3 May 2015

An All-Weather Partnership for China and Pakistan

April 30, 2015

Although Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first official visit to Pakistan was ‘postponed’ last year, Xi successfully completed a two-day tour April 21-22, 2015 that focused on further strengthening bilateral relations between the visiting nation and Pakistan on a number of essential political, security and infrastructure issues. One topic of prime focus was the Chinese western province Xinjiang, an incredibly strategic, culturally rich area, and home to millions of Muslims.

Significance of Xinjiang

What is the significance of Xinjiang to China? The simple answer is the tremendous strategic importance the western territory plays in Beijing’s political, geographic, economic and cultural landscape. By holding this area that accounts for about one-sixth of China’s land, China can influence internal political unrest and maintain rule. Xinjiang is also a vital part of Beijing’s energy strategy. Much talk has been made of the secessionist movement in China about Tibet and Taiwan, but far less discussion is given to the secessionist movement of Xinjiang made by the predominately Muslim, ethnic Uyghur population. During the past 1,300 years, the Muslim population in China has rebelled against ruling authority and Beijing has seen spikes in violence during the late 1990s, 2000s and present. Fully aware of the implications that such conflict could inspire others from within its borders if it was to grant Xinjiang independence, China has opted for another path.

With Resurgent Taliban Gaining Ground, US Military Units Return to the Afghan Battlefield

April 30, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan — Months after President Obama formally declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way under the guise of “training and advising.”

In justifying the continued presence of the American forces in Afghanistan, administration officials have insisted that the troops’ role is relegated to counterterrorism, defined as tracking down the remnants of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist groups, and training and advising the Afghan security forces who have assumed the bulk of the fight.

In public, officials have emphasized that the Taliban are not being targeted unless it is for “force protection” — where the insurgents were immediately threatening American forces.

But interviews with American and Western officials in Kabul and Washington offer a picture of a more aggressive range of military operations against the Taliban in recent months, as the insurgents have continued to make gains against struggling government forces.

Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mostly drone missions — and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.

Reflections on the American War, Karzai, and Orientalism in Afghanistan


The historical legacy of Hamid Karzai and the American presence in Afghanistan is one of a new dimension of violence perpetrated by official (overt and covert) US military actors and privatized mercenaries against Afghan civilians. Much of the official and sub-contracted US military activities in Afghanistan since 7 October 2001 have straddled the boundaries of legality. Here I refer to para-legal detentions and interrogations, ‘renditions’ to black sites, blimp and satellite surveillance, drone warfare, the use of weaponized uranium in munitions, etc. The spurious ethical and marginally legal basis of these new forms of US surveillance, bombing, and assassination in Afghanistan were legitimized by the hasty installation and fabricated inauguration (through the improvisation of the Bonn Conference and the crudely staged Loya Jirga) of Hamid Karzai in 2001, and the subsequent international recognition he received. Despite his own rhetoric to the contrary, Karzai was, and will likely forever be viewed by the majority of Afghans, as a product of US policy that represents the moral scars of corruption, subservience, and, most importantly in what is recognized to be an honor-bound society that values autonomy and independent action, shame.

Vietnam: 40 Years Later

By Sebastian Strangio
May 01, 2015

HO CHI MINH CITY—ON April 30, 1975, the armies of communist North Vietnam army took Saigon, toppled the government of South Vietnam, and brought two decades of American military involvement in Vietnam to an end. Today the fall of Saigon is defined, at least in the west, by two indelible images. The first, taken by the late Dutch photographer Hugh Van Es, shows a line of desperate Vietnamese trying to board an American helicopter from a rooftop in downtown Saigon. The other image was captured on film by the Australian journalist Neil Davis: It showed a North Vietnamese tank, bristling with diminutive bo doi infantry, smashing through the cast-iron gates of the Presidential Palace, climbing to its roof, and running up the standard of liberation.

In their own way, both images were a fittingly shambolic testament to a war that was hastily conceived, poorly planned, and conducted with brutal indifference to the people of the country that it ostensibly sought to save. The U.S. intervention in Vietnam cost the lives of around 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans, devastating the country’s physical infrastructure and setting its development back by decades.

