Current focus: Global Views

Ten Reasons Why China Will Have Trouble Fighting a Modern War

PLA soldiers in training. Image: Myles Cullen/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 18 February, 2015.

The introduction of new weapons and platforms into the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has captured the attention of much of the world for well over a decade. However, new equipment is only one element of the PLA’s long-term, multi-dimensional modernization process. There is much to be done and no one understands this better than the Chinese themselves. Based on what PLA commanders and staff officers write in their internal newspapers and journals, the force faces a multitude of challenges in order to close the perceived gaps between its capabilities and those of advanced militaries. » More

Prior focus: Our Perspectives

Drones: From Technology to Policy, Security to Ethics

«Drones: From Technology to Policy, Security to Ethics». Poster for the conference organized by the ISN and ETH Global. Image: ISN

Rapid technological advances are making drones cheaper, more accessible and highly adaptable. Once the exclusive preserve of the world’s most advanced armed forces, unmanned platforms are now being used by civilian actors for a wide range of applications. Yet, while members of the technical community have tended to emphasize the opportunities that this technology offers, their counterparts in international relations and other fields have increasingly raised questions about the legal, ethical, humanitarian and security implications of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Against this backdrop, ETH Global and the ISN recently hosted a one-day conference that brought together over 160 experts from the fields of robotics, environmental science, law and ethics, and international relations and security. Since ETH Zurich is considered one of the world’s leading ‘competence centers’ in the field of robotics systems and control, its activities offer a glimpse into emerging UAS technologies and their potential social impact in the future.

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From 1989 to 2014: Young Vladimir Putin and the Irony of Helsinki

Mikhail Gorbachev & George H.W Bush signing an agreement on chemical weapons in Washington , D.C, 1990. Image: Executive Office of the President of the United States/Wikimedia

A quarter of a century has passed since the end of the Cold War. In the West, a new generation of leaders is in power, most of whom had little personal involvement in the East-West standoff that defined international politics for most of the post-1945 era.  By contrast, Russia has been under the stewardship of a leader who came of age politically with the fall of the Iron Curtain. Mikhail Gorbachev recently warned that a new Cold War is emerging. But what, if any, are the links between the events of 1989 and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014? Can we make sense of Europe’s renewed confrontation with its eastern neighbour by peering into the past? Reflection on the events of 1989 sheds light on those of 2014 in two ways: by illustrating how Vladimir Putin’s personal experiences of the end of the Cold War have shaped his foreign policy priorities, and by highlighting the importance of Mikhail Gorbachev’s acceptance of the Helsinki principle in shaping the post-Cold War European order. » More

Prior focus: Global Views

NORAD’s Evolving Role in North American Homeland Defense

NORAD Command Center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. Image: U.S Air Force/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 13 February, 2015.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has long been a function of the North American security environment.  Initially established during the Cold War, NORAD was intended to fulfill a homeland defense role by looking outwardly to identify and interdict threats approaching Canada and the United States. In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s focus has evolved and the institution has shifted from looking outwardly to include participation in homeland security operations taking place within the United States and Canada.  NORAD’s participation in North American homeland security operations has resulted in the redefinition of the institution’s role in defense and security operations.  In recent years, NORAD has provided airborne security at major sporting events, government conventions, and other large public gatherings.  This homeland security support role has been buttressed by the institution’s appropriation of popular cultural icons, such as Santa Claus and Superman.  These examples are symbolic of a broader shift away from strategic defense, towards a public relations’ role.  In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s primary function has been to affirm U.S. dominance over North American skies, and to convey to the public audience that the potential for future terrorist attacks remains a threat to domestic security. » More

Prior focus: Academic Perspectives

Brazil’s New Army Chief: the Challenges Ahead

Brazilian soldiers during the 2003 Independence Day parade in Brasília, Brazil. Image: Victor Soares/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Strife on 9 February, 2015.

Earlier this year, Dilma Rousseff replaced the chiefs of the armed forces for the first time as President of Brazil. The most anticipated was her pick for the influential position of Army Commandant. Rousseff’s choice raised a few eyebrows because she broke with the established practice of appointing the most senior officer for the job. It unexpectedly fell to candidate General Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas, just third in terms of seniority, to lead a fighting force of nearly 190,000 active personnel. With eight years ahead as the most senior commander of Brazil’s military, Villas Bôas will have to address several challenges if he expects to cement Brazil’s status as a major world power. » More

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