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ASEM Summit: Europe and Asia – Global Partners for Global Challenges

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The 12th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit took place on 18-19 October in Brussels, bringing together 51 countries, as well as EU and Asian institutions. Under the title “Global Partners for Global Challenges”, leaders addressed some of the world’s most pressing issues.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States, Switzerland and Norway, in addition to 21 Heads of State or Government from Asian countries, as well as the Secretary General of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), were also invited. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, and the Vice-President of the European Commission for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, also participated at the Summit.

“We want to give our relationship with Asia, which is already very dynamic – as illustrated by the numerous trade and cooperation agreements we have, fresh impetus“, said President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Summit’s plenary session this morning. “Only a multilateral approach will enable us to confront global challenges. This is why I reiterate our commitment to support multilateral organisations in all their efforts, including the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation – a World Trade Organisation that we have to reform together, so that its rules correspond better to the new realities. It is by acting together that we will be able to preserve our planet […], contribute to resolving conflicts, eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, […] and that we can better manage migration flows and develop free and fair trade.”

“What Europe and Asia agree together matters not only for the two of us, but for the entire world. Together we represent 55% of global trade, 60% of global population, 65% of global economy and 75% of global tourism; together we represent a real global power“, said the High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini at the Summit’s press conference. “We come out of this two-day Summit with a reinforced global partnership between Europe and Asia. It has allowed us to translate our global weight into concrete policy initiatives – on regional and international security, foreign policy issues, climate change action, free and fair trade, and the digital agenda to name a few. Together, we can make a real difference for the world.”

A Chair’s Statement, covering the wide range of areas discussed and focussing on ASEM’s three pillars – namely political, economic and financial, and social and cultural – has also been issued.

Sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia

In his address at the Summit’s plenary session, President Juncker highlighted the importance of investing in more sustainable connectivity between the European Union and Asia. The European Union has this week adopted a new strategy on connecting Europe and Asia, building on the proposal of the European Commission and the High Representative in September. With financial, environmental, and social sustainability at the core of the EU’s approach to connectivity, the EU’s objective is to develop sustainable connectivity networks across the digital, transport, energy and human dimensions, as well as to strengthen partnerships at the bilateral, regional and international levels, in particular to ensure a rules-based approach and interoperability of standards.

As a contribution to enhancing Euro-Asian connectivity, as well as to demonstrate the huge potential of the relationship, the European Commission has this week launched the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal, offering policymakers, researchers, businesses and other stakeholders alike a wealth of data on the political, economic and societal relationships between the two continents. A full press release and factsheet are available online. In parallel to the Summit, a number of events to bring Europeans and Asians together are taking place in Belgium, such as the ASEM Cultural Festival, the Young Leaders’ Summit, the Business Forum, the People’s Forum for civil society, the Labour Forum and the Parliamentary Partnership Meeting.

Strengthening EU-Asia bilateral ties

In the margins of the ASEM Summit, the European Union signed a number of bilateral agreements to deepen and expand its relations with Singapore and Vietnam respectively.

President Juncker,President Tusk and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz signed, together with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Long, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. In the presence of the leaders, EU High Representative/Vice-President, Federica Mogherini and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Vivian Balakrishnan signed the EU-Singapore Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation and Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström and Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, and Trade Relations of Singapore signed the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement. These agreements represent a significant step forward for a more comprehensive and mutually-beneficial relationship between the EU and Singapore, opening new opportunities for European producers, farmers, service providers and investments, as well as strengthening political and sectoral cooperation through more formal and intensive exchanges for example in environment, climate change and counter-terrorism.

The European Union is also stepping up its relations with Vietnam. Earlier this week, the European Commission adopted the EU-Vietnam trade and investment agreements, paving the way for their signature and conclusion. The trade agreement will eliminate virtually all tariffs on goods traded between the two sides. The agreement also includes a strong, legally binding commitment to sustainable development, including the respect of human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and the fight against climate change, with an explicit reference to the Paris Agreement. Today, the EU and Vietnam signed a Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement. The Agreement will help improve forest governance, address illegal logging and promote trade in verified legal timber products from Vietnam to the EU, and other markets. In addition to the variety of social, economic and environmental benefits associated with better management of the forestry sector in Vietnam, the licensing will simplify business for timber traders.

EU-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting

Following the ASEM Summit, a Leaders’ Meeting between the European Union and ASEAN took place. President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Donald Tusk, accompanied by EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini represented the European Union, whilst the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was represented by the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, as the country holding the ASEAN Chairmanship for 2018, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the country which will hold the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2019, and the ASEAN Secretary General, Lim Jock Hoi.