Forty years on, those who are old enough still remember the mixture of fear, relief and uncertainty that marked South Vietnam’s final days and the end of the war. “On April 30 there were tanks in the street here. Saigon was very chaotic,” said Nguyen Quoc Kien, 48, the owner of a coffee shop in Cholon, the Chinese district of Saigon. “I remember a girl – she was shot at a roundabout because she was a Viet Cong.” Pham Van Minh, 67, a former engineer in the South Vietnamese navy, remembered an eerie calm. “We were very happy to have peace, to have the war finished,” he said, crossing his fingers and jabbing them to emphasize the closing of one era and the beginning of another.

Exploring Nepal's Historic Treasures

This edition of our ongoing series of archaeological and historical sites of Asia will focus on Nepal. 

Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake last week. In addition to the loss of life and property, many of Nepal’s historical treasures were damaged. Nepal and the greater Himalayan region are unique in South Asia for their preservation of monuments and manuscripts that have survived in these regions for much longer than in the hot, damp plains of northern India and Pakistan. Below, I discuss some of Nepal’s most interesting archaeological sites.

Many of Nepal’s most important historical sites are found in the Nepal or Kathmandu valley, which lay on the major trade route between the Ganges valley in India and Tibet. In the city of Kathmandu, there are multiple temples and palaces built in an architecturally distinct style from Hindu temples in neighboring north India, with the distinct pagoda-like features more prominent in eastern Asia.

Many of these structures were severely damaged by the earthquake including the temple of Kasthamandap, a squat temple from which the city takes its name. Kathmandu’s Durbar (palace) square was filled with rubbleand ruins after the earthquake though some pagodas survived. The most important and oldest Hindu temple in Nepal, dedicated to Shiva, Pashupatinath Temple near Kathmandu (from around the fifth century C.E.) hassurvived and is now the site for the cremations of many victims of the quake.

After Unimaginable Destruction and Misery, a Marshall Plan for Nepal?

May 02, 2015

In a small village in Nepal, an old woman is picking up whatever belongings she can scrounge from the rubble, all that remains of her one story home. Sifting through the pile of debris, she lays her hand on a small shoe and suddenly freezes. She starts wailing. The shoe belonged to the woman’s 8 year-old granddaughter, Padma, who was crushed under a pillar when the family house collapsed in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. By the time her father came to rescue her, the young girl had succumbed to her injuries.

Fifty meters away from the old woman’s house, Laxmi and Manilal Thapa are trying to pull a few sacks of grains from what’s left of their house. They have dug a few potatoes from the debris and hope to find some rice, allowing them to cook their first meal in two days. Ever since the tremor hit, they have been in a daze. They mourn Manilal’s wife, who lost her life saving their two children, protecting them from a collapsing wall to save their lives. But the family cannot mourn for long. Manilal and his sister, who also lives in the neighborhood, continue to frantically search through the debris, hoping to find their two goats that still remain buried.

Further down in the street, a group of men sit in a makeshift tent, wearing white robes. All around them are ruins and rubble. The compound of five houses that they once lived in are now completely shattered. The men have lost their family’s patriarch in the earthquake. The 72 year-old was napping when the tremor struck and was crushed under the weight of the terrace wall.

In the village of Jeevanpur and Chhetria Deurali, 50 kilometres away from the capital of Kathmandu, almost every household is in mourning. The destruction is widespread and all encompassing.

3 'Grueling Realities' for Post-Earthquake Nepal

By James A. Schear
May 01, 2015

The original version of this article appeared on the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat.

Nepal’s devastating earthquake last Saturday was both tragic and expected. On September 18, 2011, as colleagues and I were driving through Kathmandu, our car started to shake, buildings began to sway, store fronts cracked, hundreds of people jumped out of windows and streamed into already crowded streets. It was the so-called Sikkim earthquake. There were only a few fatalities and injuries — it was a very minor event compared to last weekend’s disaster. But it validated the rationale for our visit: to help launch a disaster relief dialogue involving U.S. government experts, Nepalese security forces, and their country’s emergency responders.

We also imagined, sadly, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Sitting atop colliding tectonic plates, the Nepalese people inhabit one of our planet’s most earthquake-prone regions. The urban sprawl of their historic capital city, Kathmandu, swells across a high mountain valley around which seismic shocks (and aftershocks) can bounce and reverberate. When these plates shifted on Saturday, the Indian subcontinent driving underneath Eurasia, more than 8 million people were eventually affected. Estimated fatalities currently exceed 5,000 and are still rising, with thousands more injured and remote areas closer to the quake’s epicenter still largely cutoff.

Is there any good news here? Well, tragically, a sense of inevitability does hone a degree of personal resilience and public preparedness. Disaster risk reduction has been a highly visible theme in Nepal’s international partnerships over the past decade, despite the country’s political fragility and severe economic hardships, and we may be seeing glimpses of that right now.

