Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category



When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.

And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged. Read more…

By Graham Allison; Published on 24 Sept. 2015 in

Graham Allison is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is the author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe and the co-author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World.


Defeat and victory

Written on September 28, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

No one can ignore this result. Everyone, including the government, must react. The elections held in Catalonia on Sunday night were incredibly significant. Despite the confusion over the character of the vote – was it a plebiscite or an election – and despite the poor quality of the debate during the campaign, the voter turnout was extraordinary, setting a historic record for regional elections of this kind.

In effect, the turnout not only exceeded that of the 2012 polls, but all of those that came before. What’s more, the number of voters rose in all areas, whether urban or rural. As such, the September 27 polls should bring about great consequences.

But what are those consequences? The outgoing regional premier, Artur Mas, positioned the vote as a plebiscite on the future of the region. “We want a plebiscite and that is what we will have,” he said at the close of the campaign. Meanwhile, Antonio Baños, the leader of the CUP party, a radical pro-independence group, stated before the polls that the pro-secession forces would need to win at least “50% of the votes, because these elections are a plebiscite.

As EL PAÍS pointed out before the elections were held, the desired character of a plebiscite on independence was deceptive, given the nature of the elections – people were voting for parties, not a single question – and due to the lack of a legal framework.

With nearly 100% of the votes counted, the pro-secession parties did not reach half of the votes cast. But it is clear that the Catalan citizens have revealed themselves to be severely fractured into two blocs. The plebiscite on independence that the pro-independence groups wanted has been lost. This is a fundamental factor, in particular in an international context – especially when in other countries voting on similar questions an ample majority is usually required (Montenegro, Quebec, for example). Read more…


Published on 28/09 in


Russian Power Projection

Written on September 25, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, News, Security

Putin Doesn’t Care if Assad Wins. It’s About Russian Power Projection.

MOSCOW — Vladimir Putin wants Syria to know it still has a friend in Russia. Last week, more than a dozen military flights from Russia to Syria reportedly delivered six T-90 tanks, 15 howitzers, 35 armored personnel carriers, 200 marines, and housing for as many as 2,000 military personnel. Moscow has also reportedly delivered surveillance drones, attack helicopters, armored carriers, over two dozen fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (including an SA-22 air defense system), and four Su-30 aircraft. Russia also established a new base south of Latakia, Syria’s northern port city, and is continuing the expansion of its naval base in Tartus, about 50 miles south of Latakia.

Despite this serious uptick in military assistance to Damascus, Russian government officials and analysts in Moscow noted in conversations over the past few days that the Kremlin is not planning a major military offensive in Syria, belying recent press reports. Nor does Moscow plan to send ground forces to Damascus to shore up Assad’s flank. Rather, with Assad’s forces continuing to lose ground, Moscow wants to ensure it has a voice in any effort to reach a political solution to the conflict. Its military presence is designed to force Assad’s foes — the United States included — to respect its interests in Syria, while strengthening its hand as a regional power broker.

Moscow has provided significant diplomatic and military support to the Syrian regime since the 1970s. This support has included training and equipping the Syrian military, as well as intelligence cooperation. In exchange, Moscow has enjoyed access to the Tartus naval base (currently, its only military facility outside the former Soviet Union), while Syria has long supported Soviet and Russian efforts to limit the influence of the United States and its mostly Sunni allies in the Gulf. In the current conflict, Moscow has portrayed Assad as the most effective bulwark against the type of radicalism that animates the Islamic State, arguing that Washington’s insistence on Assad leaving power is dangerously naïve, given the lack of viable alternatives. Earlier in the conflict, the Kremlin did invite members of the Syrian opposition to Moscow; but Russian officials were reportedly disappointed with the outcome of their conversations. Read more…



It took a temporary partition to end the war that tore apart Bosnia in the 1990s. Why not do the same for Syria?

In one sense, a partitioned Syria is already visible, its contours drawn by the front lines of the civil war. President Bashar al-Assad has retreated from territory that was too difficult for his overextended forces to hold, giving up the attempt to reimpose nationwide control. (That doesn’t mean he’s on the run. Iran and Russia have made it clear they won’t let that happen.)

Kurds hold the area near the Turkish border, having driven out Islamic State.

The competing factions in areas held by Sunni Arab rebels make for a more complicated picture, but a map of how the front lines looked this summer shows the outlines of a potential partition of Syria into three parts. The red designates regime control. The yellow is Kurdish. The green and black are Sunni Arab, including the area now controlled by Islamic State. (The white is sparsely populated desert.)

Fabrice Balanche, a researcher at the Group for Research and Studies on the Mediterranean and Middle East in Lyons, France, has been mapping Syria’s ethnic and religious communities since long before the war. He was pilloried in 2011 for saying that Western confidence in the inevitability of Assad’s demise was misplaced, and that civil war and Syria’s disintegration would result. He is, if anything, less sanguine today:

We have a de facto partition, but nobody wants to recognize this partition. In Damascus, there are posters everywhere about a unified Syria. The opposition say no we don’t need a partition. But we will have one.

Read more…

Posted on Sept. 14 in; written by Marc Champion


THOSE of us outside Europe are watching the unbelievable images of the Keleti train station in Budapest, the corpse of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the desperate Syrian families chancing their lives on the night trip to the Greek islands — and we keep being told this is a European problem.

The Syrian civil war has created more than four million refugees. The United States has taken in about 1,500 of them. The United States and its allies are at war with the Islamic State in Syria — fine, everyone agrees they are a threat — but don’t we have some responsibility toward the refugees fleeing the combat? If we’ve been arming Syrian rebels, shouldn’t we also be helping the people trying to get out of their way? If we’ve failed to broker peace in Syria, can’t we help the people who can’t wait for peace any longer?

It’s not just the United States that keeps pretending the refugee catastrophe is a European problem. Look at countries that pride themselves on being havens for the homeless. Canada, where I come from? As few as 1,074 Syrians, as of August. Australia? No more than 2,200. Brazil? Fewer than 2,000, as of May.

The worst are the petro states. As of last count by Amnesty International, how many Syrian refugees have the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia taken in? Zero. Many of them have been funneling arms into Syria for years, and what have they done to give new homes to the four million people trying to flee? Nothing.

The brunt of the crisis has fallen on the Turks, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Iraqis and the Lebanese. Funding appeals by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have failed to meet their targets. The squalor in the refugee camps has become unendurable. Now the refugees have decided, en masse, that if the international community won’t help them, if neither Russia nor the United States is going to force the war to an end, they won’t wait any longer. They are coming our way. And we are surprised?

Blaming the Europeans is an alibi and the rest of our excuses — like the refugees don’t have the right papers — are sickening. Read more…

Published on 5 Sept. in; Michael Ignatieff is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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