More than 75 years since former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin held the first leader-level meeting between their countries in Tehran in 1943, U.S. and Russian Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will meet for their first presidential summit in Geneva today.
The meeting is positioned in a longer arc of nearly three dozen summits between the two countries’ leaders over the past eight decades. While some of those meetings failed and others led to transformational political outcomes and declarations, agreements, and treaties, their most common feature was to have addressed the most lethal instruments of war Moscow and Washington have at their disposal: nuclear weapons.
While Presidents Biden and Putin walk down a freshly laid red carpet at Villa La Grange, their militaries will be operating some 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads ready to be launched on short notice and capable of destroying the opposite side many times over. As the United States and Russia still possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, finding pathways to greater transparency, predictability, and stability on the nuclear file will be high on the agenda in the coming days.
Geneva is a symbolic location for the summit. In 1985, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in the same city, kicking off what would be the start of a critical process to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons. Now, a generation later, most of their achievements are gone or hang by a thread. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which removed intermediate-range nuclear forces from the frontlines of the Cold War, no longer exists, as does the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that formed part of the backbone of strategic stability between Moscow and Washington since 1972. Even a mere six months ago, the fate of the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty — the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START — was in doubt.
Luckily, President Biden grasped the gravity of the situation and extended New START at the last minute and invited President Putin to hold a summit. Over the last few weeks, experts and former diplomats and military figures across the Euro-Atlantic space, including Washington and Moscow, have come forward with a range of recommendations. Our conversations with these groups — such as the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group, Deep Cuts Commission, and a variety of others — and relevant current officials on both sides suggest that there is growing awareness of an urgent need for a sustained dialogue on arms control between Moscow and Washington, and the impulse will have to come from Presidents Biden and Putin. The good news is that the summit will not need to produce a solution to all of the problems at hand; this would be unrealistic to expect. But for the few things the presidents should do, there is no time to lose.
First, the two leaders should reiterate the 1985 statement by Reagan and Gorbachev that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. During the Trump era, Moscow was keen to reiterate this statement either bilaterally or in the context of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, but there was resistance from the United States and, to a lesser degree, from the United Kingdom and France.
It will be important for Biden to show a departure from his predecessor’s position and agree to support the original formulation or an even stronger variant. While such a statement would be largely symbolic, it would provide a strong foundational organizing principle for continued, concerted action in the hopes of the eventual elimination of these weapons. It would also send a signal that flows down both countries’ political and military hierarchies, emphasizing the need for both sides to reduce nuclear risks.
Next, similar to what Reagan and Gorbachev did during their first summit in Geneva, Presidents Biden and Putin should use their meeting as an opportunity to kickstart strategic stability dialogue to be continued at the working level with a deadline set for progress. Such a process must begin with getting both sides on the same page on what types of systems and technologies are of greatest concern and what scenarios most negatively affect their threat perceptions, especially when it comes to dual capabilities and entanglement due to conventional-nuclear integration. To put it in terms of the latest Russian proposal, the sides will have to agree on a new “security equation” and decide how to best promote meaningful dialogue with other relevant nuclear-armed states.
Once this is done, the delegations will have to begin actual problem solving. And here, the negotiating tracks established in the 1980s could offer direct inspiration for today on how to organize such a dialogue. One track could continue to work on the bread and butter of U.S.-Russian arms control — limiting strategic nuclear forces, keeping in mind that New START expires in 2026.
The second parallel track could deal with missile defense and space security. The lines between the advanced missile defenses and anti-satellite weapons have been blurred to the extent that it does not make sense to discuss them separately. With Moscow concerned with its secure second-strike capability and Washington worried about the safety of its satellites, there just might be room for compromise.
The third and final track could deal with issues related to non-strategic nuclear weapons as well as conventional precision-guided systems. Figuring out how to deal with the fallout from the collapse of the INF Treaty would be an urgent priority here, and the Russian proposal for a mutual moratorium for deployment of such systems (with the much-discussed SSC-8/9m729 missile included) could be a starting point for discussion.
Moscow and Washington should also stop trading accusations of non-compliance and start engaging with each other to solve the implementation issues of the treaties to which they are party. For example, the Biden administration has upheld the Trump-era claim that Russia has engaged in low-yield nuclear testing in contravention of its unilateral nuclear-testing moratorium. As both countries are parties to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the United States and Russia should leverage confidence building measures available under the treaty, including reciprocal test site visits to the Nevada National Security Site and Novaya Zemlya, to alleviate any current concerns. Likewise, as soon as the pandemic permits, Washington and Moscow should resume meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission under New START to resolve Russian concerns of potential U.S. non-compliance due to its modification of heavy bombers and missile launchers of nuclear submarines.
