The CSS Blog Network

Nationalism and the State – One More Look Back

Depiction of the Peace of Westphalia, 1649

The ISN Editorial Plan marches on. This week we are looking at the struggles transnational organizations and institutions are experiencing as they try to adapt themselves to 21st century realities. This topic follows hard on the heels of the two weeks we spent looking at the concept of nationalism and the status of the modern state in today’s world. That ten days of analysis constitutes a mere touch-and-go on either subject goes without saying here. The brevity of the analysis also justifies that we look back at these two subjects one more time in today’s blog before moving on. So be it.

The other consideration, of course, is who’s voice to feature here. One’s ego might, while screaming “me, me” and pushing and jostling the “great unwashed” aside, demand such an authorial privilege all to itself. But there is no humility in that, especially when in this case the proper thing to do is popularize the wise words of seasoned, widely respected professionals. So, instead of blah blah’ing about what precious me thinks about nationalism and the state, I would like today to defer to my betters. » More

Transnational Institutions and Organizations: Required Adjustments and New Opportunities for Change

Photo: Lily/flickr

As an unmatched treatise on “hard power,” Carl von Clausewitz’s On War has stood the test of time. A major reason for its longevity has been its prismatic approach towards its subject. To Clausewitz, hard power is never just one thing. Instead, it is, among other things, a dual, a form of commerce, a game of cards, an act of force designed to impose one’s will on another, a continuation of policy by other means, and a trinity or interplay of 1) primordial violence, hatred, enmity, and blind natural forces; 2) chance, probability, and the creative spirit; and 3) policy and reason. That Clausewitz used all these metaphors and characterizations was no accident. He knew that if he was going to describe an innately complex phenomenon such as war effectively, he needed to look at it in a prismatic way.

In our own humble way, we have adopted the same approach in our Editorial Plan. Thus far, we have explored our core theme – the structure of the international system is fundamentally changing – in prismatic ways. We have looked at how systemic change (not change at the margins) is impacting 1) how we forecast future political trends and developments, 2) just how “reality inclusive” geopolitical analyses remain today, 3) how on-going global interdependence and effective multilateralism are evolving, and 4) how nationalism and the Westphalian System are faring in a global environment that is both hostile and supportive towards them both. These various perspectives, however, have not exhausted the angles of analysis available to us in our prism-like investigation of a changing international system.

Therefore, this week’s focus is on the stresses and strains transnational institutions and organizations are experiencing in trying to adjust to a post-Cold War world. That many of these political and governmental mechanisms were created to address 20th century problems goes without saying, as does the truth that 21st century challenges are putting them under serious strain. What these strains look like represents the first of two passes we will take over this subject. Since we will discuss these institutions’ and organizations’ relationship to changing power dynamics in the international system later this spring, what we largely want to do this week is 1) look at the “huffing and puffing” IOs and transnational institutions are experiencing as a result of changing global dynamics, and 2) begin to analyze what adjustments they are trying to make in order to realign themselves with changing international relations paradigms.

A Specter is Haunting Western Policy-Makers

Photo: Steve Paulo/flickr

Much to the chagrin of Western governments, Egypt’s first elections since the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime in February are unlikely to yield a secular democratic government. Receiving an estimated 65 percent of total votes, Islamist parties consolidated their gains in Egypt’s second round of multistage parliamentary elections held on December 14-15, achieving yet another landslide victory that is unlikely to be reversed in the third and last round of voting in January. Although not fully surprising, the marginalization of liberal and secular forces at the ballots has caused notable uncertainty among Western states when it comes to formulating foreign policy options towards Egypt and the Middle East more generally.

Governments in both Europe and the US have been understandably reluctant to voice premature concessions in the face of a probable coalition government dominated by Islamist parties. To be sure, even though the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al-Nour Party, the political wing of the Salafi movement, do not share a fully congruent ideology, they are both in favor of implementing Sharia law. The dilemma is obvious even despite the political outcome in Egypt. What remains is great ambiguity in how political Islam would actually be implemented once the relevant factions seize power, and whether this would be compatible with the stipulations the revolution has fought for and, moreover, Western ideals of self-determination and human rights. » More

SSR Lessons from the DRC

A model unit for the future of the Congolese military. Photo: US Army Africa/flickr

A series of regime changes following violent conflict in the past year will make security sector reform (SSR) a top priority on the peace and security agenda in 2012. In places like the Ivory Coast or Libya, a key question will be how to reconcile a fragmented society with the creation of national army and police services as inclusive and neutral institutions. To illustrate some challenges and ways forward in addressing those issues, I will present a few SSR insights based on two years of field experience in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The following ethnicity-linked security dilemma was omnipresent during my assignment in the Kivus in 2009 and 2010: the law enforcement agencies were not perceived as truly national and neutral by the communities. As a consequence, ethnic groups trusted their own militias more to look after their security. Accordingly, armed groups in the Kivus legitimized their existence inter alia based on the need to protect their own ethnic community, often against the perceived threats of other ethnic groups and militias in the vicinity. As a result, armed groups were only willing to integrate into the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) if they could remain in their habitual area. Similarly, those which had previously integrated in the army refused to deploy outside of the area in which their community lived. The security institutions could either refuse to exercise this option (with the consequence that the armed groups would stay out of the army) or sign up for a process that inherently leads to ethnic segregation within their forces.

