The Experts Come to Zurich

 MAS ETH SPCM

The MAS ETH SPCM is offered in cooperation with leading academic partner institutions (Photo: ETH Zurich)

ETH Zurich recently hosted Block III of the Center for Security Studies’ (CSS) Master of Advanced Studies program in Security Policy and Crisis Management (SPCM). Between April 9 and 18, experts and scholars from around Europe gathered in Zurich to discuss how a host of “New Risks” are shaping security policies and responses. The ISN took the opportunity to speak to some of the lecturers to gauge their opinion on how these “New Risks” will impact upon the study of security in the not-too-distant future.

The Study of Terrorism

As terrorism studies continue to grow, Professor Peter Neumann of King’s College London gives his perspective on the future of terrorism research:


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The Ghost of North Korea

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket ready to launch at Tangachai-ri space center on April 8, 2012. Image by Wikimedia Commons.

TOKYO – At 7:39 a.m. on April 13, North Korea fired a missile (which it called a satellite launch) in the face of opposition from almost the entire international community. In a perverse way, the world got its way, because the vehicle exploded a minute after takeoff, its debris falling harmlessly into the sea.

North Korea typically goes silent after such episodes: “failure” does not exist in its political lexicon, so it cannot be reported or discussed. The country’s media routinely meets any failure with outpourings of patriotic music and bombastic praise for the regime.

But this time was different. Behind the scenes in North Korea, failure does have consequences. In the coming weeks, we will most likely learn of a purge of those responsible. Indeed, the engineers and scientists involved in the launch probably put their lives on the line.

Moreover, North Korea could not deny failure this time, because the regime invited international media to attend the event – even allowing foreign reporters into the mission-control room – in order to legitimize it as a “satellite” launch and not a weapons test. The “failure” could not be concealed, so it was quickly admitted. » More

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The Afghan Endgame Mirage

Patrol in Jani Khel district, Afghanistan. Image by isafmedia / Flickr.

STOCKHOLM – On a recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I could not fail to notice the increasingly frequent international calls for an “endgame” in Afghanistan. But an endgame for that country is a dangerous illusion: the game will not end, and neither will history. The only thing that could come to an end is the world’s attention and engagement in Afghanistan, which could well lead to catastrophic consequences.

Much international focus is now on the year 2014, the target date for completion of the gradual transfer of responsibility for security from international forces to the Afghan government. This process is not without challenges, but there is no reason to believe that it could not be finalized more or less according to plan and the current timetable.

My belief is that there is another, far more critical challenge facing Afghanistan in 2014: the election of a new president. In a system where so much power – open and hidden, constitutional and traditional – is centered around the president, the election could well turn into an all-out battle for the country’s future. » More

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To the Victors Go the Foils

Graffiti showing a ballot box

Many countries are holding elections in 2012, but governments are struggling to keep up with their peoples' expectations (Photo: david drexler/flickr)

NEW YORK – A surprising number of elections and political transitions is scheduled to occur over the coming months. An incomplete list includes Russia, China, France, the United States, Egypt, Mexico, and South Korea.

At first glance, these countries have little in common. Some are well-established democracies; some are authoritarian systems; and others are somewhere in between. Yet, for all of their differences, these governments – and the individuals who will lead them – face many of the same challenges. Three stand out.

The first is that no country is entirely its own master. In today’s world, no country enjoys total autonomy or independence. To one degree or another, all depend on access to foreign markets to sell their manufactured goods, agricultural products, resources, or services – or to supply them. None can eliminate economic competition with others over access to third-country markets. Many countries require capital inflows to finance investment or official debt. Global supply and demand largely set oil and gas prices. Economic interdependence and the vulnerability associated with it is an inescapable fact of contemporary life. » More

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Mind the Neighbors

Joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press

Kofi Annan, joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press

PRINCETON – The conventional wisdom last week on whether Syria would comply with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan was that it was up to Russia. We were reverting to Cold War politics, in which the West was unwilling to use force and Russia was willing to keep arming and supporting its client. Thus, Russia held the trump card: the choice of how much pressure it was willing to put on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to comply with the plan.

If this view were correct, Iran would surely be holding an equally powerful hand. Annan, after all, traveled to Tehran as well. Traditional balance-of-power geopolitics, it seems, is alive and well.

But this is, at best, a partial view that obscures as much as it reveals. In particular, it misses the crucial and growing importance of regional politics and institutions. » More

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