The CSS Blog Network

Rethinking the Apocalypse: Time for Bold Thinking on the 2nd Nuclear Age

The Licorne thermonuclear test in French Polynesia, courtesy Pierre J/flickr

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 1 March 2016.

For much of the 46-year Cold War, many of the West’s most gifted strategists focused their talents on how to prevent the two nuclear superpowers from engaging in a war that could destroy them both — and perhaps the rest of the human race along with them. With the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the threat of nuclear Armageddon receded dramatically and the First Nuclear Age drew to a close.

The world is far different today. On the one hand, both the United States and Russia have far smaller nuclear arsenals than they did at the Cold War’s end. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. At the same time, new nuclear powers have emerged. These developments have introduced a shift from the bipolar Cold War nuclear competition, to an increasingly multipolar competition among nuclear powers and the onset of the Second Nuclear Age.

Yet this new age has not yet produced the foundational analyses that guided policymakers through the First Nuclear Age. Perhaps it is because the Second Nuclear Age appears so much more complex than the first. Or maybe it is because the Second Nuclear Age lacks the immediate existential danger posed by the Soviet Union. Or it might be that in the current age the best analytic talent has been devoted primarily to reducing the number of nuclear players (nonproliferation) and number of weapons (arms control and disarmament), rather than the consequences of such efforts falling short of success.

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Is the Illegal Trade in Congolese Minerals Financing Terror?

Conflict Mineral Democratic Republic of the Congo, courtesy RSN_3230/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 2 March 2016.

Many resource-rich states across the globe have used revenues from mining to finance their development. In Africa, however, a lack of sufficiently robust or effectively enforced regulatory systems often means that states lose vast amounts to the illicit trade of natural resources.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scourge of illegal resource acquisition and smuggling has been taking on a new dimension with terrorist groups becoming increasingly involved.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) is currently conducting a research project that tracks illicit financial flows related to resource extraction in the DRC.

Our studies have found that where multinationals were once the major players, terror groups are now increasingly joining the criminal networks that extort minerals from the eastern part of the country. This underscores the need for urgent and drastic measures to improve natural resource governance, both in the DRC and the broader region.

According to a 2009 report in African Business magazine, the total mineral wealth of the DRC is estimated to be about US$24 trillion: equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Europe and the United States combined. The country is home to the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, along with vast quantities of diamonds; so-called 3T minerals (tin, tungsten and coltan – which are mostly used in electronics such as laptops and mobile phones); gold; copper and others.

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Interview – Robert Keohane

Global Network, courtesy fdecomite/flickr

This interview was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 26 February 2016.

Robert O. Keohane is Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University. He is the author of After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984) and Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World (2002). He is co-author (with Joseph S. Nye, Jr.) of Power and Interdependence (fourth edition 2011), and (with Gary King and Sidney Verba) of Designing Social Inquiry (1994). He has served as the editor of the journal International Organization and as president of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. He won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, 1989, and the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science, 2005. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has received honorary degrees from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and Science Po in Paris, and is the Harold Lasswell Fellow (2007-08) of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Where do you see the most exciting research and debates happening today in the field of international relations?

I think that the field of international relations – which should be called “world politics” for reasons that will become obvious below – has historically been most interesting when one of two developments occurred in the world: 1) there were new activities and processes to describe and attempt to explain; and 2) events took place that called into question existing theories – that created anomalies. In the first category I would include the appearance of systematic balance of power politics that appeared to create a sort of stability in a decentralized system, in the 18th and especially the 19th centuries; the creation of important intergovernmental institutions, especially after World Wars I and II; and the increasing levels of activity and significance of non-state actors, apparent in the 1970s and occurring at an accelerating rate after 1991. Also in the first category is sustained attention to human rights (most apparent after about 1975), as well as the so-called “democratic peace,” which received attention from the early 1980s on. In the second category are the stability of the post-World War II bipolar system (anomalous for balance of power theory), which led to more attention to structural theory, especially in the work of Kenneth N. Waltz; and the generation and persistence of substantial international cooperation, which were anomalous for Realist theory, including structural theories.

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Syria 90-Day Forecast: The Assad Regime and Allies in Northern Syria

Destruction in Baba Amr, Homs, Syria, courtesy Freedom House/flickr

This forecast was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 24 February 2016.

