The CSS Blog

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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.

What Can Mali Teach the UN About Confronting Terrorism?


Courtesy of Boris Savluc / Flickr

This article was originally published by the IPI’s Global Observatory on 18 October 2016.

There was little media coverage of last month’s United Nations ministerial meeting on Mali—opened by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—held on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. This was in stark contrast to four years ago, when United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the conflict in northern Mali during a debate with Barack Obama. Does this mean that Mali is falling off a busy multilateral agenda dominated by the refugee crisis, Syria, and the transition to a new UN secretary-general?

The optimists would see it as a sign that the situation is not as bad as it once seemed, and that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deployed in July 2013, is—alongside French counterterrorist force Barkhane—helping to prevent terrorist groups reoccupying northern Mali. Yet this goes against observations of “a doubling in the number of attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups in northern Mali” and the fact that “attacks have spread to the center of the country” as Ban noted in his most recent Mali report to the Security Council.

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Mediation perspectives: Seven Avenues for Research in International Mediation

Peter Wallensteen

Peter Wallensteen speaking at the 2016 International Conference on Mediation.

What are new avenues for research in international mediation? This question was discussed at the International Conference on Mediation, which took place in Basel, Switzerland, in June 2016. It was jointly organized by the Centre for Mediation in Africa (CMA) at the University of Pretoria, the Global South Unit for Mediation (GSUM) at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and swisspeace, which is an associated institute of the University of Basel.

The utility of the conference lay in its focus on two topics. First, trying to bridge the research–practice gap by having both mediation researchers and practitioners attend the event. Second, the conference sought to bridge the North-South gap by hosting researchers and practitioners from both the Global North and Global South, and thereby helping to rebalance the present research asymmetry that exists in the world.

By drawing on a variety of perspectives, the conference highlighted the following areas of research as being particularly relevant for the further development of the mediation field.

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Seven Worrying Trends in the European Refugee Crisis

Sea Storm, Blue Moon

Courtesy stainedglassartist/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 October 2016.

EU leaders could soon come to regret having crossed their fingers and moved the refugee crisis off the urgent pile in their in-tray.

As part of his final UN General Assembly, President Obama hosted a leaders’ summit on refugees. In his speech he termed the global refugee crisis one of ‘the most urgent tests of our time’. But the list of commitments coming out of the summit did not live up to this description. The Bratislava EU summit earlier this month barely touched on refugee issues among the list of priorities to address, and there seems to be a general sense that Europe has more or less weathered the refugee storm that appeared so threatening in 2015.

There is some truth to this – for now. The number of sea crossings to the EU in the first nine months of 2016 was indeed down, at around 300,000, compared to 520,000 in 2015. But despite this there are a number of worrying trends that EU leaders would be foolish to ignore.

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North Korea’s Testing Decade

North Korean Monument

Courtesy Gilad Rom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on 7 October 2016.

A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.

Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.

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Interview – Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Behold the Two Headed Spanish Horse

Courtesy Alan Levine/Flickr

This interview transcript was originally published by by E-International Relations (E-IR) in September 2016.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is Professor of Political Science and Religious Studies at Northwestern University. Professor Hurd’s latest book Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (Princeton, 2015) has attracted international attention by framing important debates around what the author believes is a problematic intersection of policy, religion and political interest in global affairs today. In this interview she discusses the implications of her scholarship and where she believes the study of religion in IR is headed.

What motivated you to write your latest book Beyond Religious Freedom?

Beyond Religious Freedom is my response to what I see as a need to rethink how we approach the study of religion and politics in the field of international relations. There’s been a gold-rush mentality lately as scholars scurry to ‘get religion right’ – but many of these efforts are confused, or even troubling. The problem, as I discuss in more detail elsewhere, is that international relations ‘got religion’ but got it wrong. Beyond Religious Freedom encourages scholars to step back from the political fray. It neither celebrates religion for its allegedly peaceful potential nor condemns it for its allegedly violent tendencies. Instead, I propose a new conceptual framework for the study of religion and public life. It accounts for the gaps and tensions that I perceived between the large-scale international legal, political and religious engineering projects undertaken in the name of religious freedom, toleration, and rights, and the realities of the individuals and communities subjected to these efforts.

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