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Russia’s Reimagined Arctic

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This article was originally published by World Policy on 15 March 2017.

In this text, Arctic Yearbook managing editor Heather Exner-Pirot interviews George Soroka, lecturer at Harvard University and author of “The Political Economy of Russia’s Reimagined Arctic,” to better understand Russia’s motivations in its Arctic. These include not only economic ambitions focused on resource development, but also a resumption of its great-power status in the international system, buoyed by its demonstration of pre-eminence in the Arctic region. 

Heather Exner-Pirot: There’s been a lot of speculation in the media and elsewhere about Russia’s motivations in the Arctic. They’re often described as nefarious. How would you describe them?

George Soroka: In general, I think Russia’s motivations in the Arctic are what Russia tells us they are, even if we are not always ready to believe them. Moscow has three main priorities in the region and they are all interrelated: (1) fostering Russia’s socio-economic development by exploiting the Arctic’s natural resources and the Northern Sea Route; (2) stemming demographic decline in its peripheral territories and better integrating them with the federal center; and (3) projecting power in the High North, where Russia continues to regard itself as the pre-eminent state actor.

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Fukushima Six Years After: East Asia’s Nuclear Energy Conundrum

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This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 16 March 2017.

Synopsis

Human factors such as complacency and lack of questioning attitude have been  identified as key contributors to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But six years after the incident, East Asian states have yet to address human factors to make nuclear energy safe and secure in the region.

Commentary

JAPAN COMMEMORATED the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster on 11 March 2017. Since the tsunami–triggered disaster, qualified observers assess that the biggest risk associated with nuclear power comes not from the technology of the infrastructure but from human factors. The Fukushima incident must be regarded as a technological disaster triggered not just by “unforeseeable” natural hazards (earthquake, tsunami), but also human errors.

Comprehensive reports on Fukushima, including findings made by the Japanese parliament and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), examine how human factors such as the complacency of operators due to ‘safety myth’, the absence of regulatory independence from the nuclear industry, and reluctance to question authority all contributed to the “accident”. The Fukushima incident, like others before it, accentuates the utmost importance of addressing human and organisational factors so as to prevent nuclear accidents from occurring, or mitigate their consequences if they do occur.

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Reasons for Rejecting Globalisation: Beyond Inequality and Xenophobia

 

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This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 14 March 2017.

Theme

The authors analyse reasons accounting for the growing discontent with globalisation and the liberal establishment in advanced democracies.

Summary

This paper presents five hypotheses to account for support for anti-establishment and anti-globalisation movements. In addition to the predominant perception that the economic decline of the middle classes and the growing xenophobia evident in the West account for Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Brexit and the rise of the National Front in France, among others, the authors set out another three reasons: the difficulties that significant layers of the population are having in adapting to technological change, the crisis of the welfare state and the growing disenchantment with representative democracy.

Analysis

A consensus has existed for decades among the main political forces of the US and Europe revolving around the idea that economic openness is positive. The flows of trade and investment and, to a lesser extent, workers have thus been gradually liberalised over time. Thanks to this liberal order, Western societies have become more prosperous, more open and more cosmopolitan. Although some lost out from this economic openness, the majority of voters were prepared to accept a greater level of globalisation. As consumers they could acquire products more cheaply from countries such as China, and they also understood that the welfare state would protect them appropriately if they temporarily fell into the category of the losers (in political economy this is known as the ‘compensation hypothesis’,1 according to which more open countries tend to have larger state sectors and redistribute more). For their part, developing countries have also benefitted from economic globalisation, exporting products to the wealthy transatlantic market (which is more and more open) and sending remittances from the West to their countries of origin. The invention seemed to work.

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ISIS in Africa: Implications from Syria and Iraq

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This article was originally published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) on 17 March 2017.

At the end of 2016, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), announced that the group had “expanded and shifted some of our command, media, and wealth to Africa.” ISIS’s Dabiq magazine referred to the regions of Africa that were part of its “caliphate”: “the region that includes Sudan, Chad, and Egypt has been named the caliphate province of Alkinaana; the region that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda as the province of Habasha; the North African region encompassing Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Niger, and Mauritania as Maghreb, the province of the caliphate.” Leaving aside the mismatched ethno-linguistic groupings included in each of these “provinces,” ISIS’s interest in establishing a presence in Africa has long been a part of its vision for a global caliphate.

Battlefield setbacks in ISIS’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria since 2015, however, raise questions of what impact this will have for ISIS’s African aspirations. A useful starting point in considering this question is to recognize that the threat from violent Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but is comprised of a variety of distinct entities. For the most part, these groups are geographically concentrated and focused on local territorial or political objectives. Specifically, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies has identified 5 major categories of militant Islamists groups in Africa. In order of lethality on the continent, these include Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, ISIS-linked groups in North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Sinai-focused groups.

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

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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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