As former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said, “we all live under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” While some have noted that the U.S.–Russia relationship is like a falling knife that has to be caught before it hits the floor, the existential stakes should remind everyone that it is indeed a nuclear sword of Damocles that hangs above us. This week’s presidential summit provides a key opportunity for our leaders to take a more strategic approach to reducing nuclear risks and eliminating these weapons. There is no time to waste.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the organizations they represent.
Andrey A. Baklitskiy is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced American Studies at the Institute of International Studies at the MGIMO University of the Russian Foreign Ministry, a Consultant at PIR Center, a member of the Deep Cuts Commission and expert at Valdai Discussion Club. Has previously served as a Research Fellow at the Center for Global Trends and International Organizations of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, PIR Center «Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation» Program Director and the Editor-in-Chief of monthly e-bulletin «Yaderny Kontrol» («Nuclear Control»). Mr. Baklitskiy was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in 2019-2020.Mr. Baklitskiy graduated from the Urals Federal University with a specialist diploma in regional studies. He taught courses on nuclear nonproliferation and emerging technologies at the MGIMO University and the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry. He regularly contributes to Russian and international media and has authored numerous articles and reports. His research interests include nuclear arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, Iranian nuclear program, and US-Russian strategic relations.
Sahil Shah is a Policy Fellow at the European Leadership Network (ELN). In his role at the ELN, Sahil advises senior US, European, and other government stakeholders on reducing strategic and nuclear risks and convenes international security dialogues. He leads the organization’s efforts to strengthen nuclear and regional diplomacy with Iran and advises on other key areas of ELN engagement on non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control issues.Separately, Sahil is also a Policy Advisor to the Institute for Security and Technology (IST) on its CATALINK project and recently reprised his previously held role as a Policy and Outreach Consultant to the Office of the Executive Secretary at the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). He is also part of the inaugural class of 2021 Aspen Strategy Group Rising Leaders, has worked closely with former US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry as a member of the Perry Project Advisory Board, supported the Nuclear Security Project at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), co-directed the Stanford US-Russia Forum (SURF), and helped create and chaired the CTBTO Youth Group (CYG).Sahil's work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, POLITICO, and more, and he regularly comments on security and defense issues to global media outlets. He received a Master of Philosophy in International Relations and Politics as the Dorothy Bender Scholar to the University of Cambridge after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from The George Washington University.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden greets Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the Russian White House, in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann).
Left-to-right: Senator-elect Ted Budd (R-N.C.); Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader; Senator-elect Katie Britt (R-AL); and Senator-elect J.D. Vance (R-OH) pose for a photo before meeting in Leader McConnell’s office, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)
The so-called GOP “civil war” over the role the United States should play in the world made headlines earlier this week when the Senate finally passed a national security supplemental that provides $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.
The legislation, which was supported by President Joe Biden and the overwhelming majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, proved more controversial among Republicans. Twenty-two GOP Senators voted in favor of the legislation, while 27 opposed it.
An analysis of the votes shows an interesting generational divide within the Republican caucus.
Each of the five oldest Republicans in the Senate — and nine of the ten oldest — voted in favor of the supplemental spending package. Conversely, the six youngest senators, and 12 of the 14 youngest, opposed it.
Equally striking was the breakdown of votes among Republicans based on when they assumed their current office. Of the 49 sitting GOP Senators, 30 were elected before Donald Trump first became the party’s presidential candidate in 2016. Eighteen of those 30 supported the aid legislation. Of the members who came to office in 2017 or later, only four voted to advance the bill, while 15 voted against.
The difference in votes among those elected since 2016 is likely partly attributable to Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy. The Republican party establishment during the Cold War and Global War on Terror is often associated with hawkishness, including towards Russia. While the party has always carried some skepticism toward foreign aid, some of the most significant spending increases have taken place during the presidencies of Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Trump, however, won in 2016 in part for his open disdain for mission creep after the GWOT, what he called the failed war in Iraq, and foreign aid he believed made countries dependents rather than reciprocal partners and allies.
“[Trump] certainly created the cognitive space,” Brandan Buck, a U.S. Army veteran and historian of GOP foreign policy, tells RS. “He's more of an intuitive thinker than a person of principle, but I think him being on the scene, prying open the Overton window has allowed for a greater array of dissenting voices.”
Others have argued that the trends are perhaps also indicative of the loyalty that Republicans who assumed their offices during the Trump presidency feel toward him. Trump spoke out forcefully against the legislation in advance of the vote.
“WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE MONEY ANYMORE WITHOUT THE HOPE OF A PAYBACK, OR WITHOUT “STRINGS” ATTACHED. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SHOULD BE “STUPID” NO LONGER!,” the former president wrote on the social media platform Truth Social the weekend before the vote.
The vote cannot only be explained by ideology, as some typically hawkish allies of Trump, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) ultimately voted against the package. Graham is a staunch supporter of Israel, has voted for previous Ukraine aid packages, and in the past called aid for Ukraine “a good investment” and “the best money we’ve ever spent.” By the time the vote on the most recent spending package came around, Graham was lamenting the lack of border security provisions and echoing Trump’s argument that aid to Ukraine should be a “loan.”
Meanwhile, Senators took note of the generational gap, and the debate spilled over into the public. .
“Nearly every Republican Senator under the age of 55 voted NO on this America Last bill,” wrote Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), 48, on the social media platform X. “Things are changing just not fast enough.” Schmitt was elected in 2022.
“Youthful naivety is bliss, the wisdom of age may save the west,” retorted Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) “Reagan may be dead, but his doctrine saved the world during less dangerous times than these. If the modern Marx (Putin for the youngsters) restores the USSR while we pretend it’s not our problem, God help us.” Cramer, 63, was sworn in in 2019, making him one of the handful of recently elected senators to support the aid legislation.
“I like Kevin, but come on, man, have some self-awareness,” Sen. J.D. Vance fired back. “This moment calls out for many things, but boomer neoconservatism is not among them.”
Vance, who at 39 is the youngest Republican member of the Senate, noted in his post that “the fruits of this generation in American leadership is: quagmire in Afghanistan, war in Iraq under false pretenses.” He said younger Americans were disillusioned with that track record.
Buck, who served several tours in the Afghanistan war, and whose research includes generational trends in U.S. foreign policy thinking, pointed out that there is strong historical precedent for believing that age and generation affect how members of Congress view America’s role in the world.
“It's certainly not unusual for there to be generational trends in foreign policy thinking, especially within the Republican Party,” Buck told RS. Following the end of World War II, he said, it took “a full churning” of the conservative movement to replace old-school non-interventionist Republicans and to get the party in line with the Cold War consensus. “I think what we're seeing now is something similar but in reverse with a generation of conservatives.”
He added that the failures of the War on Terror resulted in a deep skepticism of the national security state and the Republican party establishment. Opinion polling and trends show that the American public that grew up either during or in the shadow of the disastrous military campaigns in the Greater Middle East is generally opposed to military intervention and more questioning of American institutions.
“All the energy on FP [foreign policy] in the GOP right now is with the younger generation that wants fundamental transformation of USFP [U.S. foreign policy],” noted Justin Logan, director of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, on X. “The self-satisfied, insular neocons who loathe their voters’ FP views are a dying breed.”
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Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shakes hands with U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978. (Public Domain photo courtesy of Carter Library)
Since October, Egypt has joined most of the international community in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. With Egypt being the only Arab country to border Gaza, Cairo’s stakes are high. The longer Israel’s war on the besieged enclave continues, the threats to Egypt’s economy, national security, and political stability will become more serious.
Located along the Gaza-Egypt border is Rafah, a 25-square-mile city that until recently was home to 300,000 Palestinians. Now approximately 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah because of the Israeli military’s wanton destruction of Gaza City, Khan Younis, and other parts of the Strip. Having asserted that four Hamas battalions are now in Rafah, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that deploying Israeli forces to this Palestinian city is necessary for his country to defeat Hamas amid this war. As of writing, Israel’s military is preparing to launch a campaign for Rafah.
Officials in Cairo fear that Israeli military operations in Rafah could result in a large number of Palestinians entering the Sinai. “An Israeli offensive on Rafah would lead to an unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe and grave tensions with Egypt,” said European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on February 10.
Not only could such a scenario fuel massive amounts of friction between Cairo and Tel Aviv, but it could also severely heighten tensions between the Egyptian public and President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s government. It’s easy to imagine a mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which would amount to essentially a “Nakba 2.0,” triggering widespread unrest in Egypt if the government in Cairo is widely seen by Egyptians as playing a role in permitting, if not facilitating, such an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza. Along with economic considerations, this is one of the main reasons why Cairo has articulated that Israel depopulating Gaza of Palestinians and forcing them into Egypt is a red line that Tel Aviv must not cross.
