidnappings this past week shook Nigeria, underscoring the persistent threat of Islamist militant groups operating in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) region and the need for renewed and coordinated responses to counter them. On March 7, armed men wearing military uniforms on motorbikes abducted over 280 children between the ages of seven and 18 from a school in Kuriga, Kaduna State.[1] Then, two days later, bandits abducted 15 children and one woman while they were asleep from Gidan Bakuso, a village in Nigeria’s northwest Sokoto State.[2] Although no group has claimed responsibility for the abductions, local and state officials, as well as regional analysts, suspect that Boko Haram and Ansaru, an offshoot of the former that broke away in January 2012, are to blame.[3] The attacks were preceded by the purported abduction of nearly 200 persons in Ngala, Borno State on March 1, although regional security analyst David Otto, director of the Geneva Center for Africa Security and Strategic Studies, has asserted that the disappearance of these persons is in fact more likely a case of recidivism, as internally displaced persons (IDPs) flee squalid living conditions in government-run IDP camps.[4] These recent events are alarming not only because they demonstrate that regional efforts to combat Boko Haram and Ansaru are failing, but because they also suggest that government efforts to manage the situation are worsening the plight of many Nigerians and driving them into the arms of the insurgency. As such, now is the time to conduct a new appraisal of the instability plaguing the LCB region and to offer fresh insights into how best to counter Islamist militant groups operating in the area.


Rectifying Grievances


Nigerian state officials must undertake scrupulous and dedicated reforms to reduce the appeal of Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups. This means that Nigerian officials must engage in the sustainable development of impoverished regions by improving infrastructure – particularly roadways, water, and sewage – as well as providing more far-reaching access to healthcare and education. Such development is especially needed in areas that Nigerian military forces have recaptured from militants. Officials must also find a way to better manage persons migrating to Nigerian agricultural lands and cities as a result of climate change. Desertification in Chad has driven Chadians into Nigerian agricultural land, creating “sons of the soil” conflicts in which local inhabitants feud with migrants over access to limited water supplies and housing.[5] Such desertification has also driven Fulani pastoralists of northern Nigeria into southern cities, risking a spike in ethnic tensions that have already led to the targeted killings of Fulani in nearby Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana.

[6] These migrants are especially susceptible to being radicalized by Islamist militant groups because of their unstable economic situation. Nigerian officials should also engage in systematic institutional reform to counter rampant corruption and nepotism. Officials must look to improve the Nigerian public’s trust in the government by enhancing transparency and accountability. Creating initiatives that help educated Nigerians find suitable employment is imperative to help stem disillusionment. Additionally, providing training in trades and other technical skill sets will help to alleviate the strain on Nigeria’s economy and augment the workforce with workers whose skills can be used to repair and construct much-needed infrastructure. A further point of consideration lies in improving the conditions of IDP camps. Life in IDP camps is often a little easier than living in areas controlled by militants, and many camp inhabitants suffer from malnutrition.[7]

Consequently, Nigerian officials must take steps to ensure that camp inhabitants have access to adequate food, potable water, and shelter. An additional concern is providing camp inhabitants with access to healthcare, including psychosocial counseling for those who have suffered from sexual violence and other traumatic experiences. Officials must also work to provide job training and education for inhabitants to provide them with a sense of direction and purpose, lest the lack thereof prove an enticement to return to areas controlled by militants.
Finally, Nigerian officials must establish offramps for militants seeking to rejoin society. Many members of Boko Haram and Ansaru are forcibly conscripted when captured by militants during raids. As a result, forced conscripts become trapped in militant groups out of fear that surrendering will result in their execution, a valid concern in light of the regional military force’s frequent human rights violations. The Nigerian National Security Agency has created deradicalization and reeducation programs, but these programs require greater funding and must be more readily publicized to be effective at winning over potential militant
defectors.[8]


Military Reform


In addition to enacting transformative institutional, economic, and social policies, Nigerian officials must also reform the national military and work to convert the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) into a competent counterinsurgency organization. The Nigerian military’s history of human rights violations has eroded Nigerians’ trust in it, and as such, the Nigerian government must work to ensure stricter troop discipline and greater accountability.[9] Enhancing civilian-military relations is a part of this process, and moving the MNJTF’s human rights office out of the military chain of command and transferring it to a civilian authority will likely help to restore trust while improving accountability for crimes committed by military personnel.[10] Regional government and military officials can also work to bolster the MNJTF by resolving certain funding deadlocks. Doing so would enable the MNJTF to provide its troops with more adequate equipment and training, thus raising morale and effectiveness while decreasing the likelihood of defection or human rights abuses. MNJTF headquarters needs to also improve trust among the force’s various Cameroonian, Chadian, Nigerian, and Nigerien national contingents, something that can be accomplished through joint training exercises, further language training, and officer development programs. The MNJTF must also seek to establish a common counterinsurgency doctrine among all national contingents, seeing as each national contingent’s individual school of practice hampers collective force integration and coordination.[11] By aligning national counterinsurgency practice with a coherent organization-wide doctrinal framework, time can be spent preparing MNJTF forces for offensive campaigns rather than teaching preliminary force integration techniques. As a final point of consideration, the MNJTF national contingents should partake in greater intelligence sharing to facilitate joint planning and operations. This will first require building greater trust between governments, but doing so will strengthen interstate relations and improve the effectiveness of counterinsurgency campaigns.