How Asia’s Richest Man Is Connected to China’s Leaders

May 02, 2015

The lead-off story this week: the long-awaited investigation into the finances of billionaire Wang Jianlin and his Wanda Group firms, which have grown from real estate to encompass the film and entertainment industry. The investigation, by Michael Forsythe, was the subject of a major controversy back in 2013, when the story was allegedly killed by Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief out of fears that it would incite China’s rage. Forsythe left Bloomberg soon after the controversy broke and is now with the New York Times, where he published the Wang story this week.

As with previous exposés of financial ties between Party elites and big business, the piece does not allege that any actual wrongdoing took place. But the story does illuminate financial ties between Wanda companies and family members of some of China’s top leaders, including former Premier Wen Jiabao, former President Hu Jintao, and even current President Xi Jinping.

In other news, Xinhua released its take on the Baltimore protests and riots in a commentary on Wednesday.Xinhua highlighted both racial and economic disparities in its piece and called on the United States to address its own human rights problems. “American democracy is under serious attack and we call upon the government to act and act swiftly,” Ngande Mwanajiti, the former head of the Inter African Network for Human Rights and Development, told Xinhua.

The Rise of China’s Inland Cities

By Kris Hartley
May 02, 2015

Last week, a solar plane on a round-the-world flightlanded in Chongqing. The project promotes renewable energy, but the stopover also signifies Chongqing’s increasing global visibility and connectivity.

Maritime advantage has shaped urban destinies for millennia. With the exigencies of global trade historically driving seaboard growth, mid-continental cities have lagged mostly as agricultural and resource outposts. The isolation of these landlocked cities has compromised their ability to culturally diversify. Today, though, with enhanced global mobility and instantaneous communication, the world’s vast interiors have shed the profound disadvantage of geographic seclusion and are now asserting themselves in the new global economy. This is particularly evident in China’s inland cities, where a blended statism balances pro-developmentalism with the soft sovereignty of urban governments over economic growth.

Coastal cities like Shanghai, Mumbai and New York have traditionally been centers not only of trade but also of commerce, culture, and wealth. They monopolize infrastructure investment and media attention, and occupy the longings of aspirational youth seeking stimulation and opportunity. With this inherent advantage, however, come the practical challenges of overpopulation: infrastructure deficits, soaring property values, and glaring inequalities in wealth distribution that some argue compromise the social fabric. Furthermore, coastal cities are increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise associated with climate change.

China, Be Afraid: The Mighty U.S.-Japan Alliance Is Going Global

May 1, 2015

Due to continuing challenges around the TPP agreement, the public release of the revised Guidelines for Japan–US Defense Cooperation is the key policy outcome of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s spring visit to Washington DC. The rebalance to Asia is the signature feature of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, with the Japanese alliance at its center. For this reason alone the Guidelines are of importance. They also spell out a broader functional purpose and larger conceptual frame of reference for the bilateral relationship, which adds to their significance. But what signals do the Guidelines send about the strategic relationship and its purpose?

Perhaps the most striking of these is that the alliance is now explicitly global in scope. The alliance has evolved from a key part of US Cold War strategy and it’s now an instrument conceived at the global level. In part this is driven by recognition that security threats to Japan and the US are not constrained by geography and that arrangements to defend these interests must have a global remit. In relation to “emerging threats” to Japan’s security, the Guidelines explicitly say that such “situations cannot be defined geographically.” This is a nod to the 1997 Guidelines that were controversial precisely because of a geographic reference to activity, which annoyed China. And the logical consequence of a conceptual rather than geographic approach to security threats is the need to position the alliance in global terms.

China's Secret Strategy to Supplant America as the Sole Superpower

We are entering the season of presidential primary politics, and many of the candidates—or at least their advisors—might benefit from a fresh look at the current crop of foreign policy books. China should be at or near the top of every candidate’s bedside reading list. With that in mind, I have begun to make my way through the mounting pile of new books and reports on U.S.-China relations that has accumulated over the past few months and thought I might offer a few reflections on what is novel and most useful—or not—from each. For those of you who have already read one of books, I welcome your thoughts.

