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  • Author: Christopher Lawrence
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The 1994 Agreed Framework called for North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-production complex in exchange for civilian light water reactors (LWRs) and the promise of political normalization with the United States. Today, scholars look back at the Agreed Framework as a U.S. offer of “carrots” to bribe the regime, but this framing overlooks the credibility challenges of normalization and the distinctive technical challenges of building LWRs in North Korea. Political and technical analysis reveals how the LWR project helped build credibility for the political changes promised in the Agreed Framework.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons, Politics, Science and Technology, History, Infrastructure, Crisis Management, Normalization
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea, North America, Korea, United States of America
  • Author: Sheena Chestnut Greitens, Myunghee Lee, Emir Yazici
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: In early 2017, the Chinese Communist Party changed its internal security strategy in Xinjiang, escalating collective detention, ideological re-education, and pressure on Uyghur diaspora networks. This strategy shift was likely catalyzed by changing perceptions of Uyghur involvement in transnational Islamic militancy in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, heightening perceived domestic vulnerability to terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Minorities, Counter-terrorism, Repression
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Xinjiang
  • Author: Raffaello Pantucci, Abdul Basit, Kyler Ong, Nur Aziemah Azman, V. Arianti, Muh Taufiqurrohman
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has redefined almost all spheres of modern life. While states around the world are redeploying their financial resources, energies and military capabilities to cope with the challenge of the coronavirus, terrorist groups across the ideological spectrum have positioned themselves to exploit the gaps created by these policy re-adjustments. Terrorist groups are milking people’s fears amid confusion and uncertainty to promote their extremist propagandas. The rearrangement of global imperatives will push counter-terrorism and extremism down the priority list of the international community. Anticipating these policy changes, existing counter-terrorism frameworks and alliances should be revisited to devise cost-effective and innovative strategies to ensure continuity of the fight against terrorist groups. With these considerations in mind, this special issue of the Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features four articles that identify and assess important security risks around COVID-19, given its far-reaching social, economic and geopolitical impact. In the first article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that COVID-19 will have a deep-seated and prolonged impact across government activity, both in terms of the categorisation of risks, as well as the resources available to tackle other issues. Perceptions of risk around terrorist threats may shift, with states grappling with stark economic, social and political challenges. At the same time, security threats continue to evolve, and may even worsen. According to the author, some of the tools developed to deal with the pandemic can potentially be useful in tracking terrorist threats. However, resource constraints will require states, on a global scale, to think far more dynamically about how to adequately buffer much-needed security blankets both within and beyond their borders. In the second article, Abdul Basit outlines the opportunities and potential implications that COVID-19 has created for terrorist groups across the ideological divide. According to the author, terrorist groups have exploited the virus outbreak to spread racial hatred, doomsday and end-of-times narratives. Among jihadist groups, IS has taken a more totalitarian view of the coronavirus pandemic, while Al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Taliban have used it as a PR exercise to gain political legitimacy. Far-right groups in the West have spun it to promote native nationalism, border restoration and anti-immigration policies. Terrorist groups have increased their social media propaganda to radicalise and recruit vulnerable individuals. At the same time, these groups have urged their supporters to carry out lone-wolf attacks and use the coronavirus as a bioweapon. In the post-COVID-19 world, revisiting existing counter-terrorism frameworks to devise more adaptable and cost-effective strategies would be needed to continue the fight against terrorism. In the next article, V. Arianti and Muh Taufiqurrohman observe that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a varied impact on Indonesia’s security landscape. On the one hand, it has emboldened IS-affiliated Indonesian militant groups to step up calls for attacks, with the government seen as weakened amidst a worsening domestic health crisis. On the other, ongoing indoctrination and recruitment activities of militant groups have also faced disruptions. According to the authors, counter-terrorism strategies will need to be reoriented as circumstances evolve, particularly in dealing with the arrest of militants and the subsequent processes of their prosecution and incarceration. Finally, Kyler Ong and Nur Aziemah Azman examine the calls to action by far-right extremists and the Islamic State (IS), which reveals varying degrees of organisational coherence in the respective movements. According to the authors, such variations influence these two groups’ preferred techniques, tactics and procedures adopted in seeking to exploit the health crisis. For its part, IS has a more organised hierarchical structure, even if it has increasingly granted autonomy to its affiliates to plan and execute attacks. In comparison, the absence of a central authority, or command structure in the far-right, can lead to a fragmentation of interests. These factors invariably create uncertainties in how, when and where extremists of both ilk may seek to operationalise an attack.
