The CSS Blog Network

The State of the State

Flag of Islamic State of Iraq. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published June 16, 2014 by War on the Rocks.

One of the most fundamental questions lurking beneath the surface of 21st century security discussions is the question of what constitutes a state. Does the prominence of powerful sub-state actors with state-like functions show that the state is declining?

Recent events in Iraq suggest that our confusion is a function of substantial definitional problems. Is the Islamic State in Iraq really a state? An armed movement that has a state? None of the above?

While I cannot improve on the analysis of ISIS offered by Middle East specialists Douglas Ollivant and Brian Fishman, I at least can offer a few general observations derived from the literature about the problem of analyzing ISIS as a state. » More

Give Peace A Chance: It’s Time to Change How International Justice Works

The International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC/CPI), Netherlands, courtesy Vincent van Zeijst/wikimedia

Imperatives for peace and for justice often seem to collide in many conflict and post-conflict situations. The immediate inspiration for this article was the recent arrest in Northern Ireland of Sinn Fein politician Gerry Adams in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Coming right before European and local elections the arrest had immediate political consequences for the stability of Northern Ireland and the success of the ongoing peace process in the province. It also highlighted the continued lack of agreement for how to handle the legacy of past killings despite sixteen years of relative calm.

This problem is especially acute in modern conflicts. Today’s wars tend to be messy civil ones, often with a bewildering kaleidoscope of armed actors. Unlike the interstate wars of the past, there is often no obvious victor to a struggle, and often no clear-cut chain of command. Instead, there is a usually a messy list of atrocities, at the end of which is a patched-together political settlement that sometimes holds, and sometimes does not. To return to the example of Northern Ireland, many sources allege Gerry Adams to have been a senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader responsible for ordering bombings and murders in the 1970s and 80s (Adams denies this). His detention by police investigating the McConville murder could easily have led to widespread rioting in Republican parts of Belfast. It may yet lead to Loyalists withdrawing from the unity government, so toxic is the issue in the Protestant community. » More

Somalia: Why Orthodox Aid Policy Must Give Way to Battlefield Reality

Mogadishu in May 2013, courtesy of TEDxPhotos/flickr

This article was originally published 17 April 2014 by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Jens Mjaugedal, Special Envoy of Norway to Somalia, is frustrated… which is hardly surprising given his mission to try to turn Somalia, which has officially been the world’s most failed state for many years, into a success. The biggest problem in Somalia is how to keep the deadly al-Qaeda-affiliated, Islamist militant group al-Shabaab at bay.

The African Union’s robust peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) expelled al-Shabaab from Mogadishu two years ago, and is now engaged in a major offensive to try to rid the country of the scourge altogether. AMISOM claims to have liberated 10 strategic towns so far, though the war is very far from won. » More

Duties Without Borders

Young girl protesting outside US Embassy in Amman, courtesy of Freedom House/flickr

CAMBRIDGE – More than 130,000 people are said to have died in Syria’s civil war. United Nations reports of atrocities, Internet images of attacks on civilians, and accounts of suffering refugees rend our hearts. But what is to be done – and by whom?

Recently, the Canadian scholar-politician Michael Ignatieff urged US President Barack Obama to impose a no-fly zone over Syria, despite the near-certainty that Russia would veto the United Nations Security Council resolution needed to legalize such a move. In Ignatieff’s view, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is allowed to prevail, his forces will obliterate the remaining Sunni insurgents – at least for now; with hatreds inflamed, blood eventually will flow again. » More

The Afghan Muddle

Soldier Exiting a UH-60 Black Hawk, courtesy of DVIDSHUB /flickr

NEW DELHI – Despite some last-minute brinkmanship by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the United States and Afghanistan seem to have worked out a bilateral security agreement to govern the 8,000-10,000 (mostly American) troops that will remain in Afghanistan from next year. But Afghanistan remains a source of significant uncertainty – and high anxiety – in an already unstable region.

Although the Afghan army has performed surprisingly well this year as it has prepared to assume full responsibility for the country’s security, governments in the region remain deeply skeptical of its ability to resist a resurgent Taliban without the strong support that the US has provided. But the Americans are intent on withdrawal, and no other country is willing to assume the responsibilities that they are relinquishing.

In this context, the fear that Afghanistan will unravel once again risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, a closer look at various key governments’ approaches to Afghanistan reveals that only the US is maintaining a coherent stance. » More

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