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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.

Spiritual Ardor and Military Might: The Story of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Courtesy of Neil Hester/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 March 2017.

Afshon Ostovar, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Oxford University Press, 2016)

This past September in an audience hall in Tehran, a prominent vocalist named Sadegh Ahangaran took to a microphone to justify an Iranian military adventure. Ahangaran had earned the nickname “the nightingale of the Imam” for his melodies of martyrdom decades earlier during the Iran-Iraq War, his defiant voice often the last thing Iranian combatants heard before death. In his more recent performance, Ahangaran drew on these talents to serenade a similar crowd, but about a different war.

“I must break their windpipes in Aleppo, so that their feet do not touch Kermanshah,” sang Ahangaran, clad in the uniform of a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reaching a crescendo, he thundered, “Since we have said no to the arrogance, we have disturbed the dream of the enemy … We are behind the Mullah until martyrdom.” Enraptured by the recital and seated on the floor before him were soldiers and commanders, past and present, of the IRGC. On a stage directly in front of them was their Mullah – Iran’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief – Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.

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A Wary Farewell to Arms for the FARC

Courtesy of bixentro/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on 9 March 2017.

When Colombians streamed to the polls four months ago to vote in a plebiscite to accept or reject a peace agreement with the country’s leading guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), opinion polls predicted a resounding victory for the accord. Many citizens and internationals expected that the world’s second longest continuous armed conflict and one of its oldest Marxist insurgencies would soon become an historical relic.

In Havana, the FARC leadership and its negotiating team sat with journalists to watch the votes come in. Once the result was announced – the accord was rejected by less than one-half of 1 per cent – the guerrilla group retired to a private meeting at which its leaders decided the loss was only a temporary setback. “The FARC-EP maintains its will to find peace”, declared FARC leader Timochenko that same day, “and reiterates its willingness to use words as the only weapon to build a [new] future”.

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Burma is still on the Rocky Road to Democracy

Courtesy of brentolson/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on 17 March 2017.

When the iconic democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi won her historic, landslide election in Burma (Myanmar), she was met by soaring expectations, as well as by the formidable challenges of violent conflicts, a stuttering economy and the significant constraints of sharing authority with a still-powerful military.

Not surprisingly, she has fallen short.

Since taking office just over a year ago, she has been navigating a thorny and complex landscape with great caution. Many say too cautiously, but getting that balance right will be critical for a successful and peaceful transition.

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UN Peacekeeping and Counter-terrorism

Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by Sustainable Security on 14 March 2017.

There are strong calls to give UN peacekeeping operations more robust mandates to engage in counter-terrorism tasks. But the idea of UN peacekeepers conducting counter-terrorism operations is not without its problems.

Terrorist attacks have been increasing rapidly over the last decade. According to the Global Terrorism Index, 29,376 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2015. This was the second deadliest year after 2014, when 32,765 people were killed. The spike in 2014 and decline in 2015 is largely a result of the rise and subsequent weakening of Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS).

Fatigue after long engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq and the continued impact of the financial crisis has significantly dampened the interest in new out-of-area operations among Western member states. At the same time, the threats of terrorism and migration remain at the top of the foreign policy agenda. It is in this environment that policy makers are turning to the UN, to see what role it can play in the global security burden-sharing. This means a more transactional relationship with the UN, not necessarily considering the longer-term impact of undermining its impartiality and legitimacy.
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“Peace Through Strength”: Deterrence in Chinese Military Doctrine

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 15 March 2017.

 “To pursue peace through strength, it shall be the policy of the United States to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces.” President Donald J. Trump, January 27, 2017.

“[Gen. Martin Dempsey] told American troops based in Japan on Thursday that ‘the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it.’” Associated Press, April 25, 2013.

The idea of “peace through strength” can be traced back to at least Roman times and almost certainly goes back even further, but in U.S. history, it is associated with Ronald Reagan. In his essay, “The Ancient Foreign Policy,” historian Victor Davis Hanson salutes its origins and links this “common wisdom” to the concept of deterrence.

From Vegetius’s Si vis pacem, para bellum [If you want peace, prepare for war] to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength,” the common wisdom was to be ready for war and thereby, and only by that way, avoid war, not to talk bellicosely and to act pacifistically … Deterrence (and with it peace) often was not defined only in material terms; it rested also on a psychological readiness to use overwhelming power to confront an aggressor … Again, deterrence (“the act of frightening away”) rested not just on quantifiable power but also on a likelihood to use it.

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