The CSS Blog Network

A note to our users:

After many years as a stand-alone project, the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) has been absorbed into its parent organization’s website, the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich. The impact of this adjustment to our blog page is negligible, aside from its new name. As for the rest of the former ISN site, it now makes up the Resources Section of the CSS website. Please use the menu in the left column to access its pages.

Securing a Nuclear Energy Future

Satsop Nuclear Power Plant

Courtesy of Dave Sizer/Flickr. CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 5 December 2016.

Since the atom was first split, the possibilities of war, terrorism, and proliferation have polluted the connotation of “nuclear,” driving public fear and associated dialogue surrounding the development of nuclear technology. In the last half of the twentieth century, the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union defined the modern geopolitical layout of the world, from alliances to modern conflicts. Nuclear capabilities became one of the greatest criteria to determine a country’s power and respect on the global stage.

In this year’s US presidential election, the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran was a divisive issue. The multinational agreement aims to prevent weapons development by fostering an officially recognized and heavily regulated nuclear energy program. This deal reflects a shift in the global nuclear narrative, from aggressive prevention efforts to diplomatic limitations. It further recognizes that as more states acquire nuclear development infrastructure, there will be more chances for materials to fall into the wrong hands. Preventing proliferation to terrorists, militant groups, and less amicable state actors is a global priority. Greater involvement and oversight from institutions like the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can facilitate better security standards for protecting nuclear materials.

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Democracy and Democracies in Crisis

Political Process

Courtesy of Amir Jina / Flickr.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by World Affairs on 22 November 2016.

Democracy today is facing greater challenges than at any time since the fall of communism a quarter of a century ago; greater than at any time, in fact, since the dark days of the 1970s when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, writing on the occasion of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976, said that “democracy is where the world was, not where the world is going.”

In retrospect, we know something that Moynihan couldn’t have known at the time—that the fall of the military government in Portugal in 1974 and Franco’s death in Spain the following year had initiated what Samuel Huntington was later to call “the third wave of democratization,” which was the most far-reaching process of democratic transition in the history of the world.

It’s always possible that the current moment of democratic gloom conceals factors that could give rise to dramatic democratic progress in the years ahead. But we are now faced with a crisis of democracy of grave proportions, and it remains to be seen if our country can rise to the challenge. This crisis has three dimensions.

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Rebuilding America’s Military

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

Courtesy Bill VanderMolen/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

This article was originally published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 1 December 2016.

President-elect Trump’s book The Art of the Deal applies the principles of negotiation to business, but they are universal to human nature. A century ago, a previous president indicated similar sentiment when Theodore Roosevelt wrote “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Latent power fuels deals. Upon entering the highest office in the land, President-elect Trump will engage in entirely new types of negotiations. And in this new venue, military power is the new trump card.

U.S. military strength gives the United States leverage in the global arena.

Military power is not organic or constant. It requires investment, innovation, and maintenance. Deploying military power degrades it and requires later revitalization. Adversaries adapt to the most advanced equipment and effective tactics. New threats emerge while old ones wane. Military leverage stems from warfighting advantage, which encompasses two simultaneous requirements: the ability to project military power abroad and to protect the U.S. homeland.

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Duterte, Mindanao, and Political Culture

Cutting cane

Courtesy of Carsten ten Brink / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was originally published by the East-West Center (EWC) on 9 November 2016.

The Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, seems intent on taking his country down an untrodden path. Since being sworn in as the Philippines’ 16th president this June, the first from Mindanao, he has made international news by advocating extrajudicial killings while at the same time thumbing his nose at the US. What could be motivating his dramatic actions? Many observers focus on his idiosyncratic personality. But greater insight comes through understanding the political culture of Mindanao in which he honed his political skills. The political culture of Mindanao sits within the broader Philippine context that is racked by violence, poverty and corruption.

Human Rights Watch reported that in 2015, the year before Duterte came into power, the Philippines was a country where attacks against indigenous people were rampant, child labor, especially in small-scale mining, was commonplace, eight journalists were murdered, and extra-judicial killings especially in Mindanao were routine. In the 2015 Perception of Corruption Index released by Transparency International, the Philippines ranked 95th out of 167 states. While certainly not the worst by global standards, the Philippines is hardly a model of good governance. Its rank of 115 out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index underscores the challenges it faces. The current tidal wave of population (approximately 102 million with a growth rate of 1.7%), strains the nation’s budgets and infrastructure. Metro Manila’s population exceeds 12 million and continues to grow. The burgeoning population, corruption, disregard for the rule of law and poverty have combined to dramatically inflate the crime rate in the Philippines. In 2012, a total of 217,812 crimes were reported; by 2014 that number had exploded to 1,161,188. Arguably the Philippines was in crisis even before the election of Duterte. His election can be seen, in part, as a reaction to that crisis, as much as it can be seen as contributing to it.

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President Trump and International Relations

The Stinker

Courtesy Maureen Barlin/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on 18 November 2016.

The election of Donald Trump raises justifiable concerns over how he will handle the crises and conflicts he inherits: war in Syria, conflict in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea, North Korean provocations and the fight against terrorism. Yet Germany and Europe – and policy-relevant research – must also examine the broader repercussions for international relations. The following five initial theses require deeper analysis.

A Defeat for Liberalism

Donald Trump’s victory represents a hard knock for the West’s normative bedrock of liberalism. Liberal values of the kind Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised in her congratulatory message to the president-elect are on the defensive – first and foremost within the United States. Autocrats and supporters of various strands of illiberal democracy, like Putin, Erdogan or Orban, may feel vindicated and energised, while the EU will have to work harder to champion liberal democratic values. European states will inevitably see impacts on their external relations. Although Europe has shown little enthusiasm for talk of the “end of history”, both Europe and the United States have tacitly or explicitly assumed that the liberal democratic models will gradually win the day. Internationally, the EU member states must expect to hear increasing arguments that their form of liberal democracy is only one of several acceptable governance models. This could also have effects on international efforts to stabilise and rebuild fragile and failed states.

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