Looking Ahead: The Risk of Inaction


The recent mass abductions in Nigeria attest to the enduring threat that Boko Haram, Ansaru, and other Islamist militant groups pose to the national and regional security of the LCB region. Previous efforts to counteract these groups have been hamstrung by persistent grievances such as corruption and limited economic opportunities, as well as an ineffective counterinsurgency force. Engaging in reforms to reduce the appeal of joining these militant groups will help deprive militants of recruits. In order to ensure security and diminish the risk of further abductions and attacks, however, national and regional military systems need to be better funded to sufficiently equip their forces. They also need to create mechanisms that improve accountability, bolster civil-military relations, and establish a common doctrine in order to become a competent fighting
force. Delaying much-needed reforms not only exacerbates current problems but elevates the risk that Islamist militant groups will come to possess the resources and networks that enable them to conduct more sophisticated and coordinated attacks in concert with one another. While the problems driving regional insecurity will take years to fully address, the aforementioned recommendations are a starting point for waging a comeback against Islamist militant groups wreaking havoc throughout the region.

[1]Angelique Chrisafis, “Search Continues for Hundreds of Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolchildren,”
The Guardian, March 10, 2024, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/mar/10/search-
continues-kidnapped-nigerian-schoolchildre n.

[2] Taiwo Adebayo, “A Decade Since the Chibok Abduction, More Than 1,400 Nigerian Students
Have Been Kidnapped,” Associated Press News, March 9, 2024,
https://apnews.com/article/nigeria-abduction-gunmen-e7d9ba127485e893d80eae1218b702fd.
[3] Mansur Abubakar, “Kuriga Kidnap: More Than 280 Nigerian Pupils Abducted,” BBC, March
9, 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-68504329.
[4] Sarah Carter, “Mass Kidnappings from Nigeria Schools Show ‘The State Does Not Have
Control,’ One Expert Says,” CBS News, March 11, 2024,
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nigeria-kidnapping-schools-state-does-not-have-control-expert/.
[5] Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba, “Population, Climate, and Conflict: New Data Point to Greater
Challenges Ahead,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 29, 2021,
https://www.csis.org/analysis/population-climate-and-conflict-new-data-point-greater-challenges-
ahea d.
[6] James Courtright, “Ethnic Killings by West African Armies Are Undermining Regional
Security,” Foreign Policy, March 7, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/07/mali-burkina-faso-
fulani-ethnic-killings-by-west-african-armies -are-undermining-regional-security/.
[7] Brit McCandless Farmer, “Beyond the Chibok Girls: Inside Nigeria’s IDP Camps,” CBS News,
February 17, 2019, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/beyond-the-chibok-girls-inside-nigerias-idp-
camps-60-minutes/.
[8] Jennifer G. Cooke, “Statement before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee
on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, ‘Boko Haram: The Islamist Insurgency in West
Africa,’” Center for Security and International Studies, February 24, 2016, https://csis-website-
prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/attachments/ts160224_Coo ke.pdf.
[9] Olabanji Akinola, “Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Between Islamic Fundamentalism,

Politics, and Poverty,” African Security 8, no. 1 (2015): 18,
https://doi.org/10.1080/19392206.2015.998539.
[10] International Crisis Group, “What Role for the Multinational Joint Task Force in Fighting
Boko Haram?” Africa Report No. 291, July 7, 2020, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/west-
africa/291-what-role-multinational-joint-task-force-fighting-b oko-haram.
[11] Gershon Adela, “Institutional Counterinsurgency Frameworks in the Lake Chad Basin: The
Case of the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram,” Defense & Security Analysis
39, no. 1 (2023): 102-103, doi:10.1080/14751798.2023.2166520.

Photo courtesy of utenriksdept on Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mason W. Krusch is a master’s candidate in the Global Studies and International Relations
program at Northeastern University (Boston, MA). His research interests include Eurasian
security, unconventional warfare, information warfare, and strategic communication. He holds a
BA in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Why the West Gets Russia Wrong: Historical Impasses to Achieving Peace in Ukraine

Why the West Gets Russia Wrong: Historical Impasses to Achieving Peace in Ukraine

As the Russo-Ukrainian War enters its third year of full-scale kinetic conflict, the majority of Western politicians, media, and defense analysts contend that continued Western military aid to Ukraine is imperative in order to effectively wage a war of attrition against Russia. Much of this analysis of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022 is predicated on a typology of Russian neo-imperial revanchism, and subsequently maintains that Russia, operating from fundamentally nationalist motives, seeks to conquer the portions of former Soviet states where large populations of ethnic Russians reside. While Russia’s February 2022 invasion undoubtedly violates both Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and international law, the commonplace depiction of Russia as endeavoring to overturn the existing world order is misplaced, in that it largely fails to examine the specific historical grievances that frame the Russian perspective. The purpose of this article is not to condone Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which is wholly condemnable – but rather to investigate why the United States and its NATO allies’ framing of the Russian strategic objective suffers from a miscalculation of Russia’s security interests that risks escalating the present conflict rather than diminishing it. 

