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The Beginning(s) and End(s) of the International Order

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 22 May 2017.

These days, the pulse of the world’s political health is running fast. The general prognosis is terminal, the end of the international world order, as we know it. But determining what order we are on the verge of losing could do with more diagnosis, including tracking the symptoms of the disorder (and order) back to their beginnings. One of the useful roles that historians can play in this regard is to offer a longer view of what we have lost, or, at least, the international order that seems to be disappearing from view.  So bear with me as I offer a “Cook’s tour” of two centuries in search of the point where the end possibly began, in order to understand better the history of the aims—or “ends”—of international order itself.

1814?

European historians have long assumed that the early nineteenth century made “international” politics possible: In 1814, after decades of continental wars against French hegemony, a coalition led by Russia, including Sweden, Prussia, Austria, and Britain (as well as some smaller now non-existent sovereignties) emerged victorious and established what became known as the “Congress system.” At its most basic, this comprised negotiations through discussion—famously identified with the Congress of Vienna—and transnational cooperation in the interests of permanent peace. In the years that followed, ambassadorial conferences in London, and occasional conferences around the smaller towns of the European continent, became a method for managing territorial and ideological flashpoints.  Within a few years, the British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh confidently reported to his Prime Minister the practical value of this transformation of European politics:

how much solid good grows out of these Reunions, which sound so terrible at a distance. It realy [sic] appears to me to be a new discovery in the Science of European Government at once extinguishing the Cobwebs, with which Diplomacy obscures the Horizon – bringing the Whole bearing of the system into its true light, and giving to the Counsels of the great Powers the Efficiency and almost the simplicity of a Single State.[1]

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The Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe under Trump

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 May 2017.

Growing tension on the Korean Peninsula has returned the unimaginable terror of nuclear war to the American public consciousness. The danger is a global one: Nine states possess nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons and the detonation of even one of these weapons could cause humanitarian and economic catastrophe. Although the use of a nuclear weapon by a state or non-state actor is unlikely, it is not impossible, and the risk may be growing. Indeed, such a rare event can be evaluated in terms of a simple risk-assessment formula: probability multiplied by consequences.

Given the enormous consequences of nuclear use, even small fluctuations in probability warrant attention. Some variation will arise from changes in the international environment, such as technological advances that make nuclear command and control systems more or less vulnerable to cyber-attack, or fluctuation in the level of tension between nuclear-armed rivals like India and Pakistan. But as the world’s most powerful state, with its own vast nuclear arsenal as well as a record of leadership in nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts, the United States plays an important role in moderating —– or enhancing —– the likelihood of nuclear use.

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How State Restrictions are Reshaping Civic Space Around the World

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This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 19 May 2017.

In April 2017, the Russian Ministry of Justice designated the Kola Ecological Center, a small environmental group in Russia’s Murmansk region, a “foreign agent.” The organization’s offense? It had advised regional authorities on nuclear waste handling and opposed plans to extend the run time of a local nuclear power plant—and, importantly, it had accepted Norwegian funding in the past. It now joins more than 150 Russian NGOs for whom the foreign agent label has led to crippling fines, onerous lawsuits, and, in the most extreme cases, liquidation.

Russia is not an isolated case. Governments around the world are cracking down on civil society activism. Pointing to threats of terrorism or the need to protect national sovereignty, they are erecting new barriers to the operations and funding of NGOs, harassing and demonizing civic activists, and criminalizing dissent through expansive anti-terrorism laws. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 60 countries restricted citizens’ freedom of assembly and civil society’s ability to access funding.

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Policy Response to Low Fertility in China: Too Little, Too Late?

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This article was originally published by the East-West Center in April 2017.

Introduction

In 1970, Chinese women were having an average of nearly six children each. Only nine years later, this figure had dropped to an average of 2.7 children per woman. This steep fertility decline was achieved before the Chinese government introduced the infamous one-child policy. Today, at 1.5 children per woman, the fertility rate in China is one of the lowest in the world. Such a low fertility level leads to extreme population aging–expansion of the proportion of the elderly in a population, with relatively few children to grow up and care for their aging parents and few workers to pay for social services or drive economic growth. China’s birth-control policies are now largely relaxed, but new programs are needed to provide healthcare and support for the growing elderly population and to encourage young people to have children. It will be increasingly difficult to fund such programs, however, as China’s unprecedented pace of economic growth inevitably slows down.

China’s Fertility Decline

Most of China’s fertility decline took place in the 1970s, before the government launched its one-child policy in 1980 (see Figure 1). During the 1980s, fertility fluctuated, for the most part above the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman, which would maintain a constant population size. Then in the early 1990s, fertility declined to below-replacement level, and since then it has further declined to around 1.5 children per woman today. If very low birth rates persist, eventually the population starts to shrink, and it can shrink very quickly. Today’s low fertility could lead to a decline in China’s population by as many as 600 million people by the end of the 21st century.

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Algerian Stability Could Fall with Oil Price

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This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 18 May 2017.

The low global oil prices being experienced since mid-2014 have had a serious impact on oil-dependent states across the world, many of which have a limited capacity to adjust to the current economic climate. Algeria is considered particularly vulnerable in North Africa, with fears of a return to the instability of the late 1980s and a diminished ability to respond to the region’s fragile security environment.

The steep decline in oil prices has caused budget deficits even in the wealthiest Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Yet these states generally have very large foreign currency reserves and sizable sovereign wealth funds that should help them weather the current slump comparatively well. Though not as poorly placed as some sub-Saharan oil-producers such as Nigeria, Algeria lacks such a significant cushion.

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