“The biggest concern for Cairo is related to the fate of the [Palestinians in Gaza] forcibly evacuated by the Israelis and who might find a ‘safe haven’ in Sinai. An uncontrolled influx of Palestinians into the [Sinai] Peninsula would be an enormous burden on Egypt, which would have to manage a problematic situation from a political and security point of view, as well as having to justify internally to its own public opinion an imposition that came from outside,” Giuseppe Dentice, head of the Middle East and North Africa Desk at the Italian Center for International Studies, told RS.
“It is no coincidence that Cairo has reinforced the border with Gaza, closed the Rafah crossing, and warned Israel that any unilateral action involving a forced exodus of the Strip’s inhabitants to Egyptian territory could jeopardize not only bilateral relations, but the preconditions for peace and stability guaranteed in the [Camp David Accords],” added Dentice.
On February 15, Maxar Technologies, a Colorado-headquartered space technology company, captured satellite images showing Egypt’s construction of a wall roughly two miles west of the Egypt-Gaza border. The following day, the London-based Sinai Foundation for Human Rights said that this construction “is intended to create a high-security gated and isolated area near the borders with the Gaza Strip, in preparation for the reception of Palestinian refugees in the case of [a] mass exodus.”
What might happen to the Camp David Accords?
On February 11, two Egyptian officials and one Western diplomat told the Associated Press that Cairo might suspend the 1979 Camp David Accords if Israeli troops wage an incursion into Rafah. A day later, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied such reports about his government’s plans to freeze the peace treaty with Israel, yet he emphasized that Egypt’s continued adherence to the 1979 deal would depend on Tel Aviv reciprocating.
Alarming to Egyptian officials were Netanyahu’s statements late last year about the Israeli military taking control of the Philadelphi Corridor (a nine-mile-long demilitarized buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt which was established in accordance with Egypt and Israel’s peace treaty) because such a move on Israel’s part would be a breach of the Camp David Accords.
Are Egyptian officials serious about possibly freezing the historic peace deal? Or does such talk amount to empty threats issued for political purposes at home, as well as pursuing certain Egyptian aims vis-à-vis Washington and Tel Aviv? Mouin Rabbani, a political analyst and co-editor of Jadaliyya, told RS that if these statements from anonymous Egyptian officials are geared toward a domestic audience but Cairo doesn’t follow through, Sisi’s government could have a “potentially serious problem on its hands.”
Ahmed Aboudouh, an associate fellow with the Chatham House and a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council, doubts that Egypt would go as far as suspending the Camp David Accords. “In the end, Egypt is unlikely to take the first step to tear the treaty up unilaterally,” he said.
But what Egypt is doing is embracing “discursive strategic posturing” whereby Cairo uses “rhetorical escalation” and directs messages at three audiences, Aboudouh told RS. First is the domestic audience to say that Cairo is standing up for Egypt’s core security interests as well as the Palestinian cause. The second is Washington to relay the Egyptian government’s anger at the Biden administration for not stopping Israeli actions that threaten to displace Palestinians into the Sinai. Third is to Netanyahu, generals in the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Israeli intelligence community.
Gordon Gray, a former U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, also discounts recent suggestions that Cairo would suspend its peace treaty with Israel for three main reasons. “First, Egypt does not seek military confrontation — even an inadvertent one — with Israel. Second, Egypt does not want to risk losing U.S. military assistance ($1.3 billion annually), which was granted as a direct result of the Camp David Accords. Finally, while Egypt abhors the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, it shares Israel’s views about the threat Hamas poses,” said Gray in an interview with RS.
What would come from Egypt freezing the treaty?
Despite many experts believing that Egypt would not freeze the Camp David Accords, that potential scenario should be considered. There are important questions to raise about what it could lead to in terms of region-wide ramifications, as well as Cairo’s relationships with Western capitals. But it’s difficult to predict how events would unfold if Egypt took that step because there would be so many unknown variables in play.
Egypt could act in different ways after suspending the peace treaty with Israel. Rabbani asked, “Would it simply declare the peace treaty suspended and leave it at that or would it stop implementing provisions of that treaty?”
Regardless, any freezing of the Camp David Accords by Egypt would inevitably bring a layer of instability to Egyptian-Israeli relations never seen since Jimmy Carter’s administration, which — with help from Iran, Morocco, and Romania — brought Egypt’s then-President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s then-Prime Minister Menachim Begin together in northern Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains to sign the peace treaty in September 1978. The response from Washington would likely be extreme, particularly given how central Egyptian-Israeli peace has been to U.S. foreign policy agendas in the Middle East for almost half a century while surviving a host of regional crises, including Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and all the previous Gaza wars.
