Nuclear Talks to Resolve the East-West Standoff?

A defunct missile silo in Ukraine. Image: Andy Shustykevych/Flickr

The Ukrainian crisis has entered its second summer. While the ferocity of the clashes in East Ukraine has eased since the Minsk Agreement in February, deadly fighting continues on a daily basis. In the meantime, the conflict has fallen somewhat off the radar of Western media, while the suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ukraine continues. There are no signs on the horizon of any accommodation between the governments of Ukraine and Russia. Must Europe accept an ongoing, low-intensity military conflict on its fringes as the new normal?

The Western bloc’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and subsequent sponsoring of an anti-government insurgency in Donbass has remained remarkably coherent so far. It is also having an effect: as Alexei Kudrin, Putin’s Minister of Finance from 2000 to 2011, remarked last month, “Russia is in the midst of a fully-flegded crisis.”  In part because of the West’s co-ordinated economic pressure the Russian Central Bank expects the country’s GDP to shrink by up to 4% in 2015.   So far this has not prompted a shift in Russian attitudes towards key issues regarding Ukraine. Putin continues to enjoy sky-high domestic approval ratings while the Russian government’s creeping takeover of the media landscape is eliminating political dissent from mainstream outlets. Spinning a tale of aggressive American intervention in Russian affairs, the national media are rallying nationalist sentiments and pushing a narrative of a declining, decadent West, all while successfully maintaining that Russia is not involved in a military conflict with its neighbour Ukraine.

The origins of the East-West stand-off over Ukraine are systemic in nature: neither side is prepared to give any ground. For the West, matters of principle are at stake: the inviolability of Ukraine’s sovereign borders as guaranteed by the Budapest Accords, and the right of nations to choose their alliances freely and without external interference. For the Kremlin, the conflict has become deeply intertwined with wider calculations about regime survival, making unilateral concessions unlikely.

Some 20 years ago, the US and Russia began a process of sustained engagement that culminated in the end of the Cold War. Then, as now, efforts at nuclear arms control could generate the initial diplomatic capital needed for a wider improvement in relations.

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Why the Military is Divided over Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent

Protest against the Trident nuclear program. Image: thealmightyprophetgitboy/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 6 July 2015.

One thing was very striking at the recent Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Land Warfare Conference, where current British Army personnel including top brass and Ministry of Defence officials were heavily present. The issue of replacing Trident, the UK’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, was not discussed at all.

This conference was taking place a few months ahead of Conservative plans to renew the deterrent like for like. This was guaranteed by the party’s victory at the general election in May, and has since been reaffirmed by Michael Fallon, the defence secretary.

Yet when it comes to Trident, the British military are “split on this issue as never before”. That was the conclusion of a report by the Nuclear Education Trust and Nuclear Information Service that was published at the end of June. So why the difference in views? » More

Why the AU Needs to Get Policing Right

A Nigerian police officer, as part of AMISOM’s Foreign Police Unit, conducts a foot patrol near Lido Beach in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. Image: TOBIN JONES/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 1 July 2015.

While the role of police in peace support operations used to be limited to tasks of monitoring and observing, it has changed to encompass complex and substantive roles. These include helping to rebuild the capacity of police and broader law enforcement institutions that have suffered the consequences of violent conflict.

Usually in the aftermath of conflict, these institutions are critical in rebuilding public confidence in the rule of law, which has typically been either diminished by the conflict or, in some cases, totally destroyed. Following the Brahimi Report (2000), police roles were viewed in the wider context of the rule of law, protection of civilians and human rights. New areas of focus include emerging threats such as terrorism, organised transnational crime and corruption. » More

The High Stakes of the Iran Nuclear Deal

The wall of the former US embassy covered in anti-US-murals. Image: Phillip Maiwald/Wikimedia

Those opposed to the nuclear deal currently being negotiated by Iran and the P5+1 typically make a number of criticisms: Iran may still be able to build a bomb at some point in the future; the United States should not ‘allow’ Iran to maintain uranium capabilities; the deal goes against traditional U.S. nonproliferation policy; and so on.  Though these critics rarely offer clear alternatives—after all, negotiating a better deal than the current one appears all but impossible—many still favor one option in particular: military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.  This course of action, however, would be counter-productive.  Not only does the current deal with Iran draw on the successful track record of U.S. nonproliferation policy, it was developed in concert with other major powers and international nuclear norms.  On balance, it remains the best possible means of affecting the calculus of the Iranian leadership regarding its potential nuclear weapons program. By contrast, military strikes would only increase Tehran’s desire for nuclear weapons and could dramatically shorten the timeframe in which it would be likely to acquire them. » More

Clausewitz in Orbit: Spacepower Theory and Strategic Education

Artistic depiction of an anti-satellite weapon of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Image: Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Defence-In-Depth on June 10, 2015.

The politics of war and peace in space is an overlooked field. Space is a quiet and lonely place in war studies – despite space systems performing critical infrastructure roles in war, peace, politics, economics, and nuclear stability. In the mid-1990s John Sheldon and Colin Gray bemoaned the fact that there is no ‘Mahan for space.’ Neither writer apparently considered the possibility that they had answered their own plea, or in other words, that there is a Mahan for space: it’s Alfred Thayer Mahan. The 19th century navalist is one of a constellation of strategic theorists (such as Clausewitz, Castex, Corbett, to name the most prominent) whose work I am applying to create a spacepower theory intended to inform the diverse strategic problems conflict in this new medium might pose. » More

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