The first factor that merits consideration is Russia’s claims to eastern Ukraine on the grounds that it has a historical right to them. Setting aside arguments espousing that Ukraine has been a part of Russia since the medieval period in favor of more recent history (where the concept of statehood can be more justifiably applied), one facet that has been largely neglected by most Western analysts is the fact that the Donbas and Crimea were indeed recognized as Russian territory under international law up until 1922 and 1954, when Lenin and Khrushchev, respectively, transferred them from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR). 

These transfers were not seen by Soviet authorities as the granting of sovereignty over these regions to any independent Ukrainian state, seeing as the UkSSR was itself a union state of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in the case of Crimea, the decision to transfer it from the RSFSR to the UkSSR originates in a remarkably mundane manner: the arrangement of funding for a construction project, the Kakhovka Reservoir and North Crimea Canal. Seeing as the construction site sat astride the RSFSR and UkSSR, Gosplan, the Soviet central economic planning committee, advised that Crimea be transferred from the former to the latter in order to simplify the funding process, since it was then standard practice for large infrastructure projects to be funded by only a single union state. Thus the reason for the transfer of a region with a predominantly ethnic Russian population to what, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, became the sovereign state of Ukraine rests on a procedural decision whose considerations were not only principally financial rather than political, but which were also framed in regard to a single site rather than the entire region. 

The second factor worth consideration is the role that NATO expansion has played in stoking existential fears of encirclement in Russia. While European states have every right to accede to NATO, provided that they meet the organization’s provisional requirements and are unanimously accepted, nonetheless, it would have behooved NATO to consider how these decisions would be perceived by Russia. Scholars have rightly observed that the prerequisite spread of democracy to potential NATO member-states threatens Russia’s authoritarian model. Such a situation is in part exemplified by the 2004 Orange Revolution, poignantly described by Ian Traynor, the late esteemed journalist of The Guardian, as “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing.” The leak of the Nuland-Pyatt phone call, in which Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, discussed ways to manage the outcome of the political upheaval that emerged during the 2014 Maidan Revolution further heightened Russia’s concerns that not only was the United States seeking to spread democracy to Russia’s periphery, but that it was also, ostensibly, interfering in Ukrainian politics. Such interference would, so Moscow maintained, violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the United States, Russia, and United Kingdom all agreed to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine. Efforts to foster democracy abroad are commendable, but when they risk being perceived as covert meddling, short-term tactical gains might best be set aside out of consideration of greater strategic objectives, of which avoiding accusations of hypocrisy, whatever the merit of such accusations, ought to be one. 

These events, when coupled with others such as the United States’ earlier withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s signing in 2019 of a constitutional amendment that committed Ukraine to joining NATO, and the establishment of a U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework in 2021 can thus be seen as having progressively exacerbated Moscow’s fears of encirclement. President Zelenskyy’s remarks on February 19, 2022 at the Munich Security Conference that “I hope no one thinks of Ukraine as a convenient and eternal buffer zone between the West and Russia. This will never happen” as well as “Ukraine has received security guarantees for abandoning the world’s third nuclear capability. We don’t have that weapon. We also have no security” certainly did nothing to allay Moscow’s concerns. Indeed, Russia interpreted the latter remark as an insinuation that Ukraine would, provided that it became admitted to NATO, endeavor to obtain nuclear weapons, something that would also violate the Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The idea of Ukraine, especially a Ukraine including the Donbas and Crimea, possessing NATO nuclear weapons was anathema to Moscow. 

For those Western analysts hoping that a war of attrition will lead to a strategic defeat of the Russian armed forces, it would be prudent to keep in mind that, regardless of whatever degradation that the Russian military has incurred over the past two years, the fundamental problems remain unaddressed. Consequently, as the conflict grows increasingly protracted, the risk increases that Russia will resort to further extremism and violence in order to inculcate its point. Conversely, those in the West who worry that Russia will invade Poland or the Baltic states might do well to recognize the great improbability of such campaigns on logistic and economic grounds. Only through totally mobilizing Russian society into a wartime economy could Russia stand to expand its military operations abroad into any NATO state, and Moscow is unlikely to hazard making such a move owing to the substantial risks and instability that such a transformation would entail. 

Unless the West is able to at least acknowledge the Russian perspective, the present conflict only stands to escalate. This does not mean that the West should accept Russia’s narrative or acquiesce to the spread of authoritarianism. What this does suggest, however, is that democracy might be better fostered abroad through patient engagement – even if it requires uncomfortable short-term compromises – rather than through more overt contestation. As such, considering a negotiated settlement that allows Russia to continue to possess Crimea and parts of the Donbas might, however unpalatable such a proposition may appear, be the only course that spares Ukraine protracted bloodshed and further destruction: if achieving a strategic military defeat of the Russian armed forces comes at the cost of transforming eastern Ukraine into a wrecked crucible, than the West must consider whether the minimization of noncombatant casualties is truly the priority that it so espouses this principle to be. 