  • Topic: Security, Government, Health, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: South Asia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Global Focus
  • Author: James M Dorsey, Raffaello Pantucci, Bilveer Singh, Noor Huda Ismail
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The high-profile assassination of General Qassim Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (QF), on January 3 in Baghdad marked the lowest point in US-Iran relations in recent times. It triggered a new spell of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East with far-reaching consequences for South and Southeast Asia. Soleimani’s killing has also coincided with the potential rejuvenation of the Islamic State (IS), and ongoing anti-government protests in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Soleimani’s killing was bound to have reverberations beyond the Middle East. Muslim-majority states in South and Southeast Asia, where both Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in sectarian proxy wars by funding and influencing the Sunni and Shia segments of the population. While states in both regions have condemned Soleimani’s killing, they have stayed largely neutral to avoid getting sucked into rising geopolitical tensions. Against this backdrop, the March issue of the Counter Terrorists Trends and Analyses (CTTA) features three articles that explore different dimensions of Soleimani’s death and their geopolitical implications. In the first article, James M. Dorsey argues that as US-Iran tensions have eased in recent months, Iranian hardliners, emboldened by a sweeping mandate earned in recent domestic elections, remain committed to a well-honed strategy of escalating asymmetric warfare. According to the author, this raises the prospects for a full-scale war, with the United States also still pursuing a maximum pressure campaign on Iran that has to date, yet to produce tangible results. In the second article, Raffaello Pantucci reasons that despite a general consensus that the US-Iran rupture will ease pressure on transnational jihadist groups in the Middle East theatre, it remains unclear how Soleimani’s killing will shape their future behaviour. On the one hand, Iran-backed Shia militias are likely to step up their operations, which will exacerbate sectarian fault-lines in the region and feed into IS’ self-portrayal as the saviours of Sunnis. Conversely, pragmatism continues to define interactions between Tehran and Sunni jihadist groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who appear happy to cooperate to ensure broader strategic goals. Next, Bilveer Singh examines the implications of Soleimani’s assassination for South and Southeast Asia. regions where both Iran and Saudi Arabia enjoy ideological influence among the Muslim-majority states. Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia have reservations about Tehran, but domestic political pressures are likely to endear Iran to them more than the US. The impact in South Asia could be more varied, mostly affecting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran through its Shia militant proxies can undermine US interests in Afghanistan. The QF has also recruited significant Shia militias in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively for operations in Syria. Moreover, Pakistan has to walk a tight rope given Iran has an inside track to its significant Shia population. Besides cross and intra-regional assessments of Soleimani’s assassination within the broader US-Iran fissures, the threat landscapes in Indonesia and West Africa, both long-time hotbeds for terrorist activity in their respective regions, are also examined in this issue. Firstly, Noor Huda Ismail takes a closer look at pro-IS terrorist networks in Indonesia, a country that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. By examining the background, tactics and modus operandi of local terrorist groups, both online and offline, and comparing their legacy with those of previous militant Islamist movements, the author believes important learning lessons can be drawn to help mitigate future security threats. Finally, Atta Barkindo analyses the jihadist threat in the Sahel region, where a landscape conducive to terrorist activities provides the fertile ground for IS and Al-Qaeda to grow by linking up with local militant networks. The tactical sophistication exhibited in terrorist attacks by Sahelian jihadist groups, particularly in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, testifies to a growing footprint of global jihadism. Sahel provides an arterial life-line through the region, by facilitating the movement of goods and people between the Mediterranean and West Africa, which has been enormously beneficial to terrorist groups involved in organised criminal enterprises. Moreover, desertification and environmental degradation have also created a conducive environment for criminal activities and terrorism.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Bilateral Relations, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Lebanon, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Ong Keng Yong, Noorita Mohd Noor, Iftekharul Bashar, Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Bin Sudiman, Nodirbek Soliev, Remy Mahzam, Amalina Abdul Nasir
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis
  • Institution: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
  • Abstract: The January issue provides an overview of terrorist and violent extremist threats in key countries and conflict zones in the Asia-Pacific throughout 2019. Regional specific threats and responses covering Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, China and the Middle East are assessed. In addition, themes such as the online narratives propagated by global threat groups and counter-ideological dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism are analysed. Globally, despite suffering severe territorial, leadership and organisational losses in 2019, Islamist terror groups Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda (AQ) continued to pose the most potent terrorist threat. Early in the year, IS’ territorial reign was ended by American-backed coalition forces, following which its networks became scattered and, in a bid to overcome its physical decimation, more decentralised across the globe. The death of IS’ “Caliph”, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in October 2019, raised further questions about the group’s continued resiliency. Yet, IS has proved persistent and adaptive. The group’s violent ideology continues to bind its myriad followers across regions. In the aftermath of its territorial and leadership losses, IS’ terror attacks and online offensives have been sustained. The global security landscape was further complicated by the emergence of Right Wing Extremist groups as violent actors on the world stage in 2019. Mass political protests around the world further underscored growing dissatisfaction with the present status quo, amid perceptions that some states are unable to articulate masses’ aspirations and meet their demands. The threat of Islamist terrorism will persist into 2020, especially with escalating geo-political tensions in the Middle East. Overcoming the physical and ideological threat by global militant groups, including far-right extremist groups, will remain very much a work in progress in the year ahead.
