The CSS Blog Network

Commanding the Sahara to Retreat

Man in Sandstorm, courtesy A. Masood

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 19 May 2016.

The blueprint for the Great Green Wall is nothing if not ambitious. Quite Canute-like, it would seem.

The aim is to plant a forest of trees about 15km wide, snaking some 7 775km from Senegal on the Atlantic to Djibouti on the Red Sea – crossing another nine Sahelian states on the way – to halt the southward march of the Sahara into the Sahel. This elongated forest would cover about 11 662 500 hectares.

The idea was originally conceived by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 and enthusiastically embraced by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. In 2007, the African Union Commission (AUC) took it up as the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI). Obasanjo seems to have borrowed the idea from China, yet the Chinese precedent is not entirely encouraging. Its bricks and mortar equivalent failed to keep out the Mongolian hordes from the north in the 13th century. And China’s Great Green Wall – launched in 1978 with the aim of creating a forest of trees 4 500km long – has also not stopped the southward drift of the Gobi and other deserts, despite the planting of about 70 billion trees to date.

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Nord Stream 2: Trust in Europe

Nord Stream – two pipes are welded together, courtesy Bair175/wikipedia

This article was originally published by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in its Policy Perspectives series (Vol. 4/4, March 2016).

The prospect of building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany is dividing the EU into two camps. By following geopolitical considerations, both sides are neglecting the concept of a liberalized natural gas market and are overlooking Europe’s favorable position in current international gas trade.

Key Points

  • Nord Stream 2 has turned out to be a symbolic conflict about how to deal with Russian gas imports and infrastructure projects
  • The German government has lost diplomatic reputation and credibility by politically backing Nord Stream 2
  • The EU needs to make clear, in how far a market approach or in how far a geopolitical approach is structuring its natural gas policies in general
  • When sticking to its liberalized gas market model, the EU Commission will have to evaluate Nord Stream 2 under existing regulation, not based on an undefined foreign policy assessment

When Russia’s Gazprom and its five European partners (BASF, E.ON, Engie, OMV and Shell) signed a declaration to build two new pipelines through the Baltic Sea (‘Nord Stream 2’) in September 2015, this came as a real surprise for most observers. The project would increase existing capacity from 55 to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year by 2019. Gazprom would act as the main shareholder with a stake of 50 percent in the Swiss-based pipeline company. Nord Stream 2 will follow a similar route along the seabed as the first pipeline project that started deliveries in 2011. The project is completely financed by its shareholders and does not receive financial support from public sources of the EU or a Member State. It is clear that from the Russian side, not only the aspect of defending and maybe even the possibility of enlarging market shares in Europe, but also the geopolitical motivation of circumventing Ukrainian territory and reducing payments for Ukrainian transit play an important role in the project. After the Black Sea pipeline project ‘South Stream’ to Bulgaria was cancelled in 2014 and considerations to involve Turkey in the transit business have been put on hold, the Baltic Sea seems to be Gazprom’s most reliable and secure route to retain a hold on its most important market: Europe.

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The Future of Political Demography and Its Impact on Policy

Arab Spring protests in Egypt. Image: AK Rockefeller/Flickr

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

“Political demography is a discipline whose time has come,” said Rob Odell of the National Intelligence Council at a gathering of demographers and researchers in New Orleans. “You can sense this inherent dissatisfaction” with a lot of analytical and predictive tools in international relations, he said, and “political demography provides policymakers a way to think about long-term trends.”

The study of population dynamics’ effects on political affairs, from the stability of states and conflict to regime types, economics, and state behavior, is relatively new. The International Studies Association (ISA), a professional group founded in 1959 with over 6,500 scholars and political scientists today, only added a sub-group for political demography in 2011. » More

Reigniting Somalia’s Political Transition: Q&A with Ken Menkhaus

President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. Image: AMISOM Public Information Photo Stream/Flickr

This interview was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 25 November, 2015.

Recent pushback against Al-Shabaab extremists and a partial easing of tensions between central and state governments have increased hopes for a stable democratic future in Somalia, as it continues to recover from the civil war of the 1990s and 2000s.

Nonetheless, Professor Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College—an expert on the country’s ongoing political transition—said much work was required to recapture momentum from the 2012 establishment of a new federal government, which brought in new political and security expertise, international support, and financial investment. “Finishing a lot of transitional tasks left from the pre-2012 era is essential if the country is to move forward: to have a constitution; to have full elections,” he told International Peace Institute (IPI) Senior Adviser John Hirsch, at a recent IPI forum on 21st century peacebuilding. “Since then, a number of things have not gone terribly well. We’ve seen a prolonged period of political paralysis in the government, with a lot of in-house fighting,” Dr. Menkhaus said. He said the international community was deeply involved in Somalia, providing development and military aid, as well as applying pressure on the country’s leaders to continue their transitional tasks. This includes pushing for an election on a new head of state and a referendum on a new constitution, which had been expected next year. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. » More

CAR in Need of Stability as October Polls Loom

François Bozizé, a prospective candidate for the October 2015 elections. Image: UNDP/hdptcar/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 September, 2015.

Last month, violent clashes erupted in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the killing and beheading of a 19-year-old Muslim in Bambari, allegedly by members of the Christian and animist militias known as the anti-Balaka. One year after African Union efforts in CAR were rolled into a United Nations mission, sectarian violence remains common, pointing to the urgent need for reforms to ensure stability ahead of general elections in October this year. » More

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