The expanded interventions of Russia and Iran into the Syrian Civil War have shifted the trajectory of the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, granting him the strongest position on the battlefield as of February 24, 2016. Regime forces bolstered by Iranian ground troops and Russian air support have achieved major gains against both the Syrian armed opposition and ISIS in Northern Syria since September 2015, marking a fundamental shift in battlefield momentum following a compounding series of regime losses in the first half of 2015. President Assad now sits within reach of several of his military objectives, including the encirclement and isolation of Aleppo City and the establishment of a secure defensive perimeter along the Syrian Coast.[1] The regime and its allies will likely retain their battlefield gains if there is no intervention by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE. Russian campaign designers have clearly planned the ongoing operations in northern Syria, introducing to the Syrian battlefield signature Russian doctrinal concepts such as frontal aviation, cauldron battles, and multiple simultaneous and successive operations. These have made the joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian military operations more effective for a longer duration than previous operations. The offensive operations conducted by the regime and its allies may nevertheless culminate over the 90-day timeframe, as pro-regime forces attempt to advance deeper into core opposition-held terrain and take high casualties. Regular reinforcement of ground capabilities by Iran and Russia will therefore remain necessary over the next three months in order to maintain this level of momentum in the face of continued manpower shortages, attrition, and opposition military actions designed to slow and divert the campaign.

Although an uncontrolled collapse of the Syrian regime seemed feasible in June 2015,[2] Russia’s intervention into the Syrian Civil War has ultimately reset the military balance in Syria. ISW published its last forecast in September 2015 based upon six fundamental assumptions, one of which did not hold for the entirety of the forecasting period. The forecast assumed that Russia would maintain a defensive posture in Syria in order to prevent regime collapse rather than prioritize offensive operations.[3] This assumption remained true in the first few weeks after the start of the Russian air campaign on September 30, 2015. Russia later shifted its air campaign in mid-October 2015 in order to provide direct support to joint Iranian-Syrian counteroffensives on the ground. The aggressive operations undertaken by Russia and Iran in Syria have precluded many of the previously-forecasted courses of action by the regime, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, and ISIS.

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Interview – Emmanuel Goffi

Rise of the Drones, courtesy thierry ehrmann/flickr

This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 21 February 2016.

Emmanuel Goffi is a specialist in military ethics and security studies. He is currently a research fellow at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba (UofM), in Winnipeg, Canada, and has been an officer of the French Air Force (captain) for 22 years. He is also an instructor in political science at the Department of Political Studies at UofM and at the International College of Manitoba. Emmanuel lectured in International Relations, the Law of Armed Conflicts, and Ethics at the French Air Force Academy for five years before he was appointed as an analyst and research associate at the Center for Aerospace Strategic Studies in Paris for two years.

Emmanuel Goffi holds a PhD in Political Science/International Relations from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris-Centre de Recherche Internationales (Science Po-CERI). He is the author of Les armées françaises face à la morale : une réflexion au cœur des conflits modernes (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2011). He co-edited and contributed to an edited volume of more than 40 contributions about drones: Les drones aériens : passé, présent et avenir. Approche globale [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: past, present, and future. A global approach] (Paris: La Documentation française, coll. Stratégie aérospatiale, 2013). Emmanuel’s current researches focus on the ethical aspects of the dronization and robotization of the battlefield, and on the constructivist approach of security studies.

Where do you see the most exciting research/debates happening in your field?

I would say that the most exciting aspects regarding international relations and security studies are to be found in the philosophical perspective. Morality and ethics are growing concerns in political science. The evolution of conflicts, the rise of new actors, globalization, and new technologies, have slowly led to the obsolescence of international laws. Warfare and laws of armed conflicts are the perfect illustration of this. This is why ethics is becoming more and more important. When you cannot rely on formal legal norms you turn towards informal moral ones.

In this field of moral philosophy, warfare and the new forms of confrontations are endless topics. The use of drones and robots on the battlefield, the changes in the way we approach defense issues, the evolution in the sociology of the military are some of the most thrilling subjects to address. Besides, moral philosophy applied to political science opens doors to an infinite number of perspectives and offers an undreamt playground to free spirits. » More

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