2022: the year of insecurity – Ukraine, Taiwan, Ethiopia, happening against a background, as my last blog post set out, of record military spending, with refugee numbers already at a record high. It is tempting to think that this means we need to junk woolly thoughts about human security and suchlike and get back to old-style basics, in which security lies in a strong defence, in power, to be blunt, and more of it than any adversary has. It’s what is called realism in the study of international relations and the realist temptation today seems strong.
It is the direction in which the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the confrontation between China and the USA over Taiwan seem to be pushing us. A return to realism, hardening up NATO against Russia, though it’s worth acknowledging that the demand to get Western policy ‘back to realism’ is a long-standing idea . But why ever and whenever, it’s all about recognising that, if you get into trouble, only the exertion of power will get you out and that’s how it’s been for thousands of years.
Mm-hmm, except that 2022 is also the year of climate change: drought in China and Europe, floods in Pakistan, both in the Horn of Africa, unfolding in a context of several other aspects of serious environmental deterioration, as my last blog post also set out.
And since this means that the mix of challenges on today’s security horizon is not only complex and worrisome but also unprecedented, it suggests there is a need to think hard about what we mean by security – the security of whom or what, and against what – and, indeed, to be ready to rethink.
As we wait for the summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to unfold on Sentosa Island in Singapore, everyone is in waiting mode and there are few takers for the challenge of forecasting the outcome. There is a widespread sense of a precarious balance between the epoch-shaping risks and opportunities available, uncertainty about what two unpredictable leaders would achieve together or, indeed, wreck. The uncertainty was only deepened by the US President’s rejection of the agreed communiqué at the G7 summit in a Quebec village three days earlier.
Love or loathe the US election result, it feels like all bets are off. Once again, odds have been defied, opinion polls disproven, and what many people long thought was politically marginal and outside the realm of possibility has become mainstream and a fact. In a world already characterised by growing uncertainty, there is now more: primarily, does he really mean it in practice? Of a few things, we can be sure, however, and to them we must hold tight. Continue reading
EU High Representative and EC Vice-President Catherine Ashton steps down from leading the European External Action Service in late 2014. She has presented her review of the organisation and how to make it more efficient. But despite her best efforts the basic case for the EEAS remains unclear to many. Winning that case depends not on efficiency alone but on whether the EEAS meets an important need. Continue reading
When the European External Action Service was formally set up in July 2010, it was agreed that the High Representative Catherine Ashton should present a review of it this summer. As Brussels descended into summer slumber, that is what she did. Continue reading
The state is the organising principle of national and international politics and states are the subject of abundant historical research, academic theory and contemporary analysis. That perhaps makes it a little strange to say that both the state as a category and states in general tend to be taken for granted. But that’s how it is – and it’s a problem. Continue reading
This blog has been silent for several months. The main reason was simply that, alongside my day job, I had taken on another research and writing task – preparing the next edition of my atlas of world affairs, The State of the World – and that took priority. But that’s done (publication date January 2013 but if you really want to use it as a Christmas present, get in touch – pre-publication copies have to be available) and so the blog is back.
At this point, I just want to give an idea of what I intend to be tackling over the coming months. There are five big issues that we – the world – need to get right if more people are to be able live in peace and with a reasonable degree of dignity. They are
- Wealth and poverty;
- War and peace;
- Rights and respect;
- Health of people;
- Health of the planet – the natural environment.
Despite the pessimism in Europe and America in this extended “moment” of prolonged economic downturn, reasonable progress has been made on three of those issues – war and peace, rights and respect, and health. Even though progress is limited and at risk from powerful countervailing trends, there has been real improvement. It’s on the economy and the environment that we are continuing to screw up.
The background to this lies in some very big issues:
- The unprecedented scale of demographic shifts, including both population growth and staggeringly fast urbanisation;
- The scale of resource use and economic activity, which has increased much more quickly than population has grown;
- The deep, global environmental predicament we are in – and getting deeper in: it is still poorly understood – among the missing ingredients of our knowledge are the consequences of different environmental issues interacting with each other.
Against this background, questions for my blogging include
- How to keep building peace and expanding the scope of freedom;
- Finding ways to ensure that economic and social development is about improving the conditions of ordinary people, not about strengthening the hold of an increasingly transnational-ised elite;
- Working out which of our national and international institutions are not delivering the way they should be, why, and what can be done to, with and about them;
- What kinds of knowledge we need in order to do better.
Only ten days ago, when UK Prime Minister David Cameron put up the flag for a no-fly zone over Libya, nobody saluted. Now the British and French are drafting a UN Security Council Resolution. After all, you cannot just sit and watch the dictator wield overhwelming force so he and his disgusting son can hang onto power and not think something should be done to stop him.
True enough – but you should think very, very carefully about what can and should be done. Continue reading
Now it is clear that Hosni Mubarak’s three decade presidency of Egypt cannot survive much longer, outside powers are visibly positioning themselves for the next phase. Hubristic temptations are clear but not everybody’s falling for them. Continue reading
Sentences that start, “History teaches us that…” usually contain bad history and worse logic. Nonetheless, Egypt makes me think with foreboding of Algeria. Continue reading