Urban Battlegrounds: Dystopian Futures or Complex Realities?

A man in a dark Karachi alley. Image: Ebtesam Ahmed/Flickr

From Kobane and Raqqa to the streets of Mexico City and beyond, cities are increasingly being perceived as urban battlegrounds – places where the world’s next wars will be fought between traditional armies and non-state actors. In this respect, there’s nothing coincidental about the fact that these ‘battlegrounds’ are primarily located in the ‘developing’ world. It’s here where most of the world’s urbanization is taking place. For many, rapid urbanization means living in informal settlements. It also means increased exposure to high rates of crime, violence and limited opportunities for human advancement. » More

Mexican Cartels as Vicious Firms

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán arrested by members of the Mexican Navy. Image: Galaxy fm/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 March, 2015.

At the height of his power, Sinaloa cartel kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was on Forbes’ most powerful list just below Robin Li, the CEO of China’s number one search company, Baidu.  Unlike Apple and Baidu, which have to report their annual earnings, acknowledge the members of their companies, and open their finances to government scrutiny, Mexican drug cartels have no such requirements. » More

Everyday Life after Annexation: The Autonomous Republic of Crimea

Signing of the treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia. Left to right: S. Aksyonov, V. Konstantinov, V. Putin and A. Chalyi. Image: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia

This article was originally published as part of the ‘Ukraine and Russia’ Collection by E-International Relations on 20 March, 2015.

Imagine for a moment that tanks roll into your state. Armed and masked men without military insignia occupy your city streets. The airport is closed. Then, after a hasty vote, a new leader, someone you understood was part of the criminal underworld, is promoted to the top executive position. Suddenly, you must turn your clocks back two full hours to correspond with the new capital, some 1,400 kilometres away. Your ATM card stops working, and then your bank closes. Familiar foods, foods you have been eating your entire life, are banned and disappear from grocery store shelves to be replaced with foreign ones. Your medication becomes six times more expensive than before. Then your cell phone stops working, and you must find a new carrier to regain service. The television station you relied on for nightly news closes. You are told you have three months to turn in your passport for a new one, or you may not be able to renew your driver’s license or return to your home after travel. This chaotic and liminal situation is not, of course, hypothetical. It is what happened to residents of Crimea following annexation by the Russian Federation. » More

Mediation Perspectives: Reframing the Ukraine Crisis

Poroshenko, Merkel and Putin at the 70th annual D-Day commemoration. Image: www.kremlin.ru/Wikimedia

“They say the next big thing is here,
that the revolution’s near,
but to me it seems quite clear
that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating”

Shirley Bassey ~ “History Repeating”

The board game Risk: The Game of Global Domination is an extreme representation of geopolitical power dynamics. It pits players against each other on a simplified map of the world controlled by soldiers, cannons and cavalry. Although simplified and exaggerated, Risk is a crude model of thousands of years of international history: the rise and fall of empires, shifting balances of power, alliances, betrayals and perhaps the most disturbing factor – that the widespread death and destruction controlled by the ‘players’ is portrayed as a normal and inevitable part of geopolitics. » More

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Time to Abandon the Greed-Grievance Debate

Police confront rioters during 2012 Rohingya riots in Burma. Image: Hmuu Zaw/Wikimedia

Over the past ten years, the question of whether violent conflicts are the result of genuine grievances or the product of an environment in which rebellion is an attractive and/or viable option has been  at the heart of a fierce theoretical controversy known as the greed versus grievance debate. The debate was sparked when Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler claimed that rebellion cannot be explained by grievances resulting from ethnic animosities or economic and political inequalities, because situations in which people want to rebel are ubiquitous, whereas the circumstances in which people are able to rebel (weak states, rough terrain, the presence of lootable resources etc.) are sufficiently rare to constitute the explanation.

This claim and its morally charged phrasing in terms of “greed” and “grievance” posed a tough challenge to the dominant view of many political scientists and to conventional wisdom more generally. While many scholars subsequently shifted their attention to studying the opportunities for conflict, others put their efforts into finding better ways to measure people’s grievances. An award-winning book on Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, published in 2013, testifies to the fact that the jury in this debate is still out. » More

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