International Relations Security

UN Security Council Reform: A Gordian Knot?

UN Security Council session on 24 September 2009 chaired by US President Barack Obama. (UN Photo)
UN Security Council Reform: A Gordian Knot? (UN Photo)

Will the UN ever manage to reform its Security Council?

CSS senior researcher Daniel Trachsler evaluates the organization’s 20-year-long efforts in a new policy brief.

He gives an overview of reform proposals and analyzes factors blocking the reform project. Disagreements, regional rivalries and institutional obstacles have led to a Gordian Knot, an intractable problem solved by a bold move, which will require a high degree of willingness for compromise to entangle, he argues.

Failing this, Trachsler warns against a substantial loss of legitimacy for the UN’s most powerful body. He stresses that it is particularly in the interest of small and medium states to avoid this.

You can download the paper here. For more resources on Security Council reform, please visit our Digital Library.

International Relations Government Security Foreign policy

Is Helplessness Contagious?

No War Zone
No War Zone, courtesy of AustralianMelodrama/Wikimedia Commons

In a recent open letter Costa Rica President Oscar Arias Sanchez wrote to his Uruguayan counterpart Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica to ask him to abolish the Uruguayan army. Sanchez’s argument is based on the concept of ‘helplessness’.

This theory argues that it is better to have no army at all than a weak army that will be destroyed by any kind of foreign army anyway. Sanchez states that “Uruguay can not win an arms race against Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. In the present circumstances, helplessness is a better national security policy for your people, than a military apparatus below that of your neighbors.” Sanchez also mentions that “the armed forces have been the source of the most thankless collective memory. It was the military boot that trampled human rights in our region.”

So the army, for small states, is dangerous internally and not useful externally.

But having no army doesn’t mean having no security forces at all. Internal security, law enforcement and border security are the responsibility of the police force.

In the case of Costa Rica, this doctrine has proven to be successful. Since the country decided to abolish the army, it has lived in peace and relative prosperity, despite the fact that it is surrounded by ‘turbulent’ neighbors like Nicaragua, Panama – that later abolished its army too – or El Salvador.

So is the doctrine of helplessness really useful in preventing conflict? For small states like Costa Rica or other small states that do not have an army like Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco or Mauritius, I believe this concept is really a powerful tool in the hands of the ruling regimes. Instead of investing money in a useless army that will have weak or no defensive potential at all, governments can invest money in measures that will help to stabilize the country and the region, like education or development projects.

Having no army, argues Sanchez, is also an advantage when the regional peace is threatened by military actors. It helps the demilitarized country to be “perceived as allies of all parties to the conflict,” or at least it helps to develop a “non-threatening” image vis-à-vis of the rest of the region.

But could we imagine other powerful regimes like Brazil or Germany without an army?


ISN Weekly Theme: Debating Jihad


Cairo skyline in dusk

Although high up on the list of security policy priorities, the scope of Islamic terrorism and its ideological underpinnings remain contested. With fundamental implications for counterterrorism efforts, a clear understanding of the roots and implications of jihadism are crucial to the formulation of effective responses.

This week’s Special Report sheds light on this complex phenomenon and contains the following content, navigated along the tab structure above:

  • An Analysis by Kaisa Schreck examines the history and practice of jihad from a conceptual standpoint.
  • In our Podcast interview Lorenzo Vidino of Harvard University discusses the “Europeanization of jihad” and the unprecedented challenge that this poses to governments as they seek to prevent future attacks while countering the narrative of radicalization.
  • Security Watch articles examining the fight against jihadism in Bosnia, Kenya, Somalia and Yemen.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including an International Crisis Group report on jihad in Indonesia.
  • Links to relevant websites, including an article analyzing the root causes and religious justifications of extremism in Saudi Arabia.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, among them the Quilliam Foundation.


The Power of Imagery in War

Soldier in Afghanistan
The 'Humanitarian Warrior' in action? photo: isafmedia/flickr

I stumbled upon a very interesting article by Noora Kotilainen, research assistant at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) in the latest issue of the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs. Since her excellent piece  has not been translated into English to my knowledge, I thought I would give you a brief summary of her argument on the importance and changing nature of imagery and photography in today’s conflicts.

She starts with the premise that war photography, or the visualization of suffering in conflict has always been a powerful means of mobilizing public opinion and action against violence. It is most successfully used in humanitarian crises or conflicts, where images of suffering people prompt us to take action, either in the form of donations or political pressure to intervene.

Despite the ubiquity of violence in entertainment and through other fictitious channels, however, war photography and the visual representation of western-led wars in particular has changed dramatically. She notes that in Afghanistan, Iraq and the ‘war on terror’ the imagery has become remarkably sterile, particularly when representing the suffering of US soldiers.


The ISN Quiz: Resilience

Are you resilient enough to handle a few questions? Find out what you know about societal resilience, our focus this week, in the ISN Quiz.