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More than 5,000 child soldiers released in 2017, but tens of thousands still being used in conflict

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“Children can only be freed from armed groups and forces through a comprehensive reintegration process, including medical and psycho-social support, as well as educational programmes and trainings,” the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, said Monday, on the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

“Without a strong political and financial commitment to the reintegration process, re-recruitment is unfortunately likely to happen in many conflict situations,” Ms. Gamba added.

Despite progress, boys and girls continue to be recruited, kidnapped, forced to fight or work for military groups or armed forces. The recruitment and use of children happened in all 20 country situations covered by the mandate entrusted to Ms. Gambia and her office.

Sixty-one parties to conflict out of 63 are listed for this grave violation in the 2016 Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the issue, making it by far the most widely-spread violation.

“It is our responsibility to show these children that there is hope outside of conflicts, that they can live in peace and security and be allowed to live their dreams,” Ms. Gamba, reminded.

The International Day was initiated in 2002 when the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict entered into force on February 12, 2002. This protocol, which sets the minimum age for recruitment into armed forces in conflict at 18, has been ratified by 167 States.

Is the international approach fit-for-purpose?

Meanwhile, the United Nations University (UNU) has been collaborating with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Luxembourg and Switzerland, to examine whether the international community’s approach to this scourge is effective, or requires adjustments.

The goal is to use the empirical findings of the research to inform programmatic guidance for actors in the field and to effectively disengage children from armed groups.

In their report, titled Cradled by Conflict: Child Involvement with Armed Groups in Contemporary Conflict, researchers suggest that most children do not so much “opt” into conflict as “grow” into it.

According to the report, conflict structures the information they see and the choices they make. It pulls and pushes them in many directions. Conflict erodes their relationships. It exacerbates their needs and exposes them to untold risks. Conflict shapes their identity and heightens their need to find meaning in their lives.

Ultimately, the forces of conflict narrow the paths available to children, and tragically, for many, lead to exploitation, violence, and trauma.

These findings undermine the conventional wisdom that “violent extremism” or ideology is predominantly responsible for driving children into armed groups.

The report proposes five principles for more effective international efforts to prevent and respond to child recruitment and use by armed groups: avoid programmes focused primarily on ideological factors; only incorporate ideological components where individually necessary and where they can be embedded into larger, holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children; ensure all interventions are empirically based; rigorously assess interventions over the long term; and engage children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners.

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The Green Deal Industrial Plan: putting Europe’s net-zero industry in the lead

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Commission presents a Green Deal Industrial Plan to enhance the competitiveness of Europe’s net-zero industry and support the fast transition to climate neutrality. The Plan aims to provide a more supportive environment for the scaling up of the EU’s manufacturing capacity for the net-zero technologies and products required to meet Europe’s ambitious climate targets.

The Plan builds on previous initiatives and relies on the strengths of the EU Single Market, complementing ongoing efforts under the European Green Deal and REPowerEU. It is based on four pillars: a predictable and simplified regulatory environment, speeding up access to finance, enhancing skills, and open trade for resilient supply chains.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We have a once in a generation opportunity to show the way with speed, ambition and a sense of purpose to secure the EU’s industrial lead in the fast-growing net-zero technology sector. Europe is determined to lead the clean tech revolution. For our companies and people, it means turning skills into quality jobs and innovation into mass production, thanks to a simpler and faster framework. Better access to finance will allow our key clean tech industries to scale up quickly.”

A predictable and simplified regulatory environment

The first pillar of the plan is about a simpler regulatory framework.

The Commission will propose a Net-Zero Industry Act to identify goals for net-zero industrial capacity and provide a regulatory framework suited for its quick deployment, ensuring simplified and fast-track permitting, promoting European strategic projects, and developing standards to support the scale-up of technologies across the Single Market.

The framework will be complemented by the Critical Raw Materials Act, to ensure sufficient access to those materials, like rare earths, that are vital for manufacturing key technologies, and the reform of the electricity market design, to make consumers benefit from the lower costs of renewables.

Faster access to funding

The second pillar of the plan will speed up investment and financing for clean tech production in Europe. Public financing, in conjunction with further progress on the European Capital Markets Union, can unlock the huge amounts of private financing required for the green transition. Under competition policy, the Commission aims to guarantee a level playing field within the Single Market while making it easier for the Member States to grant necessary aid to fast-track the green transition. To that end, in order to speed up and simplify aid granting, the Commission will consult Member States on an amended Temporary State aid Crisis and Transition Framework and it will revise the General Block Exemption Regulation in light of the Green Deal, increasing notification thresholds for support for green investments. Among others, this will contribute to further streamline and simplify the approval of IPCEI-related projects.