“The EU’s partnership with ASEAN is founded on common interests across many areas. We share common values – in the European Union and in the founding charter of ASEAN – which need to be respected by all”, said President Juncker at the opening of the Leaders’ Meeting. “Proof of our intense cooperation is the number of agreements with Singapore that we have just signed. These, I hope, will be the first in a long series of such agreements with ASEAN countries, and will eventually result in a region-to-region agreement.”

At the Leaders’ Meeting, alongside matters of trade, connectivity and transport, leaders addressed global peace and security challenges, including climate change, non-proliferation, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism, maritime security and migration. They agreed to strengthen the EU-ASEAN relationship, in particular to address global challenges and to work together to reinforce the rules-based international order and multilateralism.

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Europe

Revisiting the Bosnian War

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Genocide is not an alien concept to the world nowadays. However, while the reality (and the culprit) is not hard to profile today, history is ridden with massacres that were draped and concealed from the world beyond. Genocides that rivaled the great warfares and were so gruesome that the ring of brutality still pulsates in the historical narrative of humanity. We journey back to one such genocide that was named the most brutish mass slaughter after World War II. We revisit the Bosnian War (1992-95) which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 innocent Bosnian citizens and displaced millions. The savage nature of the war was such that the war crimes committed constituted a whole new definition to how we describe genocide.

The historical backdrop helps us gauge the complex relations and motivations which resulted in such chaotic warfare to follow suit. Post World War II, the then People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the then Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Bosnia-Herzegovina became one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia in 1946 along with other Balkan states including Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. As communism pervaded all over Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina began losing its religion-cultural identity. Since Bosnia-Herzegovina mainly comprised of a Muslim population, later known as the Bosniaks, the spread of socialism resulted in the abolition of many Muslim institutions and traditions. And while the transition to the reformed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963 did ease the ethnic pressure, the underlying radical ideology and sentiments never fully subsided.

The Bosniaks started to emerge as the majority demographic of Bosnia and by 1971, the Bosniaks constituted as the single largest component of the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina population. However, the trend of emigration picked up later in the decades; the Serbs and the Croats adding up to their tally throughout most of the 70s and mid-80s. The Bosnian population was characterized as a tripartite society, that is, comprised of three core ethnicities: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Till  1991, the ethnic majority of the Bosniaks was heavily diluted down to just 44% while the Serbian emigrants concentrated the Serbian influence; making up 31% of the total Bosnian population.

While on one side of the coin, Bosnia-Herzegovina was being flooded with Serbs inching a way to gain dominance, the Yugoslavian economy was consistently perishing on the other side. While the signs of instability were apparent in the early 80s, the decade was not enough for the economy to revive. In the late 80s, therefore, political dissatisfaction started to take over and multiple nationalist parties began setting camps. The sentiments diffused throughout the expanse of Yugoslavia and nationalists sensed an imminent partition. Bosnia-Herzegovina, like Croatia, followed through with an election in 1990 which resulted in an expected tripartite poll roughly similar to the demographic of Bosnia. The representatives resorted to form a coalition government comprising of Bosniak-Serb-Craot regime sharing turns at the premiership. While the ethnic majority Bosniaks enjoyed the first go at the office, the tensions soon erupted around Bosnia-Herzegovina as Serbs turned increasingly hostile.

The lava erupted in 1991 as the coalition government of Bosnia withered and the Serbian Democratic Party established its separate assembly in Bosnia known as ‘Serbian National Assembly’.  The move was in line with a growing sentiment of independence that was paving the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Democratic Party long envisioned a dominant Serbian state in the Balkans and was not ready to participate in a rotational government when fighting was erupting in the neighboring states. When Croatia started witnessing violence and the rise of rebels in 1992, the separatist vision of the Serbs was further nourished as the Serbian Democratic Party, under the leadership of Serb Leader Radovan Karadžić, established an autonomous government in the Serb Majority areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The vision and the actions remained docile until the ring of independence was echoed throughout the region. When the European Commission (EC), now known as the European Union (EU), and the United States recognized the independence of both Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina found itself in a precarious position. While a safe bet would have been to undergo talks and diplomatic routes to engage the Serbian Democratic Party, the Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović failed to realize the early warnings of an uprising. Instead of forging negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosniak President resorted to mirror Croatia by organizing a referendum of independence bolstered by both the EC and the US. Even as the referendum was blocked in the Serb autonomous regions of Bosnia, Izetbegović chose to pass through and announced the results. As soon as the Bosnian Independence from Yugoslavia was announced and recognized, fighting erupted throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Bosnian Serbs feared that their long-envisioned plan of establishing the ‘Great Serbia’ in the Balkans was interred which resulted in chaos overtaking most of Bosnia. The blame of the decision, however, was placed largely on the Bosniak president and, by extension, the entire ethnic majority of the Bosniaks. The Bosnian Serbs started to launch attacks in the east of Bosnia; majorly targeting the Bosniak-dominated towns like Foča, Višegrad, and Zvornik. Soon the Bosnian Serb forces were joined by the local paramilitary rebels as well as the Yugoslavian army as the attacks ravaged the towns with large Bosniak populations; swathing the land in the process. The towns were pillaged and pressed into control whilst the local Bosniaks and their Croat counterparts were either displaced, incarcerated, or massacred.