First up is Dr. Michael Pillsbury’s The Hundred-Year Marathon (Henry Holt and Co., 2015). Let me begin by noting that this is a highly engaging and thought-provoking read. It does what few books do well, and that is to mix scholarship, policy, and memoir-style writing in an accessible but still intellectually rich fashion. Pillsbury, senior fellow and director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute, presents a straightforward thesis. In its most bald form, he argues that China has a long-term marathon strategy to supplant the United States as the sole superpower by 2049. If successful, Pillsbury argues that China will reshape the world into one that will “nurture autocracies,” “rewrit[e] history to defam[e] the West and prais[e] China,” sell its own highly polluting development model to other countries, and constrain the political space for international organizations (195).


By Farzin Nadimi
April 30, 2015

To prevent recent airline and shipping incidents from escalating into a wider military confrontation with Iran, all sides will need to exercise great caution in the Persian Gulf and the skies over Yemen.

On April 28, Saudi-led coalition aircraft bombed runways at Yemen’s al-Rahaba Airport to prevent an Iranian Airbus A310 plane from landing there. The Sana airport is currently controlled by Houthi/Zaidi forces with close ties to Shiite Iran, and the plane belonged to Mahan Air, a company affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. At the controls was a famously reckless ex-IRGC cargo pilot who had stubbornly ignored orders from Saudi F-15 crews to change course, spurring the runway strikes that rendered the airport inoperable and eventually forced him to turn back.

Iranian officials, especially within the IRGC, are frustrated by the coalition’s actions against Houthi/Zaidi militias and by their own inability to provide military assistance to them. Only days before the airport incident, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari had called for a more aggressive stance against coalition operations in Yemen, while Hassan Firouzabadi, the chairman of the General Armed Forces Staff, called for “heavy-handed punishment” of the Saudis. Just last week, a convoy of cargo ships from Iran had attempted to run the Saudi blockade and deliver supplies and possibly arms to Yemeni ports under Zaidi control. The convoy was reportedly escorted by two of the IRGC Navy’s Tondar-class missile boats (armed with Ghader anti-ship missiles, whose range is up to 200 miles), but it was called back after the U.S. Navy sent the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy from the Persian Gulf. The standoff was brief and politically courteous, but it also carried a clear message for Iran.

Political Islam and Arab Civil Society


As the year 2014 is slowly drawing to a close, we begin to look back with an attempt to understand why and how certain events happened. Islamist political groups enjoyed a strong surge of advancement in certain Middle Eastern/North African countries. They now represent an important type of non-state actors in contemporary international relations. Groups like Islamic State or Ansar al-Sharia are declaring caliphates in the territories they seize, which challenges the sovereignty of established states like Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Lebanon. Who are these groups? What prompted their creation, and on what grounds do they operate? What real threat do they pose to regional stability and to the international community?

Political Islam is a term that is often used amongst circles of academics and policymakers, but its complexity is seldom acknowledged or understood. ‘Political Islamic movements’ believe that Islam has a built-in political system that every believer should adhere to and uphold (Khan, 2014). Islamist groups are motivated by the idea that there is “not enough Islam” in society (Woltering, 2002:1133). There can be no ‘Islamisation’ of society until an Islamic political system replaces the existing one. The path to reach said ‘Islamisation’ varies according to which group is operating and their specific circumstances, however, the implementation of shari’a is a tool that is commonly held and for which is popularly advocated (Woltering, 2002:1133). In the wake of the heightening of Islamist activity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly with the rise to pre-eminence of the Islamic State – also known as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State in Iraq and the Levantine (ISIL), or by the Arabic acronym Daesh – questions about this misunderstood legal tradition have been posed by Western media and policymakers, oftentimes demonstrating little understanding of the historical wealth and implications of this tradition.

ISIL, Ideology, and Islamic Militancy – Where is the Centre of Gravity?


Defeating the roots of so-called ‘Islamist Fascism‘ in ideological terms will be far more difficult and is far more serious an issue than dealing with its immediate symptom in the form of ISIL. This is not to suggest that defeating ISIL is unwarranted. Such an action surely meets the standard for waging a just war under international law. Moreover, it is morally reasonable due to the atrocities being committed by this terrorist army. However, defeating the underlying cause at its source is a far more significant and requisite challenge, necessary so that, paraphrasing the words of Sun Tzu, any future extremist Islamist-based armed force is subdued before having to engage it in battle…this being the Chinese (politico-military) sage’s measure of the perfect strategy.

