The Geopolitics of Culture: Five Substrates

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This article was originally published June 24 2014 by the Harvard International Review (HIR).

Culture has a salient geopolitical relevance in a world that defines itself by much more than diplomatic exchanges and inter-state relations. This is primarily because of the deeply visceral and emotional connotations associated with identity issues. This has been the case throughout history, as exchanges have taken place between people of different cultures for millennia, but today they are marked by unprecedented intensity and scope of relations. This offers great opportunities on a number of levels but also has the potential to initiate tension or conflict when combined with injustice, inequalities and insecurities. » More

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‘House of Cards’ and the Depiction of America’s China

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This article was originally published July 1 2014 by CSI Newcastle, a blog run by E-International Relations (E-IR).

In response to the second season of the US remake of House of Cards, a flurry of articles appeared in various outlets pondering the accuracy of China’s portrayal. This includes discussion on how the show indicates the role ofChinese soft power, is an accurate portrayal of domestic US politics, how the show deals with issues of race and whether or not it represents an accurate portrayal of China and issues in the Asia-Pacific. The writers, praised for “doing their homework” by one outlet, met with numerous China specialists including Xiaobo Lu of Columbia University who commented that “overall the writers were successful in putting in the China
storyline with a mix of sensational fiction and possible reality”. » More

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The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) – a Design without Builders

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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

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Why Is Statehood So Popular?

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This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 27 June 2014.

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

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The State of the State

Flag of Islamic State of Iraq. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published June 16, 2014 by War on the Rocks.

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

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