Hopes were once high that Myanmar’s transition to semi-civilian government in 2011 would be accompanied by the settlement of its decades-old conflicts with its ethnic minorities. However, many of the country’s insurgencies have escalated since then, plunging the north back into renewed civil conflict. As things currently stand, government forces are battling various ethnic armed groups – including Kachin, Kokang, and Palaung movements – resulting in heavy losses on both sides and the displacement of up to 200,000 civilians in Shan and Kachin States.
To some observers, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine symbolizes the gradual erosion of Europe’s security architecture, as established by the Paris Charter, and the emergence of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. But are these pessimistic assumptions about the current state of East-West relations and Europe’s security actually justified? And if they are, then how can the West improve its ties with an increasingly bellicose Russia? These and other questions were the focus of the Center for Security Studies’ (CSS) latest Evening Talk. The guest speakers were Hanns Maull, who is a Senior Distinguished Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), and Andreas Wenger, who is the Director of the CSS. During their presentations and follow-on Q&A period, the two scholars elaborated on the broader security implications of the Ukraine conflict, the origins of Russia’s support for pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country, and what adjustments the West (particularly Europe) should make to its Russia policies.
Events in the Middle East seem to make some commentators and officials forget the fact that borders matter—everywhere, including the Middle East. Most borders reflect the vagaries and irrationalities of history. Sometimes they look arbitrary—history does not usually produce straight lines. Borders frame states, and states are the constituents of the international system and order. Borders bound sovereignty. Their recognition implies acceptance of power within boundaries. For these reasons alone, governments and commentators should take them seriously and be wary of too-easy calls to change them. Just look at the Balkan bloodbaths of the last 150 years for examples other than those in Iraq and Syria of what can happen when borders are torn up or control of borders becomes a politico-military issue. In short, borders are at the heart of international peace, order, and prosperity.
In the early days of his first term, US president Barack Obama gave a speech in Prague in which he called for a world without nuclear weapons. His argument was based on a risk assessment:
In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets abound. The technology to build the bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one.
Even leaving aside the recent historic deal with Iran, this is a problematic interpretation. It ignores the important historical context. As far as the risk of nuclear weapons is concerned, there is no fundamental difference between the Cold War and today’s world. Research has found that terrorist groups are not too keen to acquire nuclear devices. Most of the countries that Western societies would regard as especially risky today (such as Iran and North Korea, Pakistan and India) already began their nuclear programmes during the Cold War. Moreover, history has shown that what matters in terms of risk is not whether or not a country has nuclear weapons: it’s what it intends to do with them. And that we often don’t exactly know.
An old territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana has flared up once again as the Guyanese government contracted ExxonMobil to look for offshore oil in an area that Caracas claims as its own. While it is unlikely that this particular instance will escalate into an armed conflict, these tensions highlight how non-violent incidents over coveted resources will continue to occur. Moreover, should clashes over this disputed territory continue, Venezuela will, in this author’s opinion, come out as the loser as it will be inexorably regarded as the aggressor against a militarily weaker neighbor.
Moreover, while this dispute has thankfully been non-violent, it could affect U.S.-Venezuela relations as the two governments have been at odds for over a decade and a half. Washington could capitalize on Venezuela’s aggressive stance in order to strengthen relations with Guyana to better monitor developments in Caracas.