While the frail Bosnian government managed to join hands with the Croatian forces across the border, the resulting offense was not nearly enough as the combination of Serb forces, rebel groups, and the Yugoslavian army took control of almost two-thirds of the Bosnian territory. The Karadžić regime refused to hand over the captured land in the rounds of negotiations. And while the war stagnated, the Bosniak locals left behind in small pockets of war-ravaged areas faced the brunt in the name of revenge and ethnic cleansing.

As Bosniaks and Croats formed a joint federation as the last resort, the Serbian Democratic Party established the Republic Srpska in the captured East, and the military units were given under the command of the Bosnian-Serb General, Ratko Mladic. The notorious general, known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, committed horrifying war crimes including slaughtering the Bosniak locals captured in violence, raping the Bosniak women, and violating the minors in the name of ethnic cleansing exercises. While the United Nations refused to intervene in the war, the plea of the helpless Bosniaks forced the UN to at least deliver humanitarian aid to the oppressed. The most gruesome of all incidents were marked in July 1995, when an UN-declared safe zone, known as Srebrenica, was penetrated by the forces led by Mladic whilst some innocent Bosniaks took refuge. The forces brutally slaughtered the men while raped the women and children. An estimated 7000-8000 Bosniak men were slaughtered in the most grotesque campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to wipe off any trace of Bosniaks from the Serb-controlled territory.

In the aftermath of the barbaric war crimes, NATO undertook airstrikes to target the Bosnian-Serb targets while the Bosniak-Croat offense was launched from the ground. In late 1995, the Bosnian-Serb forces conceded defeat and accepted US-brokered talks. The accords, also known as the ‘Dayton Accords’, resulted in a conclusion to the Bosnian War as international forces were established in the region to enforce compliance. The newly negotiated federalized Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted 51% of the Croat-Bosniak Federation and 49% of the Serb Republic.

The accord, however, was not the end of the unfortunate tale as the trials and international action were soon followed to investigate the crimes against humanity committed during the three-year warfare. While many Serb leaders either died in imprisonment or committed suicide, the malefactor of the Srebrenica Massacre, Ratko Mladic, went into hiding in 2001. However, Mladic was arrested after a decade in 2011 by the Serbian authorities and was tried in the UN-established International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). The investigation revisited the malicious actions of the former general and in 2017, the ICTY found Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and war crimes and sentenced him to life in prison. While Mladic appealed for acquittal on the inane grounds of innocence since not he but his subordinates committed the crimes, the UN court recently upheld the decision in finality; closing doors on any further appeals. After 26-years, the world saw despair in the eyes of the 78-year-old Mladic as he joined the fate of his bedfellows while the progeny of the victims gained some closure as the last Bosnian trail was cased on a note of justice.

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Greece And Yugoslavia: A Brief History Of Lasting Partitions

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Prior to the 1992-1995 Balkan war, the European Community delegated the British and Portugese diplomats, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, to design a suitable scheme for ethno-religious partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in February 1992 they launched the Lisbon Conference, with the aim of separating Bosnian ethno-religious communities and isolating them into distinct territories. This was the initiation of the process of partition, adopted in all subsequent plans to end the war in Bosnia. However, such a concept was stipulated by Carrington and Cutileiro as the only available when there was no war to end, indeed, no war in sight; and, curiously, it has remained the only concept that the European Community, and then the European Union, has ever tried to apply to Bosnia.