The ideology of militant, extremist Islamism emanates from two main sources, one is the Saudi Kingdom, which is of course Sunni and somewhat more fluid and flexible in its interpretation of Islam (albeit that al-Qaeda was born of the disaffected Saudi Osama bin-Laden) than the other which is The Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is a Shia theocracy that applies a much more stringent, harsh interpretation of Sharia Law under the Velayat-e faqih (Shia clerical-Statism) as conceived by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Mullah’s regime in Iran is a much more overtly militant, arguably criminal state than the Saudi Kingdom. The Mullah’s themselves preside over the perpetration of (and many have themselves perpetrated) human rights violations and crimes against humanity. These atrocities are principally the same as those committed by ISIL.

Edited Collection – Caliphates and Islamic Global Politics


‘Caliphates and Islamic Global Politics’ an Edited Collection from E-International Relations. Available worldwide on Amazon (UK, USA) and in all other good book stores.

Like all of E-IR’s Publications, the Collection is also available as a free ebook download here.

Edited by: Timothy Poirson and Robert L. Oprisko.

The events of the Arab Spring, beginning in December 2010, saw renewed hope for Arab Civil Society. However, the fall of authoritarian regimes did not always seem to benefit Civil Society – whilst Political Islamic movements often took advantage. In Syria, Iraq, and beyond, groups like the Islamic State are declaring Caliphates in the territories they seize in an attempt to fulfil the Political Islam ideal of a ‘global Islamic Caliphate’ encompassing the Muslim world.

This collection of articles aims to address common questions about Political Islam, as well as to provide an assessment of the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL and finally challenge common understandings on the issue of Islam and democracy.

Contributors: Maximilian Lakitsch, Juan A. Macías-Amoretti, Adel Elsayed Sparr, Joseph Kaminski, Haian Dukhan, Sinan Hawat, Rana Khalaf, Mohammed Nuruzzaman, and M. A. Muqtedar Khan.

Originally published online December 2014, in print April 2015

Assessing the North Korea Nuclear Threat

May 01, 2015

Recent weeks have seen growing alarm over North Korea’s nuclear program. This month, numerous senior U.S. military officials said that Washington believes North Korea has the ability to strike the western United States with a nuclear-tipped KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile. “Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland. We assess that it’s operational today,” William Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) told reporters.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese experts believe Pyongyang has already amassed twenty nuclear warheads, and could double that number within a year. That report came on the heels of a widely discussed report by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), which assessed that North Korea could drastically expand the size of its nuclear arsenal over the next five years.

Specifically, in its most dire forecast, the SAIS report suggested that North Korea could expand its nuclear arsenal from 10-16 nuclear warheads today, to as many as 100 warheads by 2020. The report’s mid-range forecast was that North Korea will have 50 nuclear warheads in five years’ time, while its low-end estimate is that Pyongyang will have just 20 bombs in 2020.

These revelations have greatly unnerved regional analysts. Indeed, in a recent article on The Diplomat, Robert Kelly argued that if North Korea’s nuclear arsenal keeps expanding, South Korean leaders may need to consider a preemptive strike to destroy Pyongyang’s strategic weapons.

If North Korea Collapses: What Happens to Its Nightmare Weapons of War?

A North Korean collapse is easily one of Northeast Asia’s greatest fears. But what would happen in to Pyongyang’s stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction in such a scenario? A regional crisis could quickly take on global dimensions. With this in mind, the National Interest presents the following article, which was first published at 38 North, a blog of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS. It is republished with their permission.

North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) pose a number of challenges, particularly how to find and secure those weapons if the regime collapses. This article will look briefly at 1) North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological programs; 2) activities coalition forces might conduct in a collapse scenario; and 3) challenges posed by an operation to eliminate the North’s WMD.

The North Korean Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons Programs

North Korea’s WMD programs date back decades and are believed to have produced significant stockpiles of weapons. According to open sources, North Korea likely has upwards of 10-16 nuclear weapons today and potentially up to 100 by the end of the decade. While it is hard to know the degree of their sophistication, it is a safe assumption that they are low-yield (about 10 kilotons), non-boosted, first generation weapons. Few outside of North Korea have a sense of where the warheads and fissile material are stored given the scarcity of intelligence information coupled with North Korea’s proclivity to develop hardened and deeply buried facilities and storage depots. This lack of understanding about the locations of nuclear weapons storage will make finding them before they can be employed or moved in a collapse scenario enormously challenging.

Edited Collection – Ukraine and Russia

‘Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives’, an Edited Collection from E-International Relations. Available now on Amazon (UK, USA) and in all other good book stores.

Like all of E-IR’s Publications, the Collection is also available as a free ebook download here.

