The CSS Blog Network

What Europe Can Do for the Western Balkans

Image courtesy of Kaufdex/Pixabay

This article was originally published by European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 October 2017.

It is high time for the EU to move beyond ‘stabilocracy’ and stand up to ethnic nationalist kleptocrat political leaders.

The Balkans are not as exciting as they once were. The large-scale violence that made the region a central concern of European policy in the 1990s is no longer a feature of Balkan politics.

That’s progress, of course. But the absence of violence does not mean an absence of problems. Persistent economic weakness, growing public frustration with leaders, and renewed ethnic tensions have created a volatile mix beneath the surface calm. As Europe’s attention to these issues wavered, outside actors – most notably Russia, but also Turkey and China, began to assert themselves. If the European Union wants to maintain stability and influence in its own troubled backyard, it will need to re-engage with the Balkans.

» More

Managing Paul Kagame, Africa’s Enfant Terrible

Image: Flickr

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 30 March 2014.

South Africa is conducting a fairly delicate struggle with Rwanda, trying to choreograph and coordinate complex moves to manage the difficult and dangerous President Paul Kagame – on the hard streets of Johannesburg, in the polite halls of diplomacy, in the courts of law, and, by proxy, on the field of battle.

On Tuesday this week the terrain of this struggle moved to multilateral diplomacy in Luanda, where President Jacob Zuma once again attended a summit of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). South Africa is not a member of this body, but Zuma has become a sort of country member, having been invited to the last few summits as a special guest. » More

The Afghan Endgame Mirage

Patrol in Jani Khel district, Afghanistan. Image by isafmedia / Flickr.

STOCKHOLM – On a recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I could not fail to notice the increasingly frequent international calls for an “endgame” in Afghanistan. But an endgame for that country is a dangerous illusion: the game will not end, and neither will history. The only thing that could come to an end is the world’s attention and engagement in Afghanistan, which could well lead to catastrophic consequences.

Much international focus is now on the year 2014, the target date for completion of the gradual transfer of responsibility for security from international forces to the Afghan government. This process is not without challenges, but there is no reason to believe that it could not be finalized more or less according to plan and the current timetable.

My belief is that there is another, far more critical challenge facing Afghanistan in 2014: the election of a new president. In a system where so much power – open and hidden, constitutional and traditional – is centered around the president, the election could well turn into an all-out battle for the country’s future. » More

Mind the Neighbors

Joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press

Kofi Annan, joint UN/AL Special Envoy on Syria briefs press

PRINCETON – The conventional wisdom last week on whether Syria would comply with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan was that it was up to Russia. We were reverting to Cold War politics, in which the West was unwilling to use force and Russia was willing to keep arming and supporting its client. Thus, Russia held the trump card: the choice of how much pressure it was willing to put on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to comply with the plan.

If this view were correct, Iran would surely be holding an equally powerful hand. Annan, after all, traveled to Tehran as well. Traditional balance-of-power geopolitics, it seems, is alive and well.

But this is, at best, a partial view that obscures as much as it reveals. In particular, it misses the crucial and growing importance of regional politics and institutions. » More

Please Don’t Mention Transnistria

Finding peace in an uncomfortable setting, photo: Dasha Gaian/flickr

Last Sunday, parliamentary elections were held in Transnistria, where 123 candidates vied for 43 seats in the local Supreme Council. With the counting of the votes still ongoing, the favorite to hold on to parliament in this 530,000-strong quasi-state is the “Renovation Party”, which has also controlled the majority of seats in the past. For those who may be wondering, Transnistria is this long and narrow strip of Eastern Moldova bounded on one side by the Dnestr River and on the other by Ukraine.

After the dissolution of the USSR, Transnistria broke away from Moldova over fears that the former Soviet republic would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. In 1992, Moldova and Transnistria fought a short war which ended with a Russian-mediated settlement, enforced by Russian troops already stationed in the region. From the very first day, therefore, the breakaway region of Transnistria depended on Russia for support. Under growing international pressure, however, Russia then went on to sign the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe at a 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, under which it pledged to withdraw all its troops and military equipment from Transnistria by 2002.

This pledge was, however, not adhered to. » More

Page 1 of 2