The CSS Blog

North Korea’s Testing Decade

North Korean Monument

Courtesy Gilad Rom/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on 7 October 2016.

A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.

Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.

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Rough Patches on the Silk Road? The Geopolitics of the Belt and Road Initiative


Courtesy Victoria Pickering/Flickr

This article was published by Political Violence @ a Glance in October 2016. The post draws on the author’s chapter in a recently released Peterson Institute for International Economics Briefing volume.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a plan to build a vast network of roads, rail lines, new ports, and other infrastructure improvements a in more than 60 countries, at a cost of $4 trillion – is an economic policy designed to radically expand trade and investment in Asia and around the Indian Ocean. Critically, however, it is also a security initiative with the aim of facilitating economic integration and promoting longer-run peace in the region.

The economic benefits are likely to be large, but there may be rough patches along the new Silk Road. While the proposed investments are precisely the types of trade-enhancing projects development economists have long called for, the geopolitical implications of BRI are complicated. From the restive western Chinese province of Xianjing to Jammu-Kashmir, the Myanmar-Chinese border, and the Indian Ocean, BRI-related initiatives target or traverse some of the world’s most contested territories. Major power development programs abroad – such as the US Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress – have always been motivated by a mixture of economic and security concerns. Indeed, BRI is intended in part to address security fears emanating from these regions by improving economic prospects.

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An EU HQ? Let Them At It

EU Flags

Courtesy European Parliament/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 11 October 2016.

The debate about the EU military headquarters is not as vacuous as some of its British critics claim, although it has undoubtedly been given a new lease of life by the Brexit vote. Still, the UK would be well-advised to drop its vociferous opposition to the scheme, even if it continues to entertain doubts about its viability.

During her recent visit to the UK, Germany Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen asked the British not to block EU efforts to build deeper security and defence cooperation. Her comments followed British criticism of Franco-German plans to build an EU headquarters and suggestions that London might block such a measure, as long as it remained in the EU.

There is a whole bundle of post-Brexit vote politics at play here, for which the HQ issue has become something of a lightning rod. The 27 other EU governments are keen to show some unity and that the bloc remains relevant for their citizens, especially for their security. Plus, although it is not entirely fair to blame the UK for the EU’s lack of progress on military matters, cheerleaders for EU defence policy – and not only in Berlin and Paris – have seized on the Brexit vote as a golden opportunity to relaunch that policy.

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How Can Arms Embargoes be Made More Effective?


Courtesy Thomas Hawk/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies on 4 October 2016.

The AU is taking a well-timed look at how arms embargoes can be better implemented.

Arms embargoes are the most common type of sanction currently applied by the United Nations (UN), and one of the five main types of targeted or smart sanctions (others are diplomatic sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes and commodity interdiction).

The key aim of smart sanctions is to raise the regime’s costs of non-compliance (with the sanctions) without bringing about the wider suffering often associated with comprehensive sanctions, such as trade bans.

How effective these embargoes are in Africa is the subject of much debate; not least because the continent has been subjected to the majority of arms embargoes since the UN’s first stand-alone arms embargo against apartheid South Africa in 1977. Since then, several African countries have faced such embargoes; some repeatedly. Liberia, for example, experienced a series of UN-imposed arms embargoes in varying degrees and forms between 1992 and 2016. Despite this, illicit weapons continued to be trafficked into the country.

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Twenty-Three Years after ´Black Hawk Down´, America is Back at War in Somalia


Courtesy AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 3 October 2016.

Long before the debacles of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia was the quagmire that Western militaries would have loved to strike from their records.

In the now-famous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993, overconfident U.S. forces blundered into an ambush in Mogadishu. Eighteen American soldiers and two troops from the supporting U.N. force died.

The West retreated from Somalia. To fill the security vacuum, the African Union deployed a peacekeeping force from 2006 onward.

The AMISOM peacekeeping force relies to a great degree on material and financial support from the United States and European allies, whose interest in the Somalia conflict increased again when Islamist groups gained influence in the country.

But the memory of the 1993 battle complicated direct intervention by Western militaries.

Gradually and quietly, this has begun to change.

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