Speaking honestly and forthrightly is often frowned upon in regional politics. Being too explicit or realistic, for example, is often seen as ‘unhelpful’ or, even worse, as sabotaging the ‘art of the possible’. Being an Idealist, in contrast, is synonymous with being progressive and enlightened. A common symptom of political idealism, especially over the last twenty-five years, has been to create an organization or initiative and then worry about defining its everyday purpose, form and function at a later point in time. “Build or create it and they will come” isn’t an unfair way to describe this approach. Take the African Union’s African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), for example. In theory, it is a regional mechanism designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in Africa. In truth, it remains nothing more than a construction site. The fifty-four member-states of the AU, whose headquarters continues to be largely financed by the European Union, have not really taken ownership of the ‘site’. Nor have they fleshed out one of the APSA’s main elements – the African Standby Force (ASF). Yes, the truth may be ugly and in ‘bad taste,’ but the reality today is that the APSA is only being taken seriously by those who make their living from it. » More
From Scotland to Syria to Somalia, various groups are seeking to create independent states. The Scots will vote on independence this September. Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq have revived their hopes for an independent Kurdistan as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) envisions redrawing the map of the Middle East. And tribal leaders in northwest Somalia govern the territory they claim more effectively than the internationally-recognized Federal Government of Somalia controls the south. » More
One of the most fundamental questions lurking beneath the surface of 21st century security discussions is the question of what constitutes a state. Does the prominence of powerful sub-state actors with state-like functions show that the state is declining?
Recent events in Iraq suggest that our confusion is a function of substantial definitional problems. Is the Islamic State in Iraq really a state? An armed movement that has a state? None of the above?
While I cannot improve on the analysis of ISIS offered by Middle East specialists Douglas Ollivant and Brian Fishman, I at least can offer a few general observations derived from the literature about the problem of analyzing ISIS as a state. » More
Over the past five decades, Africa has experienced significant change and positive transition. However, violent conflict continues to compromise prospects for sustained human development and economic progress. As part of its 50th Anniversary Declaration in May 2013, the African Union (AU) set itself the goal of ending all wars in Africa by 2020 and is now working on a roadmap towards a conflict-free continent (‘silencing guns in Africa’, as the slogan goes).
Is this goal in fact attainable? Ending wars is imperative, as violent conflict is the biggest impediment to a more prosperous Africa. But what would the concrete benefits look like over time; and would the absence of war by 2020 really boost Africa’s economic and human development and yield immediate dividends? By generating momentum for this kind of discussion in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, the AU’s aggressive target is noteworthy. » More
President Obama’s May 28 speech at West Point was long overdue. Chatter about America’s decline, the Pentagon’s budget crunch, deteriorating crises in Syria and Ukraine, and confusion over Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative—the Asia Rebalance—has left many questioning America’s ability or willingness to engage, much less lead, in the world.
Obama strongly refuted any notions of American decline, retrenchment, or timidity in the world, stating: “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world;” “American isolationism is not an option;” and “ America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t no one else will.” These are reassuring statements for allies and partners, who will now be watching for actions to match the words. » More