The Commission will also facilitate the use of existing EU funds for financing clean tech innovation, manufacturing and deployment. The Commission is also exploring avenues to achieve greater common financing at EU level to support investments in manufacturing of net-zero technologies, based on an ongoing investment needs assessment. The Commission will work with Member States in the short term, with a focus on REPowerEU, InvestEU and the Innovation Fund, on a bridging solution to provide fast and targeted support. For the mid-term, the Commission intends to give a structural answer to the investment needs, by proposing a European Sovereignty Fund in the context of the review of the Multi-annual financial framework before summer 2023.

To help Member States’ access the REPowerEU funds, the Commission has today adopted new guidance on recovery and resilience plans, explaining the process of modifying existing plans and the modalities for preparing REPowerEU chapters.

Enhancing skills

As between 35% and 40% of all jobs could be affected by the green transition, developing the skills needed for well-paid quality jobs will be a priority for the European Year of Skills, and the third pillar of the plan will focus on it.

To develop the skills for a people centred green transition the Commission will propose to establish Net-Zero Industry Academies to roll out up-skilling and re-skilling programmes in strategic industries. It will also consider how to combine a ‘Skills-first’ approach, recognising actual skills, with existing approaches based on qualifications, and how to facilitate access of third country nationals to EU labour markets in priority sectors, as well as measures to foster and align public and private funding for skills development.

Open trade for resilient supply chains

The fourth pillar will be about global cooperation and making trade work for the green transition, under the principles of fair competition and open trade, building on the engagements with the EU’s partners and the work of the World Trade Organization. To that end, the Commission will continue to develop the EU’s network of Free Trade Agreements and other forms of cooperation with partners to support the green transition. It will also explore the creation of a Critical Raw Materials Club, to bring together raw material ‘consumers’ and resource-rich countries to ensure global security of supply through a competitive and diversified industrial base, and of Clean Tech/Net-Zero Industrial Partnerships.  

The Commission will also protect the Single Market from unfair trade in the clean tech sector and will use its instruments to ensure that foreign subsidies do not distort competition in the Single Market, also in the clean-tech sector.

Background

The European Green Deal, presented by the Commission on 11 December 2019, sets the goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Climate Law enshrines in binding legislation the EU’s commitment to climate neutrality and the intermediate target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

In the transition to a net-zero economy, Europe’s competitiveness will strongly rely on its capacity to develop and manufacture the clean technologies that make this transition possible.

The European Green Deal Industrial Plan was announced by President von der Leyen in her speech at to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2023 as the initiative for the EU to sharpen its competitive edge through clean-tech investment and continue leading on the path to climate neutrality. It responds to the invitation by the European Council for the Commission to make proposals by the end of January 2023 to mobilise all relevant national and EU tools and improve framework conditions for investment, with a view to ensuring EU’s resilience and competitiveness.

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Russia restored Syrian air base for joint use

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Jarrah Base, Syria (Photo Credit: TASS)

Russia and Syria have restored the ‘Al-Jarrah’ military air base in Syria’s north to be jointly used, Russia’s Defence Ministry said.

“Russian and Syrian military personnel restored the destroyed al-Jarrah airfield,” the ministry said on the Telegram messaging. “The joint basing of aviation of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force at the al-Jarrah airfield makes it possible to cover the state border.”

The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State fighters in 2017.

Russia has been a dominant military force in Syria since launching air strikes and ground operations there in 2015. It further asserted its presence after the United States pulled out its forces in 2019.

The conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers, has entered into a second decade, although fighting is at a lower intensity than in earlier years, writes ‘The National’ from Abu Dhabi, UAE.

With backing from Russia and Iran, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government has recovered most of its territory.

Turkish-backed opposition fighters still control a pocket in the north-west, and Kurdish fighters backed by the US also control territory near the Turkish border.

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NATO tanks for Ukraine provoke contradictions in the alliance

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After a drawn-out back and forth between Ukraine, the U.S. and European NATO countries, the first deliveries of Western-made tanks for the Ukrainian military have been announced, informs MSN.

According to CNN, Germany reportedly did not want to take the step of delivering the tanks without their U.S. partners also doing so despite the UK having pledged 11 Challenger-2 tanks previously. Since then, the U.S. has announced to deliver one battalion, or 31 Abrams tanks. Germany has said it will part with 14. Poland, the most outspoken about wishing to deliver its Leopard 2s, will reportedly also sent 14, while 18 will come out of the Netherlands. More deliveries are expected from Norway, Finland and Spain, while Portugal is also in the process of officially signing off on the matter.