“The U.S. is certain to act true to form and retaliate against Egypt without holding Israel in any way accountable for producing this crisis, and Washington may well cease foreign assistance to Egypt, which is a direct function of its peace treaty with Israel. The EU will probably announce it is launching an investigation of the Egyptian school curriculum or some other nonsensical initiative,” Rabbani told RS.
Irrespective of how Egypt approaches its relationship with Israel, the fact that officials in Cairo are suggesting a potential freeze of the Camp David Accords speaks volumes about the Gaza war’s impact on Israel’s diplomatic standing in the Arab world.
With the probability of more Arab countries joining the Abraham Accords in the foreseeable future having essentially dropped to zero, the pressing question is not which Arab government might be next to normalize with Tel Aviv. The focus has shifted to questions about how Arab countries already in the normalization camp, such as Egypt, will manage their formalized relationships with Israel at a time in which Israeli behavior in Gaza is widely seen across the Arab-Islamic world as genocidal.
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Volodymyr Zelensky speaks at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 17, 2024. (David Hecker/MSC)
MUNICH, GERMANY — If U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris dominated the first day of the Munich Security Conference with her remarks, today it was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s turn.
It was not only Zelensky who understandably devoted his whole speech to the Ukraine War but also Scholz, too. The German Chancellor, while boasting that his country will devote 2% of its GDP to defense expenditures this year, remarked that “we Europeans need to do much more for our security now and in the future.”
In a brief but clear reference to Trump’s recent statements on NATO, Scholz said, "any relativization of NATO’s mutual defense guarantee will only benefit those who, just like Putin, want to weaken us.” On the guns and butter debate, which is particularly relevant in Germany due to negligible economic growth, Scholz acknowledged that critical voices are saying, “should not we be using the money for other things?” But he chose not to engage in this debate, noting instead that “Moscow is fanning the flames of such doubts with targeted disinformation campaigns and with propaganda on social media.”
The Russian capture of the city represents the most significant defeat for Ukraine since the failure of its counter-offensive last year. On the loss of Avdiivka, Zelensky said that Ukraine had lost one soldier for every seven soldiers who have died on the Russian side. This, however, is difficult to reconcile with the reports about the rushed Ukrainian retreat, with a Ukrainian soldier explaining that “the road to Avdiivka is littered with our corpses.”
Throughout his speech, Zelensky repeatedly referred to the importance of defending what he called the “rules-based world order” by defeating Russia. If there was one take-away that Zelensky wanted impressed on this audience: “Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself why is Putin still able to continue it.”
He also seemed to suggest that it was not a lack of available weapons and artillery but a willingness to give them over to Ukraine. “Dear friends, unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” Zelenskyy said. “The self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.”
The future of NATO was one of the main topics of the day. European leaders were in agreement that Europe needs to spend more on defense, and occasionally appeared to compete with each other on who has spent the most on weapons delivered to Ukraine or in their national defense budgets.
With NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in attendance, one of the panels featured two of the most talked-about names to replace the Norwegian politician in the 75th-anniversary summit in Washington in July: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. According to a report by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, President Joseph Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken favor the German leader, but in Paris, London, and Berlin, the Dutch politician is preferred.
The participation of the Netherlands in the initial U.S.-UK joint strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen on Jan. 11 was read in some quarters as a sign of Rutte’s ambitions. The Netherlands was the only EU country to join these initial attacks.
A G7 meeting of foreign ministers also took place Saturday on the sidelines of the conference. In a press briefing that followed, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani — who currently presides the G7 — reiterated the group’s support for Ukraine. The current situation in the Red Sea, as is often the case in the West, was presented by Tajani as a topic divorced from the Gaza Strip. The Houthis started their campaign against ships in the Red Sea after the beginning of the war in Gaza, claiming they want to force an end to the conflict.
There is no certainty that the end of the war in Gaza would put an end to Houthi attacks, but presenting the situation in the Red Sea as being nothing but a threat to freedom of trade is considered by experts to be a a myopic approach.
Nevertheless, Italy will be in command of the new EU naval mission ASPIDES, to be deployed soon in the Red Sea. The mission is expected to be approved by the next meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers on Monday. When asked whether he could ensure that ASPIDES would remain a defensive mission, the Italian Foreign Minister said ASPIDES aims at defending merchant ships and that if drones or missiles are launched, they will be shot down, but no attacks will be conducted.
Marc Martorell Junyent is in Munich, covering the conference for Responsible Statecraft this weekend. This story is developing and is being updated.