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Revolution in a Vacuum

Syrians rally in front of the US Embassy

Syrians rally in front of the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Photo: FreedomHouse/flickr.

MADRID – The Cold War may be over, but superpower rivalry is back. As a result, the international community’s capacity to unite in the face of major global challenges remains as deficient as ever.

Nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in the case of Syria. What was supposed to be a coordinated effort to protect civilians from ruthless repression and advance a peaceful transition – the plan developed by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan – has now degenerated into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Russia’s leaders (and China’s) seek to uphold an international system that relies on the unconditional sovereignty of states and rejects the Western-inspired, humanitarian droit d’ingérence. Concerned that the Arab rebellions would radicalize their own repressed minorities, they refuse to allow the UN Security Council to be used to promote revolutionary changes in the Arab world. And Syria, the last Russian outpost of the Cold War, is an asset the Kremlin will do its utmost to maintain. » More

‘Small’ Georgia Takes on ‘Big’ Russia with New Media

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Georgia is your typical small state: it has a tiny population, a developing economy, and territorial disputes with its largest neighbor Russia. In August 2008 when, Russia briefly invaded the tiny country, no one was particularly surprised that Georgia was unable to counter this show of force.

A small state by definition cannot project sufficient military or economic power to meet a security threat. Since such “hard power” options are unavailable to them, small states are often left with “soft power” as an only means of influencing their adversaries. Soft power comes in many flavors, including public diplomacy and propaganda, traditionally costly endeavors. Fortunately for Georgia, soft power is easier to exercise in an age of global communications. » More

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Putin’s Ironic Potential

Russian protester on the streets of Moscow in June 2012

Russian protester, Moscow, 12 June 2012. Photo: somiz/flickr.

MOSCOW – Vladimir Putin’s recapture of the Russian presidency has been met with widespread derision, both at home and abroad. But the autocrat’s return to the Kremlin could be Russia’s best hope to escape stagnation.

With his open contempt for Russian society – exemplified in his mocking response to widespread demonstrations – as well as his arrogance, readiness to stifle dissent, and fear of competition, Putin has singlehandedly quashed the long-held myth that he himself propagated: personalized power can modernize the country while preserving stability. » More

Mongolia: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Ulan Bator - Bejing

Ulan Bator - Bejing. Photo: Dave Gray/flickr.

Given Mongolia’s potential to become a future commodity powerhouse, it does not seem strange that recent legislation that aims to cap foreign investment and ownership was a cause for concern among the domestic and global business community. The Strategic Foreign Investment Law  aims to confront two major challenges to Mongolia’s social and economic development. Firstly, the regime has to respond to domestic demands that resource wealth is used to benefit the wider population.  Moreover, Mongolia also seeks to reduce its dependence on its two powerful neighbors and in particular to limit Chinese influence over its economy. Neither of these dilemmas will be easily resolved.

After intense domestic lobbying, the Mongolian Parliament approved a watered-down version of the Strategic Foreign Investment Law on 17 May. Initially, the law stipulated that foreign investors seeking to buy a stake of more than 49% in Mongolian companies required the approval of Mongolia’s Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Agency (Fifta) and Parliament.  However, following amendments aimed at appeasing foreign investors, the conditions only apply to companies involved in Mongolia’s ‘strategically important’ mining, financial, and media and telecommunications sectors and when deals are valued at above $76 million. Yet deals in which the buyer company is even partially in state ownership will require approval regardless of the sector of the business. » More

Russia: Returning to a State Monopoly on Violence?

Artwork by Surian Soosay on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The past few decades have seen a troubling increase in the use of private military and security companies (PMSCs) as a substitute for government forces. Sometimes this “privatization” happens with the express consent of the state and is concentrated in “low-intensity armed conflict and post-conflict situations”, for example the United States’ decision to use Blackwater for security operations in Iraq. In other cases consent is tacit or even irrelevant.

When the state is incapable of protecting its own citizens, it loses its monopoly on violence. The resulting power vacuum is filled by organizations willing to provide the service. Traditionally, organized crime is one such entity, but private security agencies now rise to the occasion just as often. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, the Russian mafia and PMSCs stepped in to supplement substandard domestic law enforcement. A report from a UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries singles out Russian PMSCs precisely for their intertwined relationships with both criminal and law-enforcement structures. » More

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