Mean while Brazil refuses to sell tank ammo for Ukraine and Brazilian President Lula da Silva shot down an offer to sell tank ammunition to Germany for use in Ukraine, Brazilian newspaper ‘Folha de Sao Paulo’ reported. A vocal critic of the West’s policy toward Ukraine, Lula has striven to remain neutral on its conflict with Russia.

Lula reportedly considered asking Berlin to guarantee that it would not send the ammunition to Ukraine, but ultimately declined the offer, “arguing that it was not worth provoking the Russians.”

Lula has condemned the US for pouring tens of billions of dollars into Ukraine’s government and military, and suggested last year that US President Joe Biden “could have avoided [the conflict], not incited it.”

He also declared that NATO leadership should have reassured Russia that Ukraine would never be allowed to join the US-led military bloc, which was one of Moscow’s key demands for peace before it sent troops into the country.

The transfer of Leopard tanks to Ukraine does not end the problems of the German government, stress Polish press. The avalanche caused by this brawl could sweep away not only Olaf Scholz’s office, but Germany itself. Geopolitical delay and constant maneuvering between Moscow and Kyiv have seriously undermined the international prestige of Germany. Now Berlin must maintain its influence in the European Union and NATO and restore its credibility as an ally in the international arena.

Germany will supply Ukraine with fourteen Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the resources of the Bundeswehr. This is the second most modern model in the German army. However, this is a drop in the ocean of what actually Germany could pass on to Ukrainians attacked by Russia. Leopard manufacturer Rheinmetall said that Germany could supply as many as 139 Leopards from the resources of the Bundeswehr, although not immediately and not in the latest version. By April, 29 modern vehicles could be delivered to Ukraine, and 22 more by the end of the year.

It’s no secret that the Germans were not going to make such a decision regarding the Leopards, and certainly not so soon. Scholz did not want to go overboard and subject himself to accusations from the Kremlin that Berlin was leading to an escalation of the conflict. The German chancellor hoped that the Americans, and possibly other countries, would also hand over their vehicles (modern M1 Abrams tanks), which would disperse responsibility.

However, Washington had other plans.

After almost a year of war, it finally wanted to force the Germans to make an ‘independent, courageous decision’ that clearly supported the Ukrainians. That is why it delayed the announcement of the transfer of “Abrams” to Kyiv until the last moment. However, in the end, American tanks will go to the front.

We are witnessing the end of the domination of the Franco-German tandem in Europe. Europe has become polycentric, and the last year has deprived Germany of its special role on the continent.

This change is connected with the “Easternism” of the EU. This is the effect of shifting the EU’s point of view more towards its eastern members, who understand better than the “old EU” what is happening on the continent now.

The war in Ukraine and the approach of the German authorities to this conflict also portend serious social and cultural changes in Germany itself.

But not only the culture of pacifism and unconditional dialogue is coming to an end in Germany. The war in Ukraine has exposed with great force the failure of the concept of the postmodern state, which Berlin began to implement during the rule of Chancellor Merkel. Germany has imagined itself as a big Switzerland, which invests in the economy and the well-being of its own citizens, and allied obligations are a secondary issue.

The dispute over the transfer of Leopards to Ukraine showed everyone another consequence of Germany’s policy in the field of diplomacy and security. Germany has ceased to be not so much a global, but even a continental leader. To make matters worse, there is a growing question in NATO about whether Germany remains even an ally to count on in times of trouble.

What is the future for Germany in the European arena? The answer is co-leadership. Germany (but also France) will have to look for different allies for their plans and ideas in various fields.

However, this is good news for other EU countries. Many of them will now be able to enter the game and have more influence on decision making. “Now it will be possible to exert much more pressure on Germany, but only some countries will be able to do this.

However, the end of unconditional dominance in the EU does not mean the end of the geopolitical problems that Germany has brought upon itself. The situation is unfavorable either within NATO or, more broadly, in the world. The fall of the political significance of Germany on the European and world scene has become a fact.

This is largely due to the growing tension between Berlin and Washington. The Americans are tired of hedging the German government and constantly playing along with each other. They see Germany as the European leader, but they are annoyed that this leader has run away from responsibility whenever he could during the last year.

Germany is becoming more and more isolated in security policy. Not only in Europe, but in the world as a whole. They are unable to cooperate with either France or the United States; key partners in the EU and NATO.

The degradation of the international position and confidence of foreign partners in Germany is also a serious problem for NATO. The war in Ukraine has threatened the unity of the Alliance, as some countries, despite the emergency nature of the situation, continue to play primarily against themselves…

This article is another disturbing evidence of serious contradictions within the European Union. Eastern countries are trying to seize the initiative in the Allience, relying on the support of the US and Britain. Old Europe is losing authority and strength. But will the EU survive under the new “eastern leadership”?

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