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North Korea: Intra-elite Conflict and the Relevance for Global Security

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This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 24 May 2017.

‘This third-generation Kim already holds the titles of supreme leader, first secretary of the party, chairman of the military commission and supreme commander of the army – but he wants even more. This Kim wants recognition, vindication and authentication.’ The Observer, May 8, 2016

This description of Kim Jong Un is not the most lurid; in fact, it is representative of broadsheet analysis of the leadership of North Korea. It reduces analysis of the leadership of a state of 25 million people, which has an indigenous advanced scientific capability sufficient to develop nuclear weapons and advanced ballistic missile technology, to a level more appropriate to the pages of an airport pot-boiler. It trivializes analysis of a conflict that involves all the world’s great military powers, and which intermittently looks as if it might spill over into warfare that military planners from all sides assess will cost millions of lives, however and whenever the conflict ends.

The focus on Kim Jong Un as supreme leader is misplaced and dangerous. It obscures and prevents discussion of where real power lies in North Korea.

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Nigeria: How to Solve a Problem Like Biafra

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This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 29 May 2017.

50 years after Nigeria’s then Eastern Region declared itself the Republic of Biafra, sparking a brutal and costly three-year civil war, the country again faces a separatist challenge. Across the Igbo south east, there is resurgent agitation for an independent Biafra state.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s forceful response to the agitation has been counter-productive, inflaming passions and boosting separatist sentiments. The government needs to change course and prioritise dialogue over coercion.

The starting point of any response is to understand the agitation’s roots. They include political and economic grievances, a deep sense of collective victimisation among the Igbo, and the failure of south east politicians to provide good governance and development.

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The Future of War is in Cities – The Study of War Should Follow Suit

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This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 23 May 2017.

On March 17th, a US airstrike killed nearly 300 people in the densely populated area of western Mosul. This deadly attack – along with other reports of mounting civilian casualties from US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – are raising questions about whether the Trump administration has relaxed the rules of engagement.

Since entering office, President Trump has sought to reduce the constraints on the use of force imposed by his predecessor. For instance, he has designated parts of Yemen and Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” giving the US military greater latitude to carry out airstrikes and ground raids. His new plan to defeat ISIS is also expected to include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other…policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law.” So far, both administration and military officials have denied that a formal change in the rules of engagement has taken place. But human rights groups are saying that even the perception of declining concerns over civilian deaths can have a “detrimental strategic impact” on the fight against ISIS, with dire humanitarian consequences.

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Middle Powers in International Relations

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 8 May 2017.

Realism’s theoretical dominance in International Relations (IR) – especially its focus on the power of superpowers and its state-centric view of international society – has been challenged by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global transformations characterising the post-Cold War era. One of those transformations is the way in which “states neither great nor small” are gaining increased recognition amid the disruptive multi-polarity of the current global disorder. Scholars such as Martin Wight and Carsten Holbraad, whose earlier writings about middle powers were overlooked in mainstream IR, are now acknowledged for their scholarly prescience. Bringing middle powers back into mainstream IR theorising is obviously overdue. There are two problems in the theorising of middle powers in contemporary IR scholarship that obscure their positioning and potential in post-Cold War international politics: (1) its intellectual history has been neglected; (2) “middle power” itself is a vague concept.

The neglected intellectual history of middle powers

The ranking of states hierarchically (big, small, middle sized) is by no means a modern (or even post-modern) invention. In ancient China and classical Greece the organisation of political communities and their status relative to each other was of great interest to thinkers as diverse as the Chinese sage Mencius (?372-289 BCE or ?385-303 BCE), and the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE).

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Book Review: The Central African Republic’s Vanishing State

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This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 4 May 2017.

The Central African Republic was most recently in the news when armed helicopters assigned to the United Nations mission in the country (MINUSCA) fired at a group of rebels near the town of Bambari. This was deemed necessary to protect civilians from attacks, which has been a central part of MINUSCA’s mandate since 2014, the year in which an armed rebellion ousted then-President Francois Bozize. Bambari marks a frontier between two groups that were part of the Séléka—the rebels that deposed Bozize but have since faced off against each other.

Notably missing from descriptions of this recent incident is the role of the government of CAR itself. Reporters and government officials alike attribute that absence to a “lack of capacity“—the state can scarcely project any presence beyond the capital city of Bangui. A stated goal of international engagement in CAR is to restore and extend state authority and legitimacy, ultimately producing a government able to resolve such insecurity without external assistance. While all involved acknowledge that this is an ambitious undertaking, to fully appreciate its magnitude one must read Yale University anthropologist Louisa Lombard’s account of state-making and rebellion in CAR, State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic.

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