Small States Have Options Too: Competitive Strategies Against Aggressors

Globe, courtesy Yogendra Joshi/flickr

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 27 January 2016.

Looking back at history, one might reasonably conclude that small states are destined to be on the losing end of geopolitics. Events of the last decade in particular do not give us much reason for optimism about the destiny of small states facing coercion at the hands of their larger and more powerful neighbors. Russia used force against Georgia in 2008, has been using force against Ukraine since 2014, and could prospectively use force against a number of its other neighbors. China, for its part, has used a variety of coercive techniques in its territorial disputes with its neighbors. One common feature of these situations is an explicit effort by the coercing state to stay below the thresholds of a military response and, in particular, outside military intervention. As a result, small states have largely been left to their own devices to defend themselves against their more powerful neighbors.

Small, frontline states do not, however, lack options in the face of coercion. To the contrary, they could pursue a number of competitive strategies in an effort to make coercion less attractive. These include strategies of denial, which seek to harden a state against coercion; cost-imposing strategies, which seek to force an adversary to bear burdens sufficient to cause a reconsideration of coercion; efforts to attack and render ineffective the adversary’s coercive strategy; and strategies that seek to exploit divisions within the enemy’s political leadership to end the coercive campaign. The United States can, and in many cases should, assist small, frontline states in developing and implementing competitive strategies against their larger neighbors seeking to coerce them.

» More

Dealing with Assertive China: Time for Engagement 2.0

map of China and its neighbors

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 12 January 2016.

By all accounts, China’s rise as a great power has reached a new phase. In 2010, by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy, following stunning leaps over France, the United Kingdom, and Germany in the previous five years. Symbolically, this marked China’s arrival as the second largest global power. Concurrently, Chinese foreign policy has abandoned its earlier “lie-low, bide our time” strategy and turned assertive.

China’s rising challenge calls for a revamped American policy. To devise an effective response, we will need to be clear-eyed about the persistent drivers as well as the changing dynamics of Chinese foreign policy. We will also need to be clear on both the limitations and the adaptability of the past policy that has successfully facilitated China’s integration into the international system. Decades of China’s internationalization diminishes the prospect of war and tightens the place of China in the existing world order. But the two sides now seem stuck in a hapless state of strategic mistrust. America’s heightened concern over China is crystallized in the danger of what Professor Graham Allison calls the Thucydides Trap, the risk of war during a power transition typified by the Peloponnesian War between the rising Athens and the reigning Sparta. Chinese strategy analysts are acutely aware of the number two-power conundrum, as their country becomes the target of security fixation from the United States and its allies.

» More

What (else) to Expect in Africa in 2016?

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi

This article was originally published by ISS Africa on 12 January 2016.

Africa starts the New Year with many burning issues that escalated in 2015 and need urgent action. The crisis in Burundi, where grave human rights violations are continuing, and the war in South Sudan are the two most pressing among these.

This year will also see a number of important elections taking place in Africa. Uganda’s presidential polls are being held next month, and those scheduled for the Democratic Republic of Congo later this year will also be top of mind for most Africa watchers.

It will also be a very challenging year for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who will now have to make good on his 2015 election promises.

This includes effectively dealing with terror group Boko Haram and bringing back the kidnapped Chibok girls. Africa’s most populous nation will also look to him to continue the fight against corruption and boost economic development, despite the slump in the oil price.

But what are we missing, beyond the big newsmakers?

In 2016, we should watch for surprises from unexpected quarters. One of these might be from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, who turns 92 next month, is not immortal – even if his supporters vow to push him onto the stage in a wheelchair to celebrate his victory at the next party elections in 2019.

» More

The Strategist: The Work of an Unconventional Political Scientist

Risk Board in the Middle East


This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 11 December, 2015.

In Sparrow’s narrative, the private and the public are intimately related, interconnected, and form a unity to explain relevant chapters of the American past.

Political scientist Bartholomew Sparrow has written what might be considered an unconventional work, The Strategist, a biography of Brent Scowcroft. His book is unconventional because biographies, even political biographies, are not typically written by political scientists – they are written by historians, journalists, or amateurs with a lot of energy and a fine pen. The political science community does not reward this work. We are scientists, not storytellers. We write about the science of politics, not about the lives of politicians. We are scientists who want, as professor Dietrich Rueschemeyer stated in Capitalist Development and Democracy to “go beyond conventional history’s preoccupation with historical particularity and aim for theoretical generalizations,” and consequently, the specific, the detail, and the particular are unnecessary and avoidable. Almost twenty years ago the eminent political scientist Margaret Levi argued in A Model, a Method, and a Map: Rational Choice in Comparative Historical Analysis that “the rationalists are almost willing to sacrifice nuance for generalizability, detail for logic, a forfeiture most other comparativists would decline.” In this view, Sparrow’s biography of Scowcroft is not only unconventional, but is also an anomaly in political science.

» More

Interview – Ivan Krastev

Merged Europe and Russia flag


This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 16 December, 2015.

Ivan Krastev is chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, Bulgaria and Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM), Austria. A founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, he is also a member of the global advisory board of Open Society Foundations, and of the advisory council of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and the European Cultural Foundation (ECF). Mr. Krastev is also associate editor of Europe’s World and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Democracy and Transit – Europäische Revue. He has written extensively on democracy, Eastern Europe, the politics of his native Bulgaria and relations between Russia and the West.

» More

Page 1 of 48