The CSS Blog Network

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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Russia in Libya: War or Peace?

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This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on 2 August 2017.

Europe must use its diplomatic leverage to ensure that increased Russian involvement does not come at the cost of further destabilisation on Europe’s southern border.

Libya is increasingly a target for Russia’s growing ambitions to influence the Middle East and North Africa, but, judging by the Kremlin’s actions thus far, Putin is either hedging his bets or has not yet decided on his objectives for this file. European decisions – particularly those by the most active players, France, the UK, and Italy – could yet tip the scales in one direction of the other. Watching closely will be the new UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, who officially starts work this week after attending last Tuesday’s Paris summit between the internationally-recognised Libyan Prime Minister Faiez Serraj and his main rival, General Khalifa Haftar.

Torn between war and peace

On the one hand, Russia is naturally drawn towards supporting General Haftar, who opposes the Western-backed Prime Minister Serraj and is considered by many in Moscow as ‘the strongman of eastern Libya’. Haftar’s anti-Islamist stance makes him an attractive counterterrorism partner, and support for the general also strengthens Russia’s relationship with his main sponsor, Egypt. Limited support for Haftar also drags the conflict out, enabling Russia to point to the folly of the West’s intervention in 2011 and make the case that regime change, in Libya as in Ukraine, only breeds chaos.

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China, Russia and the Shifting Landscape of Arms Sales

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This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 5 July 2017.

Following the end of the cold war and the break-up of the Soviet Union, there were rapid decreases in Russian military budgets. Soviet military expenditure had stood at almost USD $350 billion in 1988. However, by 1992 it had fallen to USD $60 billion and in 1998 was only USD $19 billion. The more flexible parts of the budget suffered the most, such as those for procurement and operations. At the same time, the Russian arms industry saw several major clients for its weapons disappear, chief among them the former Warsaw Pact members and Iraq. By 1992, the arms industry Russia had inherited from the Soviet Union was in serious trouble. Most of its internal market and part of its export market was gone.

In parallel with this development, China was embarking on a serious military modernization. Boosted by its rapidly growing economy, it began to implement a long-planned reorganization of its armed forces and the acquisition of advanced weaponry. (This modernization had been planned since the 1970s and was given extra impetus by the poor performance of China’s armed forces against Viet Nam in 1979.) Chinese military spending has increased almost every year since 1989, the first year of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data for China, from USD $21 billion in 1988 to USD $215 billion in 2015. With this surge, China overtook Russia’s spending in 1998 and within five years had become the second largest spender globally behind the United States.

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Fighting Disinformation in the Baltic States

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This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 6 July 2017.

Russian media played a key role in stoking the conflict in Ukraine, sparking fear in the Baltic states that they could become the next target. In the wake of the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, Russian state-owned media shaped a nationalistic narrative regarding the annexation of Crimea that spread fear of the new Ukrainian regime and promoted reunification with Russia. Russian media also encouraged the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine and spread multiple false news stories intended to portray Ukraine in the most negative light possible.

In the current media environment, it is not possible to eliminate questionable or false sources of information. In the Baltic states, attempts to do so could backfire by reinforcing allegations that the Russian minorities lack full civil rights. However, encouraging independent media and thoughtful integration of Russian-language programming into mainstream sources will provide more credible alternatives for Baltic Russian speakers. In the longer term, an important tool for all countries facing propaganda and “fake news” is to increase education in media literacy, critical reading, and technical training to thwart hacks and other attempts to hijack information. A population trained to identify bias is the best defense against harmful propaganda.

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Why Stalin’s Popularity Doesn’t Have to be as Terrifying as it Seems

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This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 29 June 2017.

Stalin’s increasing popularity in Russia is worrying, but its importance should not be exaggerated.

This week, yet another poll confirmed Joseph Stalin’s unwavering hold on the popular imagination of Russians. Surveys have documented steadily rising admiration for the Soviet leader in the last several years, but Monday’s open-ended study published by the Levada Center established him as “the most outstanding person” in history, for 38 percent of respondents. Vladimir Putin came in joint second position at 34 percent, alongside the poet Alexander Pushkin.

The poll sounds particularly alarming because instead of answering multiple choice questions, respondents were asked to name the first person to pop into their head – not just Russian, but anyone, anywhere. The fact that for 38 percent of people that was Stalin – without the respondent first being prompted – seems to confirm what many have been fearing for some time: that Russians are steadily forgiving and embracing a tyrant who oversaw a system that slaughtered tens of millions of its own people.

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