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In a Deluge of New Media, Autocrats Swim and Democracies Sink

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This article was originally published by World Affairs on 1 Mai 2017.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the beginning of the century, the spread of the internet, satellite television, and other media technologies was expected to break down old monopolies and political boundaries, making it nearly impossible for those in power to control what people read, watch, and hear.

Digital media have indeed expanded around the world at lightning speed in the years since, reaching populations that previously received news only from state broadcasters.

Nevertheless, press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to Freedom House’s latest annual report. Just 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are ranked as fully “free.”

What the optimists failed to take into account was that forces interested in maintaining control over news and political discourse would not simply accept the inevitability of their own demise, but would fight back and look for new opportunities to increase their dominance.

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Finis Europae? Historical Cycles and the Rise of Right Wing Populism

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This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 26 April 2017.

Why has Europe failed to inspire its citizens in a similar way to other ideas such as the nation, socialism or human rights? Here are some answers and some solutions.

In 2002, Jurgen Habermas and Ulrich Beck celebrated the great successes of the European Union: the re-unification of Germany, the expansion to the East, the successful introduction of the Euro. Old enmities had been left behind and former enemies collaborated in peaceful competition creating the most successful economic region in the world. Europe was becoming the model for the future of humanity.

The reality is different today. Europe is a dysfunctional entity that has betrayed its foundational values. Politicians, commentators and mainstream academics were aghast at the victories of Brexit and Trump. ‘Politics has gone mad’ said many. ‘The world is crumbling before our eyes’ intoned the French Ambassador to America.

Yet the rise of right wing populism and euroscepticism was not unpredictable. The economic, political and cultural trends leading to Brexit, Trump and the rise of the xenophobic and nationalist right-wing are similar and well-known. They did not seem to worry the European elites until recently.

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A Year of “Sustaining Peace”: What Was Learned from Burundi and The Gambia?

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This article was originally published by the International Peace Institute (IPI) Global Observatory on 27 April 2017.

A year ago today, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly adopted dual resolutions on “sustaining peace.” With this framework, the UN embraced a prevention approach in its peacebuilding efforts, with continuous attention of the international community from early warning to post-conflict recovery. Sustaining peace emphasizes inclusive dialogue, mediation, accountable institutions, good governance, access to justice, and gender equality. It encourages utilizing existing societal mechanisms and capacities to build resilience and drive positive peace. Yet there is still confusion over what this means in practice. Two recent case studies might shed some much-needed light on the matter: The Gambia and Burundi.

The resolution of The Gambia’s potential political crisis following an election in December last year has been hailed as a success story for preventative action on the continent. The UN was quick to commend the work of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in preventing the outbreak of conflict by helping to peacefully remove President Yahya Jammeh. Earlier this month, The Gambia held successful National Assembly elections, with the United Democratic Party winning the majority of seats. The party and its newly elected President Adama Barrow now control both the legislative and executive branches of government and there is hope that they will usher in a peaceful period with respect for democratic rule.

Sentiments directed toward the situation in Burundi have been vastly different. Efforts from regional, continental, or international actors have been either insufficient or ineffective in attempting to resolve the crisis triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s subversion of constitutional rules and democratic norms to gain a third term in power.

The sustaining peace framework offers options for international actors to keep The Gambia transition on track and also to prevent a worsening of the situation in Burundi. » More

Missing Manpower: How Japan’s Dwindling Population Impedes Remilitarization

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This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review (HIR) on 17 April 2017.

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his skepticism toward America’s most important security pacts and military commitments, sending shockwaves throughout East Asia in April when he suggested that Japan, among others, should pay more for American protection and arm themselves with nuclear weapons to deter North Korea. The Japanese government relies heavily upon its mutual defense treaty with the United States for its national security, as Article IX of the Japanese Constitution strictly limits the nation’s war-making capacity. Trump’s electoral victory in November thus has startling implications for the island nation, prompting some question as to whether Japan should start pursuing a more conventional military arrangement for its own self-defense. However, the prospect of a rapidly aging population and a dwindling labor force will serve as an obstacle to future military self-sufficiency.

The Imperative for an Expanded Military

Following Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, US-led occupation forces drafted a new constitution in which the nation relinquished its right to wage war. The United States subsequently signed a security treaty with Japan, permitting the United States to maintain permanent military bases on Japanese soil “to deter armed attack” against a pacified, and thus vulnerable, Japan. US authorities also encouraged Japan to maintain a limited self-defense force to guard against growing Communist elements in China and Korea. However, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), now composed of roughly 247,000 active personnel, engage primarily in international peacekeeping and disaster relief.

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Lone-Actor vs Remote-Controlled Jihadi Terrorism: Rethinking the Threat to the West

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 20 April 2017.

At approximately 2:40 in the afternoon of March 22nd, British-born Khalid Masood — a violent criminal who had previously been investigated by MI5 for links to extremists — deliberately drove into pedestrians making their way across Westminster Bridge. He killed a mother on her way to collect her children from school, a pensioner, and two tourists. After crashing the rented vehicle into the gates of Parliament, Masood ran into New Palace Yard and stabbed an unarmed policeman to death before being shot and killed by plainclothes officers. In contrast to other recent attacks in Western nations, which have frequently (sometimes incorrectly) been labeled acts of “lone-actor” terrorism, Masood’s assault was followed by a volley of articles with titles such as “Remote-Control Terror,” “Don’t Bet on London Attacker Being a Lone Wolf,” and “The Myth of the ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist.” Analysts were keen to point out that “lone-actors” are very rarely truly alone and that instead they tend to emerge from within broader, extremist milieus. Moreover, what sometimes seems like lone-actor terrorism at first glance turns out to be connected to, if not directed by, foreign terrorist organizations. Yet the official word on Masood is that, regardless of his associations, he acted “wholly alone.” To accurately understand the nature of terrorism today, patient, measured analysis and consistent use of terminology are necessary. It is therefore important to re-examine the concept of lone-actor terrorism and to try and appreciate where it fits within the overall spectrum of jihadist terrorist activity in the West.

Many, if not most “lone-actor” jihadists (including Masood), are indeed connected to other extremists and terrorists in some shape or form. Such connections have been greatly facilitated by the growth of social media and encrypted communication applications, which have also enabled the rise of virtual “planners” or “entrepreneurs” and so-called “remote-controlled” or “enabled” attacks, such as those in Würzburg and Ansbach, Germany, in July last year. Moreover, the number of jihadists with bona fide connections to foreign terrorist organizations, including training and combat experience abroad, has risen sharply since the outbreak of conflict in Syria and Iraq. Western security services are currently bracing for a potential surge in the number of returning foreign fighters. » More

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