Contrary to the foundations of political theory, sovereignty of the Bosnian state was thus divided, and its parts were transferred to the three ethno-religious communities. The Carrington-Cutileiro maps were tailored to determine the territorial reach of each of these communities. What remained to be done afterwards was their actual physical separation, and that could only be performed by ethnic cleansing, that is, by war and genocide. For, ethno-religiously homogenous territories, as envisaged by Carrington and Cutileiro, could only be created by a mass slaughter and mass expulsion of those who did not fit the prescribed model of ethno-religious homogeneity. The European Community thus created a recipe for the war in Bosnia and for the perpetual post-war instability in the Balkans. Yet, ever since the war broke out, the European diplomatic circles have never ceased claiming that this ‘chaos’ was created by ‘the wild Balkan tribes’, who ‘had always slaughtered each other’. There was also an alternative narrative, disseminated from the same sources, that Russia promoted the programme of ‘Greater Serbia’, which eventually produced the bloodshed in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Facts on the ground, however, do not support either of these narratives. All these ‘tribes’ had peacefully lived for centuries under the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, until nationalist ideas were imported into Serbia and Greece at the beginning of the 19th century. On the other hand, Russia’s influence in the Balkans could never compete with the influence of the Anglo-French axis. The latter’s influence was originally implemented through the channels of Serbian and Greek nationalisms, constructed on the anti-Ottoman/anti-Islamic and anti-Habsburg/anti-Catholic grounds, in accordance with strategic interests of the two West European powers to dismantle the declining empires and transform them into a number of puppet nation-states. In these geopolitical shifts, nationalist ideologies in the Balkans utilized religious identities as the most efficient tool for mobilization of the targeted populations and creation of mutually exclusive and implacable national identities.

The pivotal among these nationalist ideologies has been the Serb one,  built on the grounds of Orthodox Christianity, with its permanent anti-Islamic and anti-Catholic agenda. The existence and expansion of Serbia was always explicitly backed by London and Paris – from a semi-autonomous principality within the Ottoman territory in the 1830s and the creation of the Kingdom of Serbia in 1882, through the 1912-13 Balkan wars and World War I, to its expansion into other South Slavic territories in the form of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), promoted at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919.

Eventually, the Serbian elites – supported by the Anglo-French axis, again – used the dissolution of the communist Yugoslavia as an opportunity for implementation of the 19th-century ‘Greater Serbia’ programme, that is, Serbia’s expansion in all the Yugoslav territories populated by the Orthodox Christians. However, this time ‘Greater Serbia’ was used as a catalyst in a bigger geopolicial reshuffling advocated by the UK and France – the simultaneous implementation of four ethnnically homogenous greater-state projects, including ‘Greater Serbia’ (transferring the Orthodox-populated parts of Bosnia, plus Montenegro and the northern part of Kosovo, to Serbia), ‘Greater Croatia’ (transferring the Catholic-populated parts of Bosnia to Croatia), ‘Greater Albania’ (transferring the Albanian-populated parts of Kosovo and Macedonia to Albania) and ‘Greater Bulgaria’ (transferring the Slavic parts of Macedonia to Bulgaria).

Since 1990s, ethno-religious nationalisms in the Balkans have served only  this geopolitical purpose – creation of ethno-religiously homogenous ‘greater’ states, including the disappearance of Bosnia and Macedonia, whose multi-religious and multi-ethnic structure has been labelled by the British foreign policy elites as “the last remnant of the Ottoman Empire“ that needs to be eliminated for good. The only major foreign power that has opposed these geopolitical redesigns is the US, which has advocated the policy of inviolability of the former Yugoslav republics’ borders. Yet, the US has never adopted a consistent policy of nation-building for Bosnia and Macedonia, which would be the only one that could efficiently counter the doctrine of ethno-religious homogeneity promoted by the UK and France and supported by most EU countries.   

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Failed Diplomacy: A hot tension between Spain and Morocco

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An unexpected diplomatic wrong move on the part of the Spanish government through its interference in the Moroccan territorial sovereignty caused diplomatic tension, which may reach a high degree of suspending all diplomatic and strategic partnerships between the two neighboring countries. This diplomatic strain came after Span refused to give any facts to the Moroccan government regarding the reception of the Ibrahim Ghali Leader of separatist of Polisario Front in Spain’s soil under the so-called humanitarian and health reasons. Unfortunately, Irrational justifications from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t react to true cooperation with Morocco to make a peaceful resolution with their Northern border.

Ghali’s illegal entry to Spain has questioned Madrid’s about the principle of good neighboring agreement, and more importantly the credibility and independence of the Spanish judiciary, and the extent of its actual involvement in promoting the principle of non-impunity, the Spanish government found itself in an awkward position in front of domestic and international public opinion. Thus, Concerning this issue puts the Spanish status of “democracy” and “human rights” to a real test.