After all the destruction that the Russian armed forces have wrought upon Ukraine, engaging with Russia to find an offramp no doubt appears as a most distasteful course of action. Once again, however, such engagement with Russia should not be viewed as an acquiescence or acknowledgement of defeat. Rather, it should be seen as a pragmatic and realistically achievable course of action that can actually deescalate the conflict without humiliating Russia. Western advocates for achieving a strategic military defeat of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine as essential to deterring alleged Russian neo-imperialism would be wise to recall the effects that such humiliation had on Germany following World War I. Those Western advocates who see any form of negotiated settlement as catering to authoritarian domination might very well then be setting the stage for a much worse conflict with Russia in the future. Ending the war in Ukraine might involve the negotiation of an imperfect peace, but such a result is far preferable to a perfect world war. 

Written by: Mason W. Krusch, a master’s candidate in Northeastern University’s Global Studies and International Relations program. 

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Why ETA Remains a Constant Threat

Basque separatist group, the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Liberty or ETA), remains an ever-present shadow in Spain despite disbanding in 2018, infiltrating public life and discourse. While the present threat of bombings and assassinations are nil, the peril ETA poses remains a vexing issue that should not be ignored. That danger that it brings to the country today is one of factionalism, and the exploitation of wounds that can be expanded and left gaping if this persistent air of tension is left to fester. Continued use of ETA as political tools by those seeking to win votes will run the risk of exacerbating the fragile social fabric that Spain has attempted to strengthen when it returned to democracy in 1975. Those who believe that ETA’s threat has passed are sorely mistaken, as ignorance of the problem does not lessen the reality.

ETA supporters’ zeal towards an independent Basque Country has not dimmed, despite their operations grinding to a halt. In the past 25 years, the process of what Ubasart-Gonzalez called “social delegitimation,” left ETA with less power, influence, and social acceptability than what it previously enjoyed. Nowadays, Spaniards who sympathized with ETA’s mission no longer tolerate deviations from the norm of peace and support good faith efforts toward settling differences through reconciliation. The experiences of the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the targeting and assassination of Partido Popular politician Miguel Angel Blanco in 1997, solidified Spaniards’ aversion to violence in promoting political and social aims. Despite some autonomy granted to Spain’s regional governments and the recognition of the plurality of its character as a nation, there are consistent calls in the Basque Country for not only additional reforms, but complete separation from the Spanish state.

Politicians and those that use these divisions for selfish objectives do nothing but sow chaos and contribute to ETA’s complicated legacy. Both of the political right and left cannot absolve themselves of the continued utility of invoking ETA, be it the right’s usage of the slogan, “Que te vote Txapote, or “Let Txapote vote for you,” or the left’s reliance upon EH Bildu (Euskal Herria Bildu, a pro-independence, leftist alliance of Basque nationalists) to pass legislation in parliament. An egregious gesture was EH Bildu’s inclusion of several convicted criminals, some formerly affiliated with ETA, in their electoral lists for recent general elections held in July 2023. These actions are not just political ploys to win elections, as if they were divorced from the contextual landscape they inhabit. They are a recognition of the power of ETA’s memory and the continued fracture of Spain’s seams. While further violence may not be a realistic outcome, these deeds do nothing in moving the  needle forward to actual healing for the general public and the victims in particular. 

What steps can the government take to reverse this division? One is a revamping of civics education within all schools. Civics education must include an appreciation and accurate representation of the peoples in Spain that includes their languages, customs, and traditions. With the emergence of national far-right parties like Vox, the argument against these programs has been reduced to defending Spanish unity and nationhood, as if the country was monolithic, devoid of diversity. Although one could argue these voices are necessary to combat a growing secession movement in Catalonia and the Basque Country, this is an opportunity to change how students learn about their fellow citizens, so they are not demonized. Regional languages can be taught alongside Spanish in places where it is not predominantly spoken and field trips should be organized so students have first-hand experiences with the people and practices of a region. It is difficult to hate and separate yourselves from someone or something you do not have close knowledge of.

Lastly, the central government must enhance their cooperation with regional governments in areas of agreement according to each other’s priorities. The conversation of increased autonomy in domains like fiscal issues will inevitably be contentious, but are necessary to avoid continued breakdown in collaboration. While the central government recognizes the plurality of the country and does not inhibit the use of regional languages nor their instruction in schools, there is a constant fear of edicts being imposed from Madrid. The quickest way for ETA sympathizers to rekindle any relevance would be the central government inciting voices of those who seek to eliminate the diversity of Spain’s identity. Continued cooperation amongst all is the only way that the threat of an ever-present conflict worsening can be avoided. 

