This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 8 May 2017.
Realism’s theoretical dominance in International Relations (IR) – especially its focus on the power of superpowers and its state-centric view of international society – has been challenged by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global transformations characterising the post-Cold War era. One of those transformations is the way in which “states neither great nor small” are gaining increased recognition amid the disruptive multi-polarity of the current global disorder. Scholars such as Martin Wight and Carsten Holbraad, whose earlier writings about middle powers were overlooked in mainstream IR, are now acknowledged for their scholarly prescience. Bringing middle powers back into mainstream IR theorising is obviously overdue. There are two problems in the theorising of middle powers in contemporary IR scholarship that obscure their positioning and potential in post-Cold War international politics: (1) its intellectual history has been neglected; (2) “middle power” itself is a vague concept.
The neglected intellectual history of middle powers
The ranking of states hierarchically (big, small, middle sized) is by no means a modern (or even post-modern) invention. In ancient China and classical Greece the organisation of political communities and their status relative to each other was of great interest to thinkers as diverse as the Chinese sage Mencius (?372-289 BCE or ?385-303 BCE), and the Athenian philosopher Socrates (469-399 BCE).
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 4 May 2017.
The Central African Republic was most recently in the news when armed helicopters assigned to the United Nations mission in the country (MINUSCA) fired at a group of rebels near the town of Bambari. This was deemed necessary to protect civilians from attacks, which has been a central part of MINUSCA’s mandate since 2014, the year in which an armed rebellion ousted then-President Francois Bozize. Bambari marks a frontier between two groups that were part of the Séléka—the rebels that deposed Bozize but have since faced off against each other.
Notably missing from descriptions of this recent incident is the role of the government of CAR itself. Reporters and government officials alike attribute that absence to a “lack of capacity“—the state can scarcely project any presence beyond the capital city of Bangui. A stated goal of international engagement in CAR is to restore and extend state authority and legitimacy, ultimately producing a government able to resolve such insecurity without external assistance. While all involved acknowledge that this is an ambitious undertaking, to fully appreciate its magnitude one must read Yale University anthropologist Louisa Lombard’s account of state-making and rebellion in CAR, State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 29 June 2017.
On the eve of the June 1967 war in the Middle East, a small group of men in the Israeli elite considered a doomsday scenario. They all supported Israel having an overt nuclear strategy, but the dovish prime minister, Levi Eshkol, had resisted. Now, with war looming, they felt that their hour had come. Behind the scenes, these bureaucrats, scientists and officers prepared the ground for using Israel’s ultimate weapon: the nuclear bomb.
Three weeks ago, The New York Times revealed part of that story which the newspaper described as the “last secret” of the Six Day War. The truth is, evidence of these events has been out in the open for several years now. Yitzchak Yaacov, a top scientist who served as a senior officer in the Israeli army, had published his memoirs detailing the deliberations for the secret operation already in 2011. Based on this book as well as several interviews, Amir Oren, military correspondent for Haaretz, wrote in the same year a long analysis of the decision-making process surrounding this chapter in Israel’s history. And in 2014, Oxford University Press published a monograph by Or Rabinowitz that distilled all these Hebrew-language sources into an English-language text.
This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 29 June 2017.
Stalin’s increasing popularity in Russia is worrying, but its importance should not be exaggerated.
This week, yet another poll confirmed Joseph Stalin’s unwavering hold on the popular imagination of Russians. Surveys have documented steadily rising admiration for the Soviet leader in the last several years, but Monday’s open-ended study published by the Levada Center established him as “the most outstanding person” in history, for 38 percent of respondents. Vladimir Putin came in joint second position at 34 percent, alongside the poet Alexander Pushkin.
The poll sounds particularly alarming because instead of answering multiple choice questions, respondents were asked to name the first person to pop into their head – not just Russian, but anyone, anywhere. The fact that for 38 percent of people that was Stalin – without the respondent first being prompted – seems to confirm what many have been fearing for some time: that Russians are steadily forgiving and embracing a tyrant who oversaw a system that slaughtered tens of millions of its own people.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 27 June 2017.
On June 13, Panama switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC or Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China). Panama City and Beijing jointly announced that “the Government of the Republic of Panama recognizes that there is but one China in the world, that the Government of the PRC is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.” Panama’s defection should serve as a “wakeup call” for the present administration in Taipei. To be sure, something needs to change.
After learning of the loss of one of Taiwan’s oldest friends, officials in Taipei – including President Tsai Ing-wen – lashed out at Panama for its shocking “betrayal.” Authorities also blasted the PRC for “oppressing” Taiwan. Senior officials even went so far as to threaten that the Tsai administration would consider all of its options while rethinking relations with the Chinese mainland. Paradoxically, anti-China pundits based in Taiwan (and elsewhere) put a different spin on the diplomatic defection. Some argued that the loss of Panama didn’t matter, while others claimed that Beijing had returned to the practice of “checkbook diplomacy” (bribing small countries to switch diplomatic relations). But these interpretations fall short.