One such example is the Yakutumba armed group. Yakutumba deserted from the FARDC in 2006 during the ongoing integration process because he was unwilling to redeploy outside of the area inhabited by his ethnic community. His stance had not changed when I worked in the area years later. However the FRF armed group finally integrated into the FARDC in 2011. This move was conditional upon the group receiving control of the military command of the area where its ethnic group is based and the promise that its men would not be redeployed outside of this area for five years.

Another key issue is the re-distribution of command positions in an integrated army. The integration into the FARDC of the Congrès National pour la Défense du People (CNDP) armed group in 2009 resulted in an apparent de-facto sharing of command positions between integrated CNDP officers and long-standing regular FARDC officers. Smaller armed groups regularly complained about this perceived preferential treatment of the CNDP. They felt that they were marginalized, their concerns not taken seriously and that they were denied high ranking posts. The danger here is that perceived unequal treatment can produce enough resentment to potentially derail the process. I also remember heated discussions regarding how many – or how few – commanders ethnic groups had in the armed forces. The dilemma between creating an ethnically balanced army and making competence and experience the first appointment criteria is particularly difficult to resolve. One example for favoring the former approach is the FRF leader who was appointed as a high ranking commander in the FARDC – yet is not able to read.

What lessons can be drawn from the DR Congo experience? First and foremost, a minimum level of trust by the people in the armed forces is imperative. This requires a certain display of professionalism and disciplinary measures taken by the army if the former is violated. Impunity for soldiers who commit human rights abuses animates them to commit more crimes in the future, and encourages local communities to seek protection by local militias. During my assignment, I experienced the value of confidence building activities that bring together different representatives from local communities and from the law enforcement agencies. These meetings included, but were not limited to human rights sensitization and open debates.

Obtaining high level posts in the army is a goal of any armed group in the process of integration. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this came with the side effect of forced recruitment of children by rebels in order to boost numbers and gain leverage vis-à-vis the FARDC. The latter chose a strict approach and carried out military operations to crack down on the groups which refused to integrate or disarm. In principle, such a carrot and stick approach — combining opportunities for the rebels with military pressure — makes sense, as the rebels can no longer tie their integration to exorbitant demands. Unfortunately though, the DRC’s military operations often violated international humanitarian law. The government also opted for delaying tactics, by creating additional military structures in order to be able to give command positions to newly integrated armed groups. From a long term perspective, this does not appear to be a sustainable approach and the challenge of cutting down the number of high ranking officer posts in the army will resurface at a later stage. Given the country’s history, it seems negligent to hope that time will solve the problem.



Isabelle Peter has worked with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) in political affairs and with the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) in war crimes investigations. Her interests cover various aspects of conflict resolution and peacebuilding, such as armed groups, SSR, international humanitarian law, international criminal justice and mediation.

JiC’s 2011 International Criminal Justice Awards

2011 JiC International Criminal Justice Awards. Image: JiC/dreamstime

Over the course of the past few months, we have regularly featured posts from our friends at Justice in Conflict (JiC). Mark Kersten and Patrick Wegner, the authors of the blog, write about the competing conceptions and ideas of justice and the challenges of pursuing justice in conflict. Expectations and demands for international justice have risen dramatically since the end of the Cold War, but perhaps with the exception of 1945-46 there has never been the same level of interest and scrutiny to the work of international criminal justice as in 2011. As Mark writes, “We will almost surely still be talking about 2011 in 2031.”

To reflect these developments, JiC has inaugurated the ‘International Criminal Justice Awards.’ The 2011 awards, listed below, represent the best and the worst in international justice from the last year. You can read the full version of Mark’s blog article here.


Biggest Catch: It was a close call, but the prize for the biggest catch in international criminal justice in 2011 goes to Laurent Gbagbo, narrowly edging out Ratko Mladic. Gbagbo is the first former head of state to be in the custody of the ICC, marking a significant political coup for the Court and (hopefully) justice in Ivory Coast. Quite simply, in terms of victories for international criminal justice, Gbagbo is a head (of state) above the rest. » More

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