As we gear up for the long winded and jingoistic zeal of the American electoral season, there are plenty of reasons to worry that international conflict could once again break out in the Middle East. After all 2011 and long Arab Spring have revealed new fault lines throughout the Middle East, and the very fragility located at the core of the regional pax Americana established by the signing of the Camp David Accord in 1979. As Americans rejoice in the relative success of their involvement in the Libya mission, fidget nervously about the outcome of Egypt’s elongated electoral season, ignore the internal political conflicts playing out in Iraq after our withdrawal, and fret indecisively about the ongoing civil wars festering unattended in Syria and Yemen, to say nothing of the border conflict between the two Sudans, most Americans attention has shifted to the Gulf and America’s standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. The ongoing reality television series that the Republican debates have become, feature nightly invocations about the existential danger that Iran poses to this nation, even as bluster over new sanctions targeting Iran’s petroleum industry and saber rattling in the Straits of Hormuz highlight the danger of war.
In early December of last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution strengthening existing sanctions on the State of Eritrea. UNSC 2023, which passed by a vote of 13-0 with two abstentions, was the direct outcome of a scathing report published by the UN’s Somalia Monitoring Group in July of 2011. The report chronicled, in some detail, the full gambit of Eritrea’s destabilizing activity in the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea’s material assistance to Somalia’s Al-Shabaab.
Critics of the resolution have focused their attention on the veracity of the SMG’s claims, and by extension, the fairness of the UNSC 2023. While the truth of Eritrea’s activity in the HOA remains difficult to discern, it is clear that the UNSC resolution was somewhat arbitrary: Al-Shabaab has a number of external supporters, of whom Eritrea is likely the most marginal. But the discussion of “fairness” is beside the point, as such principles, though often invoked in international politics, are rarely of consequence. Power matters on the international stage, and for Eritrea, it is a commodity in short supply. Continue reading
As 2011 comes to a close it is time to reflect on the year. What have we learned about world politics and what still eludes us? Without a doubt the principle dramas of 2011 concerned revolution and political turmoil. And the unrest unfolding throughout the year has again and again caught even the most sure-footed analysts off balance. While, we all knew that the Mubarak regime had to end, who last January could predict that the regime would crumble so easily and so soon?
Why were we so often wrong and caught off guard? What about the ways in which we see the world has held true and what has been proven false? One way of getting at this problem is to refer back to the questions and assumptions we asked about the revolutions and uprisings of 2011 during the year that has just ended. We have to ask how and why we framed our discussion of the events of 2011 in the ways we did? Continue reading
A Very Lively Desert
Ghislaine Lydon’s study of the Sahara uncovers the dynamic commercial and trade networks that have always dominated the desert. It offers vivid portraits of the evolution of social and economic institutions, which should put to rest once and for all any ideas that the pre-colonial societies of Africa, north, within or south of the Sahara have ever been stagnant.
Can a statelet be a regional power? Does size or population matter if a state possesses wealth? And if not at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, what are the sources of power and authority in the international system? Have we entered a world where even a lonely city-state can leverage the resources necessary to shape regional or global events?
The strange rise of Qatar as a regional actor has restored to center stage questions about the types of power that different kinds of actors can marshal within the international system.
What have we learned from the death of Qaddafi and the end of his 42 years in power about the international system? My answer is very little. However, this flies in the face of two popular narratives about the present. One narrative argues that we have now entered a new age of multilateral humanitarian interventions, of if you are cynical “right to protect” imperialism by the usual Western suspects. Another storyline about the Arab Revolutions is that we are witnessing a democratic shift based on a revolution in information and communication technologies that should make all dictators quake in their feet.