The CSS Blog Network

Is President Trump’s Foreign Policy Shaping Up?

Courtesy of Oli Goldsmith/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 20 April 2017.

April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?

Syria

On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.

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Russia: A Land Power Hungry for the Sea

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 April 2017.

Trying to understand the military behavior of nations has been a hobby of Western academics, beginning with the great geopoliticians of former centuries, such as Nicholas Spykman, Sir Halford Mackinder, and Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Simply, the argument is that geography demanded that insular and coastal nations such as England, Japan, and the Netherlands develop strong navies to support their national economic and political interests. Conversely, Germany, the Turkish Republic, and the Roman Empire were required to use their formidable land armies to defend and expand their territories. Russia stands out as a one-off. Situated squarely on the borders of Eastern Europe and central Asia, she endured numerous land assaults, and, accordingly built large defensive and offensive land armies. However, in fits and starts, she has also assembled naval forces equal to or greater than most of her presumptive adversaries. Why does Russia, a traditional land power, engage in such counterintuitive and unique behavior? Do recent international events shed light on Russia’s future naval activities?

When Tsar Peter the Great embarked on building a navy 330 years ago, he did so to defend the homeland from Swedish and Turkish enemies, north and south, while at the same time buying Russia a seat at the “great power” diplomatic table. Serendipitously, his navy did enable him to expand Russian boundaries and give him access to the world’s oceans. A second noteworthy Russian foray into the sea was at the height of the Cold War when Soviet Adm. Gorshkov planned and built a naval force that rivalled American supremacy at sea. His submarines alone (385) outnumbered those of the NATO Alliance and they regularly patrolled off the American Atlantic and Pacific coasts until the fall of the Soviet Union. On the surface of the oceans, it was commonplace for U.S. warships visiting exotic ports around the world to be joined by their Soviet counterparts throughout the Cold War.

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A New Strategy toward North Korea: Proactive, Comprehensive, and Productive

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This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 21 April 2017.

The US has been contending with the challenge of the North Korean nuclear program for decades, yet we are no closer to the goal of convincing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, that goal now appears unattainable under current circumstances.

Meanwhile the most serious threat facing the world today is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Both North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear weapons production capabilities. If they succeed, their regional neighbors will go nuclear in response, triggering a global cascade of proliferation. The resulting worldwide availability of nuclear weapons and fissile material to rogue states and terrorist groups will rapidly lead to a chaotic situation out of control.

The end goal of this strategy is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, a North Korean economy that can sustain itself, a regional security environment free of military threats from North Korea, and decisive actions addressing the deplorable human rights situation throughout North Korea.

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Wanted: A New Ideology

Courtesy of Renaud Camus/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by SAGE International Australia (S.I.A) on 28 February 2017.

At present, it is very difficult to avoid examples and discussion of terms such as ‘truthiness’, ‘post-fact’, and ‘alternative fact’. We appear to have entered an era in which immediate, subjective, and emotional perception has the power to steamroll clear thinking and rational analysis, reducing public debate to ‘us versus them’ polemics. Pronouncements by many of our political leaders are emotive rather than instructive, ephemeral rather than incremental or iterative, and unanchored from shared experience and intersubjective understanding. And then there is President Trump: a distilled product of decades of corrosive and inflammatory processes.

Enough is enough. For at least 2,500 years philosophers have argued that we are, or should at least aspire to be, rational beings. No matter how much effort it takes to carefully think things through, and how much time it takes to develop effective thinking tools, surrendering rational effort in favour of gut instinct, “it feels true,” can only end badly. As David Eagleman has argued in his book, Incognito, our unconscious mind will happily get on with running our day without our conscious input, and our limbic system will immediately colour our experience with primal emotions, if we do not choose to think our way to deeper awareness and understanding. While the problems we are facing are becoming larger and more dangerous, our collective unwillingness to do more than legitimise unconscious responses is leading to progressively worse circumstances.

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Community-based Approaches to Early Warning and Early Response: Re-thinking Violence Prevention

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry that’s provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts. To keep up to date with the Mediation Support Team, you can sign up to their newsletter here.

As a U.S. citizen living abroad, I have watched social media recently expose deep divisions in my country between particular communities and the authorities. (The documented and high profile killing of several black American men by law enforcement agents exemplifies the point.) What strikes me about this mutual estrangement is the parallels it has with communities around the world that suffer from weak or absent governance. In both cases, it is not surprising that individuals and communities would want to prevent further violence. One consensus-building tool they could use is the Early-Warning/Early Response (EWER) framework, which is designed to address tensions that might escalate into overt violence.

In a contribution I made to this blog series last year, I looked at top-down/bottom-up approaches to EWER. In today’s blog, I would like to elaborate on my CSS Mediation Resources publication, Preventing Violence: Community-based Approaches to Early Warning/Early Response, which provides a ‘best practices’ resource for communities, practitioners, policy makers, and researchers, looking at the successes, pitfalls and promises of EWER mechanisms. At its heart, the publication affirms the essential role of building relationships and trust within communities, and between them and the authorities that should ideally serve them.

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