Edited by: Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska & Richard Sakwa

When, on 21 November 2013, former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych decided to postpone an EU Association Agreement, few would have predicted that this would lead to a prolonged inter-communal conflict in Europe’s borderland. What started as a peaceful demonstration of support for Ukraine’s pro-European course by thousands of people in Maidan Square in Kiev has developed into a vicious confrontation dividing families, communities and the Ukrainian nation.

Since the beginning of the confrontation, a lot has been written about its root causes, the motivations of the main actors, and possible scenarios for the future. However, few have looked at what came to be called the ‘Ukraine crisis’ from the point of view of Russo-Ukrainian relations, and grasped the perspectives of various groups involved, as well as the discursive processes that have contributed to the developments in and interpretations of the conflict.

Understanding the Other Ukraine: Identity and Allegiance in Russophone Ukraine

MAR 13 2015

The cultural and political differences besetting Ukraine are the product of very different patterns of regional settlement. Among these, the settlement of eastern and southern Ukraine stands out, for in these traditionally Russophone regions, political conflict has arisen whenever the legitimacy of Russian culture in Ukraine has been challenged.

A Very Brief History of Russian Settlement

After the destruction of Kiev by Batu Khan in 1240, the land ‘beyond the rapids’ [za porog] of the Dnieper River became a no man’s land disputed by the Kingdom of Muscovy, the Tatar Khanate, and the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. It is in this region (shown in Figure 1 in yellow) that the political life of the Ukrainian people begins, as the settlers known to history as Cossacks sought to preserve their independence, while defending their traditional Orthodox Christian faith.

One of the earliest distinctions that arose among them is the geographic distinction between those who settled west of the Dnieper River, known as the Right Bank as the river flows, and those who settled east of the river, known as the Left Bank.

Ukrainian Politics since Independence

MAR 30 2015

Ukraine became independent in 1991, but there was no real revolution – which is why the country tried to have two catch-up revolutions in 2004 and 2014. Independence came about when the collapse of central Soviet power in Moscow suddenly gave a hitherto minority nationalist movement the chance to make an alliance with the Communist elite – the deal being they would back independence, but keep their jobs. The costs of that bargain became clearer over the subsequent decades, as the economy stagnated and Ukraine became one of the most corrupt states in Eastern Europe.

Formal Institutions

Ukraine’s neophyte status meant that it was the last post-Soviet state to adopt a new constitution, which took place in 1996. On paper, the document defines ‘a democratic, social, law-based state’, based on ‘the principles of its division into legislative, executive, and judicial power’, but in states like Ukraine, the constitution is only a guide to where power lies, not much more than a ‘signal’ of who the key patrons are and the ‘focal points’ that shape informal networks (Hale, 2014). The rule of law is weak and so is constitutionalism, defined as respect for the written document as defining the rules of the game, rather than it being the end-product of the game itself. The constitutional order has been radically reshaped three times; in 2004, 2010, and 2014, plus a failed attempt at similar wholesale change in 2000.

An Unnecessary War: The Geopolitical Roots of the Ukraine Crisis


To a large degree, the tragic events that unfolded in Ukraine in 2013-14 were driven by developments beyond Ukraine’s borders. Of course, domestic factors also played a crucial role, and Ukrainian political actors at all points across the political spectrum must share in the blame for what transpired. But it was Ukraine’s ambiguous geopolitical position, and the clumsy interventions of competing outside powers pursuing their own self-centred agendas, that pushed Ukraine’s log-jammed domestic politics over the brink into violent civil war.

The three main protagonists were Russia, the European Union, and the United States, in roughly descending order of importance.

The Evolution of Russia’s Relations with Ukraine since 1991

Moscow has had difficult, testy relations with Ukraine ever since the two countries split off from the Soviet Union in 1991. The relationship with Kiev is a sub-set of Russia’s problematic relationship with the outside world at large following the Soviet collapse. In 2014, Ukraine became the touchstone of two decades of Russian frustration and insecurity, with tragic consequences.

Russia's Supersonic Tu-160 Bomber Is Back: Should America Worry?

May 2, 2015

Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu announced recently that Russia is going to begin production of the Tu-160, a Soviet-era bomber known as the “Blackjack.” The Tu-160 is a nuclear platform, basically something like the Soviet version of an American B-1 bomber: a big, heavy, swing-wing bomber meant to deliver nuclear weapons at long distances. The Soviets built about thirty-five of them in the 1980s, of which only fifteen remain in service.

