The CSS Blog Network

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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EU Defense Is Not Just for Diplomats

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This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 24 August 2017.

Since the 2016 British vote to leave the EU, European governments have agreed on a number of new initiatives to improve their military cooperation. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in June 2017 that the EU had “moved more in 10 months than in the last 10 years.” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen went even further, claiming that Europeans had made more progress on defense issues in six months than in the previous sixty years.

These statements are exaggerations. But, Brussels bluster aside, the EU has recently agreed on some useful ideas to improve European military cooperation. They cover a range of activities, from funding for military research to better planning for EU operations, which could add real value to European military efforts.

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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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Perceptions of EU foreign policy in the MENA region

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 12 August 2017.

In Arab countries, the EU is not seen as providing stability or promoting democracy. Asked what policies the EU should prioritise, survey respondents wanted ‘economic support’ and ‘economic development’.

Findings from the 2014 ArabTrans research in six MENA countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – shed light on what citizens think of the EU and whether its policies address their concerns. The EU recognised at the time of the Arab Uprisings that its policies had failed the people of the region and in 2011 it declared an intent to focus on promoting deep and sustainable democracy and inclusive economic development.

However, in practice the EU did not adapt its policy to address popular demands for social justice and economic rights but continued to promote a narrow procedural definition of democracy, to support authoritarian rulers and to implement liberal economic policies that have proved not to support economic development. This inability to address the structural causes of economic and political polarisation pose a serious risk to the Union’s long-term goals in the region.

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