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.

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Did Sisi Save Egypt?

A man waves an Egyptian flag in front of riot police

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on 25 January 2016.

Five years ago, the leaders of Egypt’s protest movement shocked themselves by successfully bringing down President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power since before many of them were born. In those days, it was not unusual to hear talk of a new dawn for Egyptian politics and the Arab world. It is difficult to find many leaders of that movement who are so cheerful today. And their disappointment is broadly shared in academic, policy, and media circles around the world. Young and disaffected Egyptians, the story goes, revolted against a stultified regime and demanded a democratic government, a freer society, and more economic rights. They won the battle but lost the war, as the military, initially along with the Muslim Brotherhood and later without it, gained the upper hand and defeated the revolutionaries.

But there is a very different way to tell the story of 2011. This tale is not one of high but disappointed hope, but one of threatened chaos and rescue. From the perspective of Egypt’s security institutions—its military, police, and intelligence forces—the uprising threatened to bring down not only Egypt’s president but its entire social and political order. Averting such an outcome was an arduous task, one that the Egyptian armed forces still see themselves as undertaking.

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Finally! A Peace Policy for Kenya

“Keep Peace”, carved in a tree in Kibera, Kenya during the post election violence in 2008. Image: The Advocacy Project/Flickr

This article was originally published by Saferworld on 4 November, 2015.

The need for a national framework to guide efforts to prevent conflict and build peace in Kenya cannot be overstated. For a long time Northern Kenya was seen as the most problematic region of the country, with frequent incidents of cattle rustling fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The rest of Kenya remained ‘peaceful’, except for the cycles of political violence that have erupted during every election since the introduction of a multi-party democracy in 1992. The worst political violence was experienced in 2007–08, raising concern about the country’s capacity to deal with such high levels of violence and the effectiveness of its early warning and response, mediation, and security deployment. » More

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Why North Korea is So Corrupt, and Why that May Be Good

North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. Image: Surian Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by NK News on 16 October, 2015.

North Korea is probably the most corrupt country in Asia. Measuring corruption levels is difficult, and existing ratings (like the well-known index published annually by Transparency International) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence appears persuasive enough: Official corruption in North Korea has been exceptional over the last 20 years.

In my frequent discussions with North Koreans, I have discovered the fact that most of them take a high level of corruption for granted. They assume that any official who is in a position to ask for bribes will. In fact, they are surprised if officials refuse bribes. Simply put, corruption is part of the fabric of daily life in North Korea today. » More

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Does Surveillance Mean the Death of Democracy?

NSA Grafitti in Stockholm, Sweden. Image: beppek/Pixabay

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 29 October, 2015.

In computing, a “segmentation fault” occurs when a program tries to access information that it has no business accessing.

Emotion vs. reason. Instinct vs. analysis. Heart vs. brain. Perhaps there is no other dichotomy in our intellectual history that still holds similar sway. From an early age, we are taught to dissect what goes on in our minds and neatly compartimentalise it into these two boxes. When, in 2015, we survey the challenges facing our democracies, it is easy to slide back into this old habit. » More

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