So what does this mean to the strategic balance between the United States and the Russian Federation in 2015? In reality, it means absolutely nothing in military terms. As a political signal, however, Shoigu’s announcement is just the latest in a series of provocations. No American response is required and none would matter.

The Blackjack, assuming the Russians even manage to build any more of them, is a perfectly capable nuclear bomber that, in time of war, would fold back its swan-like wings and dart toward its targets at top speed. Once in range, it would launch cruise missiles that would make the last part of their journey low and slow under enemy radar. This is pretty much what all bombers would do in a nuclear war. (The one major advantage of the American B-2 is that it could penetrate farther into enemy airspace with less chance of detection.)

Baltimore & Ferguson: Threats to the Rule of Law?

"The legal system has the tools to deal with police brutality, but a destructive mob seeking to delegitimize that process is a whirlwind that threatens the rule of law and civil rights."

The violent mayhem in Baltimore, and Ferguson before it, reflects a dangerous new development for civil rights. The riots in Baltimore are not simply illegitimate acts inviting a legitimate discussion about the actions of the police in minority communities. Instead, the riots represent a boiling threat to civil rights and the legal architecture our nation has created to protect them. The burning, looting and destruction represents an effort to delegitimize the most effective process the world has known for reaching the truth—the American justice system and the rule of law.

Because of the robust, politically detached and effective grand jury process, the truth will eventually be found in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. In Ferguson, that process eventually revealed that the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative was a lie. In Baltimore, that process may yield convictions, or may not. Either way, the process works if you have the patience to let it work.

But the mob has no patience. America has developed a legal system with process rules, objective evidentiary standards and statutes designed to deal with police misconduct. These treasured institutions work, and bad cops routinely face justice.

America is far less able to absorb and manage violent racially motivated civil insurrection like what has begun in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. The legal system has the tools to deal with police brutality, but a destructive mob seeking to delegitimize that process is a whirlwind that threatens the rule of law and civil rights.

The Evolving U.S.-Japan Strategy in Cyberspace

April 29, 2015

The revised U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines, released Monday, define how both countries will address growing cybersecurity concerns in the Asia Pacific. Decreasing the threat from cyberattacks is of paramount strategic interest to both nations. As Japan becomes more active in its self-defense, the new guidelines help clarify strategic relations between the two allies.

The revisions take into account the changing scope of potential threats, with the addition of defense cooperation in space and cyberspace. Chapter 4 of the guidelines declares a mutual cooperation in sharing cybersecurity information and in protecting infrastructure critical to U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) and to Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF). However, the United States and Japan currently define critical infrastructure differently - the defense industrial base is not included as Japanese critical infrastructure.

“Balkanizing” the War on Terror

MAR 4 2015

The Balkan Peninsula has long been delegated to the periphery of Western security concerns. This demotion appears fitting in the wake of deadly jihadist attacks across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia; the brutal progression of ISIS; and the enduring crisis in Ukraine. But while the epicenter of international security threats lies elsewhere, the Western Balkans are facing serious concerns about the diffusion of extremist ideologies across the Mediterranean. The recent terrorist attacks in France were a materialization of what European leaders have long feared – radical Islamic militarism in the West. Thus, despite the ongoing crises, emerging terrorist threats in the Balkans should not be taken lightly – given the region’s central location and its history of violent conflict, economic deprivation, and volatile institutions.

This article argues for increased international attention to the Western Balkans so as to curb emerging security threats linked to global terrorism. First, I examine the changing security contexts within Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, and Serbia – comparing their post-1990s security concerns to contemporary trends of increasing ideological extremism. I determine that in the past, terrorist threats in the region emanated from the influx of foreign radical groups within national borders, but today, the main concern is the domestic transformation of long-moderate Balkan natives into radical militants.

Popular Culture and World Politics: Theories, Methods, Pedagogies

This edited collection brings together cutting edge insights from a range of key thinkers working in the area of popular culture and world politics (PCWP). Offering a holistic approach to this exciting field of research, it contributes to the establishment of PCWP as a sub-discipline of International Relations. Canvassing issues such as geopolitics, political identities, the War on Terror and political communication – and drawing from sources such as film, videogames, art and music – this collection is an invaluable reader for anyone interested in popular culture and world politics.

Available now on Amazon (UK, USA) and in all other good book stores. Like all of E-IR’s Publications, the Collection is also available as a free ebook download here.

