The CSS Blog Network

China and India Pull Back on Doklam, Choosing to Fight Another Day

Image courtesy of Times ASi/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online on 14 September 2017.

India deftly used the BRICS summit to end the standoff with China in Bhutan, but challenges remain for bilateral relations

One week can be a long time in inter-state relations. In a week’s time, India and China had kissed and made up after their armies stood eyeball to eyeball at the Doklam Plateau for more than two months. The trouble at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction started June 16, when Indian soldiers detected construction activity on what is considered disputed territory on the Doklam Plateau. Chinese workers seemed to be building a road that would have allowed China to project power further into the territory claimed by Bhutan, thereby giving Beijing an ability to cut India’s northeast from the mainland.

India’s response was immediate. The government sent troops into Bhutan to halt the roadbuilding, demanding restoration of status quo ante. As the Indian external affairs minister explained in the Indian Parliament: “Our [Indian] concerns emanate from Chinese action on the ground which have implications for the determination of the tri-junction boundary point between India, China and Bhutan and the alignment of India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector.” Sushma Swaraj added that “dialogue is the only way out of the Doklam standoff…and this should be seen in the context of the entire bilateral relationship.”

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The Venezuelan Crisis and Fragmented Multilateralism in the Americas

Image courtesy of Nicole Resseguie-Snyder/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 23 August 2017.

In 2013, Venezuela was a defective democracy experiencing serious breaches of civil and political rights, but with more or less functioning electoral institutions, and accountability between the branches of the state. Today, the country is an authoritarian regime. President Nicolás Maduro’s government crossed into that territory on March 29 this year, when the Supreme Court, following instructions from the executive, stripped the country’s National Assembly of its competences, triggering the wave of demonstrations that continues today (42 a day on average) and that has cost the life of 126 Venezuelans. Another definitive step occurred on July 16, with the election, through massive electoral fraud, of a Constituent Assembly with total powers over the National Assembly and aimed at rewriting the national constitution.

There are two main victims of the Venezuelan crisis. The first are the Venezuelan people, who have not only witnessed a dramatic deterioration of their living conditions, but have also lost the ability to live together in harmony, for an undetermined amount of time. The second victim, on which I focus here, is multilateralism—the ability of states to bring collective solutions to conflicts and crises through institutions and other forms of cooperation.

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Myanmar’s Military Holds Key to Further Reform

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This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 23 August 2017.

What does Myanmar need to push through a successful democratic transition? It must build strong institutions, transform the economy, and end decades of conflict between ethnic armed groups and government forces, among numerous other challenges. Yet, these enormous tasks seem trivial when compared to what is probably the biggest obstacle to further democratic reform: the role of Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw.

No other institution is more powerful than the Tatmadaw in Myanmar. Over five decades of military rule, the armed forces became entrenched in politics and business. Not only does it occupy 25 percent of total seats in Parliament, granting it an effective veto over constitutional change, but it also controls three key ministries: Defense, Home Affairs, and Border Affairs. The president is not the commander-in-chief, and hence, has no official control of the Tatmadaw. Moreover, the constitution grants the military power to take charge of the country in times of emergency.

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France, Italy and the Reawakening of Historical Rivalries

Image courtesy of M Woods.

This article was originally published by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) on 28 August 2017.

The leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Germany met in Paris on 28 August for a summit hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in the latest indication of France’s efforts to assume a key leadership role in the post-Brexit EU. Yet, the event is also an occasion for the French president to smooth ruffled feathers among EU partners, particularly in Rome, after a series of diplomatic spats led to a plummeting of relations and the resurrection of old grievances between the two countries. A second, and arguably more important bilateral summit between France and Italy is also scheduled for 27 September in Lyon, another indication of the need to patch up relations and promote an outward image of cooperation between the two EU neighbours.

Tensions between France and Italy soared in July following the French government’s decision to nationalise shipbuilder Stx/Chantier de l’Atlantique rather than give Italy’s Fincantieri a majority stake, thus reneging on an agreement between Italy and France’s previous government. Diplomatic relations had already been tested earlier that week when President Macron organised a peace conference on Libya without inviting the Italian government that considers itself a key player on the Libyan dossier. The two events, which are unrelated, created a perfect storm among Italians, resulting in some public spats and a queue of French ministers flying to Rome to patch up relations. Joint declarations and photo ops have not healed the wound, however, and tensions persist.

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The Impossible Quest for Absolute Security

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This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online in July 2017.

Demands for perfect security by one nation, without regard for others, heighten anxiety and prompt unnecessary weapons buildup

The G20 summit in Hamburg, the Russian-Chinese presidential meeting, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization leadership summit underline new concerns driving such public gatherings of world leaders. Among the major obstacles to great power cooperation that preoccupy leaders is how they perceive one another as selfishly advancing their individual national security heedless of others’ concerns.

At the G20 summit, some delegates criticized the US policy of putting American economic interests first above the need for global cooperation to limit climate change or to sustain international free trade. German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly said that Europeans would have to assume the mantle of climate change leadership from what she depicts as a security-selfish US.

This security dilemma impeding great power cooperation is also evident in how the presidents of China and Russia approached North Korea’s latest missile tests, an action underpinned by Pyongyang’s own quest for absolute security from US military threats by acquiring a nuclear deterrent. At their July 4 presidential summit in Moscow, China and Russia urged Pyongyang to suspend missile testing in return for a US–South Korean freeze on major military activities, which the US rejected as a Chinese-Russian attempt to exploit the North Korean threat to weaken the US–South Korean alliance.

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