References:

Ubasart-González, G. (2019). ETA and state action: the development of Spanish antiterrorism. Crime, law and social change72(5), 569-586.

Stephen Santos is a MS candidate in the Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University. 

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Brazil Succumbs to the Aggressions of Climate Change & Weakened Environmental Protections

Fires consuming environmentally protected land in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil on Aug. 24, 2021.

Photo from Bloomberg/Jonne Roriz (photographer)

How this complex biodiverse country in South America is handling climate change’s effects on its human population and wildlife.

From the equator and down south to the tropic of Capricorn, Brazil is notable for its diverse and natural physical geography that it offers to the world from its dense wildlife population in the Amazon rainforest, outstretched wetlands of Pantanal, low pampas grasslands of Rio Grande do Sul, long coastal plains and more. 

Within its various terrains, Brazil inhabits approximately 215.3 million people according to the World Bank and at least 103,870 animal species and 43,020 plant species as cataloged in the Convention on Biological Diversity

These numbers are pivotal when taking into account the aggressions of climate change in cultural, economic, and political relations.

How climate change affects the Brazilian workers and its economy

In order for Brazil to reduce its societal vulnerability in a time of extreme climate change, it is imperative to gain a baseline understanding of how ecosystem-based alternatives and adaptations play a key role for its agricultural and aquacultural sectors and the Brazilian people that see it through.

Brazil currently supplies 34% of the world’s soybeans, with agriculture driving 4.3% in its annual GDP, in the state of Mato Grosso which comprises both grass and woodlands. Additionally, both soy and corn are products that generate up to 88% of the country’s grain population, much of which is dependent on natural rainfall and steady temperatures. So much so, that these precipitation-based crops can offset agricultural calendars forcing farmers to adapt and regulate and implement crop rotations in addition to relying on government subsidies and action.

According to the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, rising temperatures with unpredictable rainfall that perpetuate soil degradation can only encourage farmers and the Brazilian government to the current literature on collected data, educating communities, and expose them to future studies in better understanding the varying trends of climate change.

In a discussion hosted by Soberania & Clima, an organization that promotes the interdependence of security and environment in Brazil and globally, the loss of aquatic ecosystems are also vulnerable as Brazil’s surface sea temperatures increase as the ocean’s levels of acidity are sensitive to loss of marine and coastal ecosystems perpetuated by climate change. 

Brazil’s fish and aquaculture is a billion dollar industry that generates both job opportunities for roughly 3.5 million people that are directly and indirectly involved according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This also prompts climate change’s effects on high carbon pathway levels (energy derived from coal, fossil, oil or natural gas) that can affect the fishing industry in the country’s distribution to the people and global consumer markets with trade flows and pricing.

How climate change affects the Brazilian people and politics, along with its relation to neighboring countries

At this moment, more than 29.4% of Brazil’s population lives in poverty due to the complex nature of its politics ranging from lack of government intervention like inadequate social assistance to unequal land distribution. But those considered the urban poor or living in unsuitable and informal settlements, are most vulnerable to climate change. 

Food security is susceptible to falling short for the Brazilian people. Crop yields may decrease if the vulnerability of the country’s unique biomes aren’t met without the government spearheading the lead with its farming sectors.

Prolonged drought and dry conditions adds onto the struggles of poverty, notably in the central and southern regions of Brazil. With the rising trends of water scarcity and above-average temperatures, it can offset an increase in fire activity in susceptible regions such as Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon rainforest. This limits the access to securing basic needs such as food and water and sanitation. The deficit extends itself to neighbors such as northern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Patagonia.

Traditionally, agricultural farmers cut down and set fire to areas of the forest as a practice to make room for cattle and encourage new room for crop growth. Historically, rainforests remain moist throughout the year to resist fires. However, the topography of the Andes high mountains and natural glaciers are affected by Amazonian fires and its carbon emissions.

Due to Brazil’s weakened environmental protections to promote more deforestation to encourage industrialization, overcrowding populations, coupled with drier vegetation, aggressive fires that are unable to be contained offset glacial retreat from the Andes due to the warming. This then affects the Amazon River where its water is derived from the Peruvian Andes and results in large floods, inflicting irreversible damage to native cassava and rubber trees.

Coastally, with rising sea levels affecting urban infrastructure and shorelines, it is predicted that the current 60% of Brazil’s population that lives in those target areas are at risk of experiencing severe flooding by 2050. This may displace habitants living in those areas or decrease habitable space with the intensity of floods.

Moving forward

For Brazil to sustain its prominence in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is essential for its government to acknowledge the serious repercussions in the hand that climate change plays.  

It is pivotal for the Brazilian government and its economy to not only safeguard its food and agricultural systems, but also account for low-carbon pathways during climate change to ensure protective and preventive measures for the Brazilian people and its surrounding environment and economy.