In diplomacy, “consensus” signifies the accepted context in which the adjustment of conflicts through negotiation is only the rightful way. The Moroccan-Spanish tension was created by the Algerian government to disrupt Moroccan foreign policy in the North African arena. This crisis is a clear sign that shows the diplomatic contradiction between the Spanish foreign affairs decisions and statements in the name of strengthening relations with a strategic partner “ Morocco ” with which he brings together a set of common interests and priorities, whether it is linked to migration issues, preventing terrorism or pledging unmannerly actions and policies that contradict the requirements of strategic partnership and good friendship.

In effect, this is what the crisis has flamed the diplomatic difficult stages that the relations between the two countries have gone through in recent years. It also brings to mind the Leila Island crisis, which flared up in 2002. When The Kingdom of Morocco determined to delineate its maritime borders, the Socialist Party, which leads the Spanish government, showed its rejection of this move, and in the aftermath of it. Former US President Donald Trump issued a republican decree recognizing the Moroccan Sahara, and Spain openly stated its annoyance with the issue, and its Secretary of State confirmed its rejection of what she labeled as “unilateral trends in international relations”, but she admitted that her country had contacts with the current US president. Joe Biden to push him to change this decision, which caused a great shock in Moroccan public opinion.

Accordingly, many of the Spanish trends in recent decades have raised concerns about any Moroccan military development, and also the breakthrough in the Moroccan Sahara dispute that supports Morocco’s regional and international position, which adds a degree of uncertainty to the relations between the two states, and brings to the international understanding the case future of the occupied cities of Ceuta and Melilla and several other islands particularly the Canary.  

In line with these circumstances, Morocco has retained that the Spanish authorities are responsible for worsening diplomatic relations by accepting an adverse person. The humanitarian reasons that justified the reception of the Polisario Front leader Ibrahim Ghali put Spain in a position of a discrepancy, given its denial of the human suffering of many of its victims, and its preference for the security approach in dealing with migration cases. Meanwhile leaving behind a legacy of the human crimes committed by the colonial army in northern Morocco, especially those related to the use of toxic substances, and the resulting destruction in the framework of the  Spanish colonial campaign that targeted Morocco in the last of twenties century, it is related to human genocide that falls within the war crimes. Many studies and reports carried out by researchers and non-governmental organizations have shown the prevalence of lung cancer among the population of the region, far exceeding the national rates recorded in this regard, which demands Spain to acknowledge these crimes that do not have a statute of limitations and bear the responsibility for their remnants and consequences.

Certainly, nothing is easy in the field of world politics as the realists argue what Morocco and Spain need from each other are their mutual geopolitical and geo-economical interests? This type of approach is reasonable and also skeptical. Indeed, historically the Kingdom of Morocco and Spain had been on good terms for a few centuries, and during the French colonial era, Spain acted as a natural buffer state between Morocco and colonial France.

Strategically speaking, the Kingdom of Morocco wants to sustain its border areas peaceful and stable in light of its “Strategy on Borders Demarcation” that means while Morocco tries to combine its entente partnership with Spain on the North and pacifying its East coast, it necessarily aims to maintain the convention on border demarcation plans to the West and the maritime route to the South. This is the key of the  “SBD” plan initiated by the Moroccan Kingdom since his Majesty Mohmed VI took power. Consider Spain’s strategic setting and political stability, Morocco is sure to endorse the bilateral relations as the two previous Mediterranean partners were signed in Rabat including to reconstruct Morocco—Spain The good neighborliness principle agreements. It will help northern frontiers areas get an alternative transit route and also ease the local economics, as much an important part of the SB as the economic corridor between Morocco and Spain.

Given the Spanish domestic opinion, there is still a positive attitude about long-term cooperation on a strategic partnership among the kingdom of Morocco and Spain, even considering some temporary problems between the two in irregular migration. For instance, at the first Morocco-Spain Immigration and Security meeting on November 20, Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska remarked that despite the disputes at the moment, Madrid has a long-standing relationship with Rabat and the current politics would not harm that, because it’s a political situation. 

To conclude, diplomacy is a key process based on negotiation, persuasion, and compromise. On the one side, a static and steady Morocco-Spain Strategic relationship is decisive for both and the globe as a whole. To that end, the Kingdom of Morocco has shown its motivation to share with Spain its development experiences, practices, and inclusive security governance approaches. In doing so, geopolitical features should never be the hindrances to Rabat-Madrid strategic cooperation. Rather, Spain could serve as a dynamic bridge between Morocco and EU countries, and Morocco and North Africa.

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