Edited Collection – Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations Twenty Years On


Perhaps no article has been as hotly debated over the past twenty years as Samuel P. Huntington’s Foreign Affairs article The Clash of Civilizations?

Written at a time when the world was going through massive shifts following the end of the Cold War, Huntington’s article put forward a thesis that culture would be at the center of future international conflicts. A host of events in the past twenty years have given credence to this viewpoint, but also raised questions about many of its assertions.

The articles in this collection have been compiled from E-IR’s coverage of the 20th anniversary of the original article.

Edited Collection – System, Society & the World: Exploring the English School

APR 28 2013

Since its reorganization in the early 1990s, the English School of international relations has emerged as a popular theoretical lens through which to examine global events.

To demonstrate the advantages and value of the English School, this volume brings together some of the most important voices in the School to highlight the multifaceted nature of the School’s applications in IR.

This Collection was assembled with the specific goal of introducing readers to the School’s key elements, but in a way that would be accessible in terms of both comprehension and also availability.

How Steve Jobs Trained His Own Brain

April 30, 2015

What’s less known, though, is that Steve Jobs was a pioneer in what was once a rather esoteric “mind technology”–the use of Zen mindfulness meditation to reduce his stress, gain more clarity, and enhance his creativity. 

As the Financial Times recently pointed out, Jobs was quite specific about how he went about practicing this “discipline” (as he called it). Biographer Walter Isaacson quotes Jobs as saying: 

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things–that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.” 

What Jobs described in that passage is readily identifiable as a specific type of meditation, usually called “mindfulness,” that’s taught in Zen Buddhism and its Chinese antecedent, Taoism. When Jobs was talking to Isaacson not long before he died, he had been practicing such meditation for many years. 

I know that for certain because, by coincidence, in the early 1990s, I had a brief one-on-one conversation with Jobs about how Zen related to computer programming. (That’s a story for another post.) 

Confidence Building in Cyberspace: A Comparison of Territorial and Weapons-Based Regimes

An analysis of weapons-based confidence-building measures shows how academics can work together to self-police their research for national security implications, socialize new members of the academic community into the importance of considering security issues, and develop and disseminate norms regarding what is and is not a moral and ethical use of these technologies. It may be possible for academics and policymakers to come together to work for a ban or build-down on cyber weapons patterned on international efforts to ban chemical and biological weapons and implement export regimes to control the export of code which may form the components of cyber weapons. If we conceptualize cyberspace as territory, we can also learn from the example of territorially-based confidence-building measures such as those implemented along the Indo-Pakistan border. This approach stresses the importance of developing notification procedures to prevent misperceptions and the escalation spiral, as well as communicating regularly to establish trust between all parties. The case studies presented here illustrate the promises and pitfalls of each approach and offer valuable warnings to policymakers seeking to implement such measures in cyberspace. They show what happens when not everyone in a regime is equally committed to a specific outcome by illustrating the difficulties of monitoring compliance in confidence-building regimes, and show the ways in which doctrines and confidence-building measures may not be perfectly aligned.

88 Pages 
Download Format: PDF (Recommended)

Net Neutrality and Its Relationship to National Security

APR 15 2015

Net neutrality (NN) is a topic that has been frequently bantered about and there has been much debate on the subject, much of it redundant in nature, oftentimes nebulous and obscure in its presentation. There have been countless articles written on the topic, and at all levels. When I initially investigated the debate, I was both surprised and overwhelmed at the plethora of information actually available. Part of my surprise came from the fact that the more I read, the less I seemed to actually grasp the true essence of the matter at hand. I realized that I required a basic understanding of the underlying principles before I could actually examine the question of how, or indeed even if, net neutrality relates to and affects questions of national security.

In an attempt to gain broader insight as to the depth of global understanding of both a general and a specialized public, I conducted two different surveys. The first was a 6 question survey “Net neutrality, what does mean to you,” to try and obtain a glance at people’s awareness on the issues concerning the net neutrality debate in general. Precise, multiple choice questions were posed in an attempt to rule out speculative responses. The second survey was composed of only 2 items concerning NN and how it relates to national security and there were a total of 32 respondents. In order to obtain a homogeneous balance, the surveys were conducted using populations drawn from 2 sources: both social media oriented, but the first with a more general audience (Facebook) and the second, more professionally oriented, targeting specifically intelligence and police orientated groups (LinkedIn). Below are the findings of the first survey, of which there were a total of 50 respondents. The results of the second survey will be presented in a later portion of this article.