Written by Anna Tran, WACOC Community Intern

References:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-021-03223-9
https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/jrc-news-and-updates/drought-conditions-threaten-economy-and-ecosystems-south-america-2023-05-22_en#:~:text=Precipitation%20deficits%2C%20above%2Daverage%20temperatures,and%20southern%20Brazil%20the%20hardest.
https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4433/13/12/2018
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0854-6
https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000265810
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13762-022-04730-7

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Voices in a Crowd: How People and Organizations can Change Ethiopia

Civil War. A word that has plagued human history, and Ethiopia is no exception. The Tigray War has shown that it is easier to divide a group of people than to bring them together and create a sense of community. Violence and political strife are the last steps that a population takes when they feel their voices are not being heard and are desperately trying to find a solution for their misery. The conflict in Ethiopia is a result of deeply rooted historical issues that the nation has repeatedly failed to remedy. Political strife, ethnic tension, and a lack of national identity dominate political, economic, and social life throughout Ethiopia. Instead of seeing the issue as a means to an end, the population has chosen to firmly establish the ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy, making it almost impossible to change the reality of the nation. The inability of the nation to fix their ills poses a threat to the people within the country, the horn of Africa, and the United States.

The internal health of the nation will determine the direction that Northern Africa will take for the rest of the 21st century. As the second largest population in Africa, Ethiopia plays an influential role; how the federal government conducts itself at home and abroad will set the stage for other African nations to follow. If Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cannot manage to unite his own people and persuade people of different backgrounds to cooperate, how will he be able to conduct himself on the international stage? The Prime Minister inherited a problem that has been festering for decades but he has failed to utilize his political power to ignite change. Words of division, discriminatory police raids, and violence have deepened an invisible wound. However, change is possible and the people of Ethiopia have begun to take the necessary steps to secure a new future for the nation.

The complex history of the nation creates barriers that impact all sectors of life and impedes unification. Religious and ethnic intolerance is a brewing ground for economic and social inequities. The community that has the upper hand will depend on who is currently in power. Right now, Prime Minister Abiy and the Oromo people dictate what laws are implemented and how resources are distributed throughout the land. The current regime does not give room for different schools of thought and creates tension when someone speaks up about inhumane and unjust practices. However, there are people and organizations that have been putting in active effort to change the status quo and bring Ethiopia into a period of growth and peace.

Certain stakeholders have the ability to work a divided population and instill words of hope where hate and separation have been commonplace in a society. Voices matter in a Civil War. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of organized key players to start enacting change. An experienced stakeholder or organization can help broken communities see that they have more in common with their neighbors than history has led them to believe in the past. They can help break down the invisible barriers that have caused violence and hatred for decades. With key players, religious and political strife can be reduced and the seeds of a potential national identity can be planted.

Furthermore, certain voices create an echo chamber and help spread information and conversations that are instrumental in a peace process. The various cultural and religious individuals have allowed for a diverse pool of ideas that, if utilized appropriately, can be the missing key to help the nation secure political, social, and economic stability. Economists like President Solomon from the Ethiopian Geothermal Association and Dr. Won Kidane are experts in their field. They can help the nation become an economic powerhouse with the proper support. In the ethnic sector, the Ethiopian Community Mutual Assistance Association is an example of an organization that has facilitated dialogue and peacebuilding among different ethnic groups. Through grassroots initiatives, community engagement, and cultural exchange programs, the organizers have been able to make small steps toward peace. Lastly, social media influencers can grab the attention of a younger audience that may be dispersed throughout the world. Influencers like Jawar Mohammed have used their platforms to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, especially of the Oromo people. Mohammed’s charismatic demeanor enabled him to unify communities and start necessary discussions to generate a sense of togetherness. On the other hand, Samarawit Silva is a political activist that resides in the U.S. and actively protests the streets to show the dire humanitarian crisis that has destroyed her family and community. Through public protests, public demonstrations, and community organization, she can bring together the diaspora community throughout the U.S. to show Congress that effective action is needed in Ethiopia and that the U.S. needs to help people whose rights are being deprived. Each voice, even if small and insignificant, plays a role in minimizing the load of a conflict-ridden environment.

Change is a series of trial and error, and Ethiopia is beginning a long road where each sector of politics and life must be checked and altered. The end goal for Ethiopia should be establishing democracy and democratic systems where people and political parties will eventually learn to work together cohesively. However, specific steps need to be achieved before peace, stability, and prosperity can be entrenched in the nation. To remedy the three ills (political strife, ethnic tension, and lack of national identity) that have dominated the country for decades, the Ethiopian government must implement the above suggestions and commit to ending violence and oppression. The government has to learn to use the resources available to them and the voices that have played a part in the peace process, such as Dr. Won Kidane, to create hope and change the makeup of the land. The people of Ethiopia are feeling depleted and uninspired. A campaign that fosters interfaith dialogue and builds a sense of community to create a spark of optimism will help the state turn a leaf. Peace is possible, and the people of Ethiopia deserve to live a life where they are not judged for their culture or religious belief. Reinventing a nation is not an easy process, but the tiring work is necessary to correct the errors in human behavior that have allowed transgressions to occur. Currently, Ethiopia is playing a dangerous game of Jenga, and whether the tower can withstand the test of time will depend solely on the people’s will to pave a new path of peace.

