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What We’re Reading: Recommended Books From 2016

Painted pages

Courtesy of Lenna Young Andrews/Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 15 December 2016.

As 2016 comes to a close, the Global Observatory offers a list of notable books published throughout the year, recommended by staff of the International Peace Institute.

Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadows of the Intifadat, edited by I. William Zartman (University of Georgia Press)

Though the process is still very much still in progress, there has been no shortage of attempts to explain the origins, trace the trajectory, and draw out the conclusions of the Arab uprisings. However, the attempt by I. William Zartman in his edited volume Arab Spring: Negotiating in the Shadow of the Intifadat stands apart. This very prolific professor of international relations has over the decades—and through the pages of some 20 books—turned conflict resolution into an academic discipline in its own right. In the process, he has defined its parameters. Zartman is therefore uniquely equipped to place the tumultuous recent events of the Arab region in their proper historical and academic context. These were—and still are—a set of developments determined by a desire for change from an old to a new order and, therefore, at heart involved a negotiation of that transformation. It is through this lens that Zartman offers a conceptual framework for negotiating transitions, with a team of experts—most of them from the very countries where the events they describe took place—providing their insights. There is also a chapter on South Africa and another on Serbia, which serve as points of comparison. Recommended by Jose Vericat, Adviser.

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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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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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How Movie References Can Make Teaching Theories More Accessible

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 24 May 2016.

Teaching theories of IR (or of anything really) doesn’t have to be done in an unstimulating way that puts students to sleep. I find that it often helps to relate complex, theoretical ideas to scenes that can be visualized and are either commonplace or known to students from pop culture. This is where I usually reference themes from or situations in movies or TV series in order to make sure students grasp theoretical concepts of IR.

One such movie series that has proven useful is the Back to the Future (BTTF) trilogy. The movies were first released in 1985, 1989, and 1990, respectively. Throughout the trilogy, protagonist Marty McFly journeys to four different points in time: 1885, 1955, 1985, and 2015. As such, it also took a stab at predicting 2015 from a 1980s perspective. The fact that “the future” was set in 2015 is why the trilogy re-appeared frequently in the media last year and even in the current presidential race. The different time periods in BTTF have been valuable for bringing concepts in courses such as IPE and IR theory to life.

Though there are surely many more examples, I identified four “best uses” of BTTF for connecting it to IR theoretical themes: (1) power-transition theory/U.S. global hegemony, (2) IPE export-led development strategies, (3) realism’s assumption that history repeats itself, and (4) constructivism’s challenge that anarchy is what states make of it.

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The ‘History Problem’ in Sino-Japanese Relations: What’s the Problem?

 Chinese Propaganda Poster

Courtesy Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 31 October 2016.

The so-called history problem has long been seen by academics and pundits as a key obstacle to the improvement of bilateral relations between China and Japan. In the academic literature, the problem is typically described as consisting of a number of sub-issues related primarily to Japan’s attitude towards its invasion of China in the 1930s and 1940s, an attitude that many regard as insufficiently repentant. In this literature the meaning of the history problem tends to be understood as fixed rather than as something that changes over time. Even though numerous discussions of the problem exist and many observers agree on its importance for Sino-Japanese relations, the question of how the history problem itself is understood within Japan and China has received surprisingly scant attention. This article, by contrast, argues that while the specific sub-issues viewed as being part of the problem are indeed important, currently the most fundamental and overlooked aspect of the history problem in Sino-Japanese relations is the lack of agreement on what exactly the problem is.

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