The CSS Blog Network

Gambling for Peace in Southern Thailand

Pai Mosque, courtesy of Iceway/Wikimedia Commons

Insurgencies and local resistance to Buddhist-Thai rule have plagued the predominantly Malay-Muslim provinces of southern Thailand for well over a century. In response, Bangkok has used a mixture of economic development, military action, the restructuring of regional governance, and a series of secret talks with a range of insurgent groups. These attempts to stymie recurring upsurges in ethnic violence have unfortunately met with only limited success.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the latest effort to enter into a formal dialogue with one of southern Thailand’s leading separatist groups, the Barisan Rovolusi Nasional (BRN), has also experienced its fair share of troubles. Yet, if the next Thai government succeeds in reviving the now-troubled talks and brings a degree of political stability to the embattled South, then the efforts of the now-deposed Yingluck Shinawatra government may not have been in vain. » More

Regional Organizations (ROs) and Security

Central Asian leaders, courtesy of the Presidential Press and Information Office/

The following blog features five questions we recently posed to the CSS’s Stephen Aris, who is the co-editor of  Regional Organisations and Security: Conceptions and Practices.

The emergence of post-Cold War regional organizations and the gradual shift in our ideas of what constitutes ‘security’ are not a new phenomenon. So what specifically explains the timing of this publication?

Absolutely, the emergence of Regional Organizations (RO) is by no means a new phenomenon. However, what’s changed over the past decade or so is the role that these regional groupings play in international politics and security. For a variety of reasons, there is now a greater emphasis on the contextually-informed capabilities and supposed greater legitimacy that they can bring to international politics and security.

Until quite recently, the United Nations preferred to take a rather exclusive approach to managing international security, and did not seek to engage regional actors. Yet, faced with an ever growing demand for its services, it has begun to explore avenues for institutionalized engagement with ROs in order to help share the burden. The biggest success story to date has been its collaboration with the African Union (AU), which has resulted in mutually endorsed and hybrid peacekeeping missions between the two bodies.

Increased engagement with ROs comes at a time when a number of regional powers, such as Brazil and South Africa, are staking their claim for a more permanent status on the UN Security Council. Accordingly, engagement allows the UN to claim that it is seeking to better represent the contemporary international order within its existing structures, but without having to undertake the politically-challenging process of real reform of the UN system. Indeed, many regional powers have invested significant resources into developing ROs in order to amplify their voice and enhance their legitimacy as actors on the international stage. » More

Impact of the ‘Big Bang’ Enlargement on EU Foreign Policy – 10 Years On

EU humanitarian aid cargo, courtesy of Rock Cohen/flickr

This article was originally published May 5 2014 by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

New horizons, new sensitivities

The European Union’s leap from 15 to 25 members (and later to 28) was supposed to have consigned the Cold War legacy of separate and hostile camps in Eastern and Western Europe to the shelves of history. The fault lines that opened up across Europe in 2003 over the war in Iraq were therefore ominous signs for the development of a cohesive EU foreign policy after the fifth enlargement of the Union envisaged for 2004. All Central and Eastern European candidate countries signed letters supporting the US policy to ‘disarm’ Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The position of the majority of Western European states, Germany and France in particular, was one of emphatically rejecting the impending war. Divisions were deepened by French President Jacques Chirac, who noted that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe had “lost a good opportunity to keep quiet”, calling their support for the US “infantile” and “reckless”. There was even an implicit threat that they might have their EU accession blocked by a French referendum. » More

Secret Diplomacy and the “Dirty Hand” Problem

US President Nixon gives a speech on Cambodia, courtesy of Jack E Knightlinger/wikimedia commons

This article was originally published May 2 2014 by E-International Relations (E-IR)

The classical “dirty hand” problem in political theory, which involves the choice between two morally challenging “evils”, sums up well the ethical puzzle of secret diplomacy: the lesser evil choice (the practice of deception) remains morally disagreeable even if it is judged to be politically necessary for avoiding a greater evil (e.g., potential military conflict). Arguably, “dirty hand” decisions are much easier to make when the distinction between the two “evils” is clear-cut. However, such clarity of purpose is rarely available in practice. On the one hand, secret diplomacy, which I refer here as the method of conducting international negotiations without public scrutiny, may generate unwarranted suspicion and distrust between nations, or it can undermine domestic orders by undercutting public confidence in political leaders. It can also make negotiators overestimate what they can implement amid domestic opposition once the agreement enters the public domain. This argument has been often mentioned as an explanation for the failure of the 1993 Oslo agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, secret diplomacy can create a conducive environment for constructive talks by insulating foreign policy makers against grandstanding and by granting them a minimum level of security, informality and autonomy. It also offers parties a much needed space for “saving face” in front of domestic constituencies or international partners. Protracted relations of enmity such as that between the US and Iran or Israel and its Arab neighbors require, for instance, significant political capital to break on both sides, which political leaders might not be willing to entertain unless the benefits are clear and tangible. » More

Oil in South Sudan: Turning Crisis Into Opportunity

This article was originally published May 5 2014, by New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) at the Wilson Center.

Outside of donor and humanitarian aid, South Sudan’s economy is almost entirely dependent on the oil sector – and that sector is in crisis.

After a unilateral shutdown of the industry by the government in January 2012 that lasted 15 months, and ongoing partial shutdowns due to internal conflict, not only are current oil revenues drying up, but the prospects for new investment have been nearly destroyed.

As a result, demands on the donor community will grow rather than tail off in coming years. However, looking further afield, and if geology allows, a reformed South Sudan has the potential to turn what has until now been a developmentally detrimental oil industry – generating the finance and providing incentives for violent conflict – into one that generates positive change for its war-torn people. » More

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