Ana Beatriz Loureiro De Alencar is a M.S. candidate in Northeastern University’s Global Studies & International Relations program.

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China and Japan: A Return to a Rocky Relationship of the Past?

On Thursday, August 24, 2023 at 1:30 Japan officially began its plan to release treated radioactive waste water from the Fukushima Disaster into the ocean. This event was the culmination of planning and research since 2019 by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Association in cooperation with Japanese scientists, researchers, and government officials to find a way to move this treated wastewater, as the massive tanks holding much of this radioactive water have lost most of their capacity to continue doing so.

Though some experts have commented that the amount of radiation that will be released into the ocean will be minimal with “negligible effects” on people and marine life, China has been quick to condemn Japan in its efforts to release this treated wastewater, labeling Japan’s action as an “extremely selfish and irresponsible act that disregards the international public interest.” Furthermore, the same Thursday that Japan started to release its wastewater, China’s customs agency issued a ban on any aquatic products, namely seafood, being imported from at least 10 of Japan’s prefectures. 

With such quick and unrelenting measures being taken by the Chinese government, concerns from Chinese citizens have also begun to rise, as many have taken to Chinese social media platforms, like Weibo, to express their concerns. Both on and off-line, criticism towards the Japanese government and citizens has slowly increased, as calls for boycotting other Japanese products have grown. Though less common, other acts ensuing out of anger have emerged, such as a reported incident of stones being thrown in a Japanese school in China, though no students were harmed. Within Japan, both governmental and non-governmental entities have been receiving harassment from phone calls by many angered at this wastewater release plan. This has prompted the Japanese foreign ministry to urge China to protect the rights of Japanese citizens in Mainland China at all costs.

As the relationship between the two countries has begun to strain, the question of legitimacy on China’s part has risen: is it fair for China to make the argument that Japan is out of line, while also contributing to the deterioration of the environment? After all, China’s own Fuqing nuclear plant was reported to have released radioactive waste in liquid form in 2020.

Thus, uncertainty has sparked over the past few days as some have started to doubt whether or not this is actually an issue of concern for the oceans and environment. China and Japan’s rocky history could partly explain China’s actions. In 2012, Japan nationalized a group of islands in the East China Sea, which were claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing. This event provoked protests all across China, as many cried for boycotts of Japanese goods in China, with eventually some of these protests turning violent, harming Japanese businesses and generating overall anti-Japanese sentiment. With this history, and previous tensions predating 2012, China’s ban could very well mean that the issue at hand is just another way for China to find a way to exert power over Japan. 

In its current state, Japan is focusing on trying to use diplomatic means to get China to overturn its ban. With officials such as Japan’s prime minister urging the Chinese government to change their policy, and other figures such as mayors trying to find ways to keep their seafood sectors sailing smoothly with the absence of a Chinese export market, Japan has yet to give up. Yet, with China’s track record, it seems that they are also reluctant to give up, and will continue in supporting their ban. It is imperative that both countries find a way to meet in the middle; if both continue on the current route, the chances for escalation in tensions is very likely, and a return to the relationship they had in 2012 can materialize faster than imagined. 

Written by Special Projects Intern, Noor Razmdideh

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Curative Lessons from Three Global Neighbors

As a leading country of Africa, Ethiopia plays a key role in stabilizing East Africa, supporting the African Union, and acting as a pan-African voice to the world. Recent violence in the country took many by surprise, but inter-ethnic rivalries and conflict brewing for decades put Ethiopia on a path to violence of the last three years. However, Ethiopia is not alone when it comes to facing the task of managing deadly political violence, rampant ethno-religious conflicts, and other nationwide social pitfalls. Many other countries such as Colombia, Ghana, and Indonesia, while not perfect, have displayed transformative state behavior that could provide beneficial lessons for building a more violence-resistant Ethiopia. Considering the unabating violence that persists in Ethiopia today, the following examples are potentially curative lessons, including the formation of Colombia’s new Constitution in 1991, Ghana’s structured commitment to peacekeeping efforts, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement.

LESSON 1:

Ethiopia can learn from Colombia’s 1991 constitution formation which established equitable political institutions, processes, and policies. Prior to the new constitution, Colombia experienced widespread violence, including the assassination of three presidential candidates and a prolonged state of siege. The demand for comprehensive reform led to the replacement of Latin America’s oldest constitution, drafted by diverse parties, including leaders, pastors, and even anti-government guerrilla groups. The new constitution acknowledged Colombia’s pluralism by allowing new parties and implementing a fair voting system, ensuring equal opportunities for smaller parties. It also established checks and balances on presidential power and implemented measures to combat corruption among Congress members. Ethiopia shares similarities with Colombia, including multilingual and multiethnic populations, historical complexities, and periods of conflict over central governance. Ethiopia can look to emulate Colombia’s approach by establishing a constitutional convention of its own and formally introducing a legal framework that mandates equity and peace.

