As part of the so-called ‘new type of major-country relations,’ there has been a proliferation of official dialogues between the United States and China. But, in the area where mistakes or miscalculation could prove the most disastrous – nuclear weapons policy – Beijing has resisted elevating very constructive unofficial Track 2 and Track 1.5 dialogues (involving government and military officials in their private capacities, along with outside scholars and experts) to the official Track 1 level. A meaningful official dialogue on strategic nuclear issues is needed to prevent lingering suspicion and distrust about each other‘s capabilities and intentions from damaging overall US-China relations. This will not happen, however, until Washington accommodates what Beijing perceives to be its legitimate security concerns and clarifies its own objectives, and Beijing realizes that further delay could undermine its long-term interests.
Over the past ten years, the question of whether violent conflicts are the result of genuine grievances or the product of an environment in which rebellion is an attractive and/or viable option has been at the heart of a fierce theoretical controversy known as the greed versus grievance debate. The debate was sparked when Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler claimed that rebellion cannot be explained by grievances resulting from ethnic animosities or economic and political inequalities, because situations in which people want to rebel are ubiquitous, whereas the circumstances in which people are able to rebel (weak states, rough terrain, the presence of lootable resources etc.) are sufficiently rare to constitute the explanation.
This claim and its morally charged phrasing in terms of “greed” and “grievance” posed a tough challenge to the dominant view of many political scientists and to conventional wisdom more generally. While many scholars subsequently shifted their attention to studying the opportunities for conflict, others put their efforts into finding better ways to measure people’s grievances. An award-winning book on Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War, published in 2013, testifies to the fact that the jury in this debate is still out.
Pairs of Belgian soldiers have been standing guard at the entrance of NATO headquarters and other sensitive locations in Brussels since the Belgian security services successfully raided a terrorist cell in the Belgian city of Verviers on 15 January, just days after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One rather hopes that NATO especially was already somewhat protected before; two foot soldiers will hardly make much difference in any case.
Indeed, why deploy the army in the streets of Brussels at all? What one seems to forget is that no terrorist attack took place. Unlike in May of last year, when a returned French ‘foreign fighter’ murdered four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, this time an attack was prevented, thanks to excellent police and intelligence work – and yet now the army was deployed whereas last year it was not. That does not mean that there is no more remaining threat, quite the contrary, but it does more than nuance the causal link between troops in the street and security at home. Khaki in the streets is mostly bad theatre, a feeble attempt to signal resolve in the face of a threat that can never be entirely prevented (although in this particular instance it actually was).
The security climate of East Asia is changing. Last month, the Japanese Cabinet under Prime Minster Shinzo Abe approved a record defense budget of 4.98 trillion yen (42 billion USD) for fiscal year 2015. This is two percent more than last year and the third consecutive increase after more than a decade of stagnation. As of 2013, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) ranked Japan’s military spending as the world’s eighth largest.
With the country still in the economic doldrums, experiencing ballooning public debt and facing sharpening controversy over the government’s attempts at altering the war-renouncing constitution, Abe has justified the increased spending with the need to counter Chinese maritime expansion in the East and South China Seas. His government is also adamant Japan needs a stronger and more active military to contribute to the furthering of international security through “proactive pacifism.”
Since the late 1990s, the NATO alliance has experienced three distinct phases of enlargement: in March 1999, March 2004 and April 2009. Some security experts have taken a rather cynical view of this process, arguing that NATO’s eastward expansion was a factor in causing the current instabilities in the Ukraine. In fact, this analysis has proven to be very weak as it does not consider the efforts the alliance made to build a real dialogue with Russia over the course of 20 years. These individuals would equally want to be reminded of the so-called ‘dual-track approach’ to NATO enlargement, launched in the 1990s. This meant that any possible enlargement of NATO would have to go hand-in-hand with the formulation of a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation. This was the basis for the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and was a coherent part in the setting up of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002.