The CSS Blog

The Invention of Russia: The Journey from Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War

Depiction of the Kremlin, Courtesey of the Center for Eastern Studies

Depiction of the Kremlin, Courtesey of the Center for Eastern Studies

This article was originally published by the Carnegie Council for Ethincs in International Affairs on 9 June 2016.

In this transcript, journalist Arkady Ostrovsky discusses his recent book, The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War, which recently won the 2016 Orwell Prize for political writing.

As has been said, in December of 1991—you may remember that day, the Christmas Day of December 1991—Mikhail Gorbachev addressed the Soviet people on television, 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening, and said the following:

Destiny so determined that when I found myself at the helm of this state, it was already clear that something was wrong in this country. We had a lot of everything—land, oil and gas, other natural resources, and intellect and talent in abundance—but we were living much worse off than people in other industrialized countries, suffocating in the shackles of the bureaucratic command system. All the half-hearted reforms fell through, one after another. This country was going nowhere and we couldn’t possibly go on living the way we did. We had to change everything, radically.

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Effective Minilateralism for the EU: What, When and How

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Courtesy Don/flickr

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

Transnational challenges – including terrorism, instability stemming from regional conflicts and fragile states, nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade protectionism and pandemics – cannot be tackled without successful collaboration on a global level. But while the need for more effective cooperation between states remains acute, multilateral talks at the United Nations have often failed, stalled, under-achieved or lacked financing and commitment in recent years.

Large, bureaucratic institutions such as the UN, the EU, NATO and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) cannot be as innovative or responsive as they would always like. They are composed of diverse groups of countries with distinct world-views, resources, objectives and perspectives on threats to security. Frameworks created by such institutions risk becoming inflexible. Attempts to reach agreements between member states can be time-, resource- and energy-intensive. As a result, decision-making can prove cumbersome and slow-paced and lead to watered-down results, often requiring member states to cede control.

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The Multipolar Asian Century

Sepia Map centered on Asia

Grunge textured world map on vintage paper, courtesy of Nicholas Raymond/flickr

This article was originally published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s The Interpreter on 1 June 2016.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global political and economic architecture has been undergirded largely by one superpower, which set the stage for an unprecedented period of globalisation managed through multilateral institutions and actors. Now that unipolar moment is giving way to an era of diffused powers, with countries like the US, China and Russia each bearing considerable disruptive capacities, and each struggling to stitch together new norms and rules for these rapidly changing times.

This phase, the beginning of which was marked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and characterised by America’s two bruising wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen a vacuum emerge. Many are seeking to fill it, most determinedly China, but with a push back from countries such as Japan and India. Separately, ISIS and radical energies in the Middle East also seek to grab new space. Russia has chosen this very moment to signal its ability to muddy the Eurasian fields and intervene in the Middle East. The fact is, there is not enough room to accommodate all of these ambitions.

A median will have to be arrived at, but who will sacrifice what?

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Lessons Learned from the Pioneers of African Unity

On the beach of Chitimba, Malawi

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi, courtesy Jack Zalium/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Nordic Africa Institute on 31 May 2016.

May 25th is a memorable day for Pan-Africanism. This is the day when, 53 years ago today, representatives of 32 African governments signed a treaty in Addis Ababa to establish the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Many meanings and ideas can be projected into Pan-Africanism, and indeed there has been, and will continue to be, a lively debate about the definition of this too often politicized term. However, the merit of such a debate is far less important to the discussion here than the fact that there are dimensions of Pan-Africanism, and also that Pan-Africanism has passed through many phases before its present phase where it is being celebrated as an ideology for African development. This conception of Pan-Africansim seeks and emphasises the unity and solidarity of all Africans for the purpose of African development.

Pan-Africanism gained prominence in Africa, especially in the 1950s, and became a veritable tool for anti-colonial struggles. The influence of Trans-Atlantic Pan-Africanism as a movement of ideas and emotions was remarkable. Much in this regard can be attributed to the efforts of black Pan-Africanists in diaspora. The pursuit of Pan-Africanism as a movement of liberation in the 1950s helped in promoting awareness about the essence of ‘African unity’. For example, there was broad consensus among African leaders on the need to promote the unity of African countries towards the total liberation of Africa. However, the movement towards African unity was evidently characterised by differences among African leaders.

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US forces – Between Europe and Asia

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington near Guam.

Aircraft carrier at sunset, courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Imagery/Flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 26 May 2016.

On 3 May 2016, with traditional pomp and circumstance, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti replaced General Philip Breedlove as commander of US forces in Europe (EUCOM), and at the same time became NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

General Scaparrotti assumes command in a very different environment from when his predecessor arrived in Europe three years earlier. Since the US ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific region was announced in 2011/2012, EUCOM has steadily lost resources and forces. During the peak of the Cold War, there were over half a million US personnel assigned to the European theatre of which 200,000 belonged to the US army alone. Today, around 65,000 US military personnel remain permanently stationed in Europe of which some 33,000 are US army soldiers.

However, recent developments to the east and south of Europe have pushed European defence back onto the agenda in Washington. A sign of this was the announcement by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in February 2016 to change military spending priorities with more support for NATO allies and more spending on advanced weapons. This reflects a new strategic environment marked by five big evolving geo-strategic challenges: Russian assertiveness; global terrorism and in particular the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); China; North Korea; and Iran.

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