LESSON 2:

Ethiopia can look to Ghana’s successful peacekeeping efforts and institutions. Despite post-colonial challenges and domestic instability, Ghana has become a model African nation committed to peace and stability. Institutions like the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) reflect Ghana’s dedication to providing education and training on peacekeeping globally. Ethiopia could benefit by adopting a similar program to the KAIPTC, which has transformed Ghana’s military into a respected and disciplined organization. The KAIPTC collaborates with numerous countries and the United Nations to educate future peace professionals and contribute to global peacekeeping missions. While challenges remain, such as youth unemployment and security threats, Ghana takes timely measures to address them, including signing agreements and launching strategies. Ethiopia should consider the advantages of proactive conflict prevention rather than allowing grievances to persist.

LESSON 3:

Finally, Ethiopia can look east to an important lesson from the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Indonesia’s government and the Free Aceh Movement, officially agreed upon on August 15, 2005. After nearly three decades of fighting, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) or the Islamist Free Aceh Movement, failed to achieve its objective of separating Aceh from Indonesia, prompting them to enter negotiations following a series of devastating tsunamis and earthquakes. 

Ethiopia has much to study from this ceasefire. First, the rebels surrendered hundreds of weapons to independent international monitors over the course of four stages. Second, the Government of Indonesia withdrew a significant number of its own troops and police officers, established a court of justice, granted amnesty to imprisoned GAM members, and ensured 70% of Aceh’s valuable resources remained in the province. Third, both parties engaged in negotiations facilitated by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Last, the MOU included reforms to allow Aceh parties to participate in nationwide politics. The government of Ethiopia, the African Union, and other independent monitors should aim to establish a similar MOU with specific provisions for Ethiopia to adhere to moving forward. 

Looking Forward

The delicate peace in Ethiopia provides a window of opportunity for the Ethiopian Government and international community to identify practical ways to reduce the divide between the various factions in the country. Welcoming outside advisors and assistance from the United Nations and African Union, as well as experts from the three example countries, to adapt the lessons learned to meet the needs of Ethiopia could finally help to resolve long-standing grievances, build a national identity, and restore Ethiopia’s position as a leading African nation.

Written by: Diana Woo, Master’s Candidate 23′ for Global Studies & International Relations at Northeastern University

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Fentanyl: The New Chapter of Addiction

Fentanyl is causing massive destruction to communities all across the United States. 

107,000 Americans overdosed last year and two-thirds of that figure are overdoses estimated to be caused by fentanyl. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is unique in its ability to cause overdoses, as just 2 mg of fentanyl is enough to cause an overdose, roughly the same as a shake of salt. 


Fentanyl, which was originally developed in Belgium in the 1960’s as an opioid to relieve chronic pain has now become a nationwide crisis. Many experts in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are arguing that while fentanyl has rapidly become one of the most lethal illicit drugs to enter the US market, it shows a greater pattern of substance addiction and abuse. It is estimated that 140,000 Americans lose their lives every year to alcohol every year. These experts argue that the fentanyl crisis is just the most recent drug of choice in America’s battle against addiction. 

In the 1990’s, the dangerous drug OxyContin, an opioid like fentanyl, rose to national attention for its addictive traits. With users of OxyContin and other opioids using it to treat chronic pain, along with other individuals predisposed to addiction being prescribed these opioids, it quickly became a nationwide crisis. In the late 90’s, the US government made a conscious effort to prescribe less opioids to its citizens in an attempt to lessen OxyContin’s impact, however without treating the millions of Americans with substance abuse disorders or addiction these individuals found other sources to ease their pain.
 

With the decline of prescription opioids we begin to see the rise of fentanyl as well as heroin use increase in the United States. Fentanyl, due to its incredibly high potency as well as its chemical makeup, is incredibly affordable and, unfortunately for US border security, easy to traffic.

The recent fentanyl crisis is creating lasting impacts on both the United States’ relations with Mexico, the US’ largest trading partner, as well as China, which many view as the US’ largest rival. Historically, China banned the production of fentanyl along with the United States around 2017, however it is unclear if the exporting of precursor chemicals,  the chemical materials required for the production of fentanyl, stopped as well. While Mexican and Chinese officials have both denied the production of fentanyl or the shipping of precursor chemicals, many US politicians believe to stop the flow of fentanyl into the US, we need stronger border security, others advocate for more aggressive domestic policies. One Mexican cartel in particular, invested in the production and shipment of fentanyl into the United States. The Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most organized cartels, has been caught several times at US border crossings bringing fentanyl tablets. It is also important to note that not just Americans are losing their lives to fentanyl, overdose deaths in Mexico have increased due to the popularity of the drug in the United States as well. 

It is clear that there is not one simple solution to the current fentanyl crisis, as it has connections to a wider addiction and substance abuse issue within the United States. Domestically, politicians need to support resources for those who struggle with addiction, in all of its forms. Internationally the United States needs to continue to bolster strong relations with Mexico in order to protect lives on both sides of the border. 

If you or someone you know is struggling from addiction,, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Written by: Administrative Intern Charles Larkin

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