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

Courtesy of Life As Art/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Courtesy of Life As Art/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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.

» More

Prospects for a Turkish Incursion into Syria

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 9 February 2016.

Recent gains by the Assad regime in its ongoing northern offensive — in particular, the recapture of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra — pose a significant geostrategic threat to Turkey and the opposition groups based in and around Azaz. The regime and its allies are now in a favorable position to cut the lines of communication between the Turkish border areas and the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Such an outcome now seems inevitable given major Russian and Iranian support for regime forces. As a matter of fact, the regime, backed by the Russian air-ground campaign, has been successfully advancing towards the Turkish frontier areas at the time of writing. In this regard, it should be noted that the Russian air force detachment in Syria enjoys high sortie rates as a result of Hmeymim Airbase’s proximity and an effective sortie-to-strike ratio stemming from good intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). An expansion of Russian military advisors on the ground has enabled efficient coordination between close air support platforms and advancing Syrian Arab Army units, while the elite Iranian Quds Forces and Lebanese Hezbollah drive forward fueled by sectarianism and experience in hybrid conflicts.

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The Changing Face of Deadly Conflict

Anti-Violence art

This article was originally published as part of the Crisis Group’s The Future of Conflict project on 21 December, 2015.

Policymakers trying to prevent and resolve deadly conflict — and those, like the International Crisis Group, seeking to influence them — are all too unhappily familiar with that corollary to Murphy’s Law which tells us: “If you’re feeling good, don’t worry: you’ll get over it”. The continuing decline in the reality and prospect of war between states gives us much to be pleased about, as does the reduction — more than most people think — in the number and intensity of wars and incidents of mass violence within states, at least those driven by the familiar forces of greed for territory or government power, or the fears or grievances of particular groups.

But we have all been deeply sobered by the re-emergence, within and across state boundaries, and on a scale not seen for centuries, of a new breed of conflict: extreme violence driven by non-state actors motivated by religious ideology. Starting with al-Qaeda and its offshoots and imitators in Africa and Asia, this has been now given most alarming expression with the emergence of the Islamic State (IS), or Da’esh — its leadership now focused on Syria and Iraq, but rapidly finding supporters elsewhere, like Boko Haram in West Africa and a number of jihadi groups in North Africa and South East Asia. The strategies and tools that have been working elsewhere to date have had little or no traction in this context, and all of us need to go back to the drawing board.

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