The CSS Blog

Taking First-Use of Nukes off the Table: Good for the United States and the World

1014px-Peacekeeper-missile-testing

Courtesy David James Paquin/wikimedia

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 14 July 2016.

The United States first used nuclear weapons more than 70 years ago on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fearing the threat from massive Soviet conventional forces and possible large-scale use of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. military and political leaders decided to keep the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Today, the United States in the world’s dominant global military power and the Soviet Union is long gone. The Cold War-era policy of not ruling out nuclear first-use poses a grave risk to the security of the United States and is not suitable for today’s global security and political environment.

The greatest threat to the United States and to any nation is from the enormous and indiscriminate destructive effects of nuclear weapons. It is in the interest of the United States that, as long as these weapons exist, all nuclear-armed states agree that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to respond to a nuclear attack by other nuclear-armed states and only when the survival of the state or one of its allies is at stake. It is time for the United States to adopt this policy.

In April 2009, President Barack Obama made clear that he sought “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and pledged to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.”

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What Prompted Erdogan to Come to Terms with Putin? What Will be the Consequences?

Blocs sliced

Labyrinth, courtesy René De Bondt/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 13 July 2016.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou | Professor, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies (CIES), Kadir Has University, Istanbul

As if out of the blue, but not really a surprise at all, Turkey has in the last week announced both a rapprochement process with Israel and an attempt to mend relations with Russia. It has also made overtures to Egypt to improve bilateral commercial and economic ties, though its relations with the Sisi regime remain politically complicated. The flurry of diplomatic activity on the part of Turkey’s government indicates that the situation before diplomatic overtures was becoming increasingly unfeasible, and that Turkey’s isolation was growing. This isolation found Ankara increasingly at odds with its neighbours and partners, threatening Turkey’s self-cultivated image as a soft power. This image has been eroding with the escalation of the Syrian crisis, the surge of violence in the country’s southeast in the state’s fight against the PKK, and the series of bombings both by Kurdish militants and the Islamic State across the country. In other words, Turkey was becoming an unreliable and ineffectual contributor to the region’s security.

Reaching out to Israel and Egypt implies that the AKP government is turning away from its proclivity for ideology-laden foreign policy. It also suggests a realisation by Ankara that, based on a power politics assessment, its continued ambivalence toward the Islamic State was further marginalising Turkey and weakening its ability to shape and influence the future of the region, especially the eastern Mediterranean (including the resolution of the Cyprus problem), together with the other relevant stakeholders. The latest terror attack at Istanbul’s main airport, although planned and orchestrated before diplomacy took centre stage, suggests that the policy reversal in now complete. Although further attacks are a very real possibility, Turkey is bound to expect more empathy and support from its allies. The reopening of the airport the day after the attacks indicates a degree of state and regime resilience that it will not easily be broken. The turn toward Tel Aviv and Cairo also suggests an understanding that Turkey has potentially much to gain from a developing Western regional security complex in the eastern Mediterranean, which should also include Greece and Turkey together with Israel and Egypt. The opening of a new chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU during the same week is also indicative of its enhanced status.

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Is it Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement?

Hand-shakeOn June 22, Ambassador John Herbst and David Kramer debated whether we should bury the Minsk agreement, the troubled ceasefire agreement in Ukraine, at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, DC. Their remarks have been adapted from the debate.

It’s Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement

By David J. Kramer

The Minsk ceasefire agreement, signed February 15, 2015, by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France, along with representatives from the OSCE and from Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR, respectively), is simply not working. It is time to scrap it and make clear to Russia, through a declaration from Western nations, that sanctions will remain in place—and will be increased over time—unless Russia meets several key conditions. These include withdrawal of its forces and weapons from Ukraine (including Crimea), respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, control of the border restored to Ukrainian authorities, and the return to Ukraine of those citizens it kidnapped from Ukrainian territory. Further negotiations with Moscow are pointless given that Russian officials won’t even acknowledge the presence of their forces on Ukrainian soil.

There have not been any new sanctions imposed on Russia despite its failure to live up to a single condition under the Minsk accord. Instead, a number of European leaders, led by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, along with the French parliament and others, have irresponsibly called for an easing if not outright lifting of sanctions. Without German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renewal of EU sanctions would be in jeopardy.

Defenders of Minsk argue it has reduced the fighting. In fact, more than four thousand Ukrainians have been killed since the second Minsk deal was signed last year, almost half the number of total casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2014. A serious uptick in fighting in the past two months further belies the claim that Minsk has preserved the peace.

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The Eurasian Union: Rising or Shooting Star?

Peligroso Putin

Peligroso Putin, Madrid 2008, Courtesy David/flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.

Russia’s recession and its geopolitical standoff with the West are taking their toll on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). During a summit of the EAEU’s leaders in Astana on 31 May, several participants voiced concerns over the union’s poor economic performance. And Moscow’s reaction to the recent flare-up of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cast doubts for Armenia on the security benefits of EAEU membership.

Against this backdrop, 18 months after the launch of the EAEU, its member states are demonstrating increasing resistance to Moscow’s vision of Eurasian integration. As a result, its success will largely depend on Russia’s leverage – positive and negative – over its smaller partners.

Looming stick, dwindling carrot

The launch of the EAEU was overshadowed by two developments. First, Russian pressure on Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine in the context of the finalisation of Association Agreements with the EU and accession to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), culminating with the annexation of Crimea and a Moscow-backed insurgency in the Donbas; and, second, the global slump of commodity prices and the enforcement of Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, leading to a slowdown of the Russian economy (the ultimate guarantor of the union’s economic success). In this context, EAEU accession was perceived by its signatories as a bitter pill that could not be refused.

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Offshore Balancing, US Retreat and Strategic Disorder

Waiting to board

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait to board the aircraft. Courtesy the US Army/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist on 28 June 2016.

John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s recent Foreign Affairs article advocating a return to offshore balancing is certainly generating a debate amongst the doyens of US foreign policy. Tom Switzer, for example, clearly likes their arguments. Dan Drezner doesn’t. So perhaps I ought to begin by outlining my own position. I accept the starting point for the Mearsheimer/Walt argument: the strategic mainstream is starting to fracture as America reprioritises its domestic agenda. But I don’t accept that offshore balancing—a strategy under which the US stays ‘offshore’ from Eurasia for as long as possible and, even when it comes onshore, makes its allies carry as much of the weight as possible—would lead to favourable outcomes for either the world or America.

Despite the Mearsheimer/Walt argument that ‘by husbanding US strength, an offshore-balancing strategy would preserve US primacy well into the future’, I don’t see how international observers would perceive offshore balancing as anything other than US retreat. And those perceptions would, in turn, fundamentally weaken the credibility of US security assurances to allies and partners. Critics would paint it as the waning of the Pax Americana, and not entirely without reason.

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