  • Topic: Security, Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Protests, Violence
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Michelle Nicholasen
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Centerpiece
  • Institution: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: From civil strife in Syria to the war in Yemen to US-Iran tensions, Shi'a groups are emerging as major players on the geopolitical landscape. The 200 million Shi'as around the world comprise 15–20 percent of all Muslims, yet little is understood about their culture, historical legacy, and political dynamics. Shi’as are the majority sect in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, and comprise substantial minority groups in Africa, South and Central Asia, and countries throughout the Middle East. Last fall, the Weatherhead Center launched the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs to support advanced research on the diverse manifestations of Shi’ism, and to encourage rigorous scholarship on the political dynamics of its role in the Middle East. The project supports scholarship that increases understanding of the intersection between religion and politics in Islam by engaging political scientists, historians, policy makers, religious leaders, and other specializations at the WCFIA. It was a busy first year, replete with talks on important events in Islamic history, the geopolitics of Iraq, the US-Iran confrontation, and more. The project launched the online platform Visions, which offers advanced commentary on all aspects of Shi’a thought, politics, and society. Additionally, project members have travelled to Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq for field work and academic conferences, as well as to the United Kingdom to present research and conduct outreach. Team members have also travelled to various cities across the United States to give presentations and interactive workshops—including to Muslim-American communities in Dearborn, Michigan (home to the largest Arab-American population in North America) and Orlando, Florida—on the topic of religious pluralism, youth activism, Islamic thought, and civil society. Directed by Payam Mohseni, lecturer at Harvard University, the project is funded in part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. We asked Payam Mohseni and project chairs Melani Cammett and Ali Asani about the motivations behind the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs.
  • Topic: Civil Society, Civil War, Religion, Military Strategy, Political Activism, Domestic politics, Pluralism
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Naima Green-Riley, Kibrom Teweldebirhan, Ruodi Duan
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Centerpiece
  • Institution: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: For decades, the Graduate Student Associate (GSA) Program has sat, literally and figuratively, at the heart of the Weatherhead Center. Established in the late 1960s, the program now comprises some twenty-five doctoral students from nearly a dozen different departments and programs across Harvard. Students appointed as Weatherhead GSAs get office space, research funding, and membership in a diverse community of like-minded scholars. While they work across different disciplines and deploy an array of research methodologies, they all share an interest in the core research areas of the Weatherhead Center and an open-minded approach to scholarly inquiry and exchange. If the GSA program sits at the heart of the Center, at the heart of the program itself is the long-running Friday lunch seminar. Every Friday we would gather in the Bowie-Vernon Room, the Center’s main seminar space, to catch up, share great food, and hear and discuss the work of one of the GSAs. Presentations have ranged from testing out potential dissertation topics to mock job talks and everything in between. Over the years, many GSAs have testified to how profoundly the program influenced their lives, helping to shape their intellectual trajectories and launching lifelong friendships. For a program with such emphasis on community, the recent campus lockdown presented a special challenge. Since mid-March, students have been unable to use their offices, and the Friday lunches have moved online. And while important things were lost in this transition—not least the freestyle socializing that began each gathering and the famous, Clare Putnam-curated lunch buffets—the intellectual exchanges have remained as fascinating and robust as ever. Of course, the insights that GSAs produce go far beyond these gatherings, and many have been contributing to the wide-ranging public conversation about the current crisis. The following short selections, focused on the question of the pandemic’s impact on China through an international lens, is yet more evidence that our GSAs remain as brilliant and as engaged as ever.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Public Health, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Ladan Boroumand
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Democracy
  • Institution: National Endowment for Democracy
  • Abstract: The Islamic Republic of Iran is confronted with an unprecedented legitimacy crisis. This article, highlighting the heterodox character of Iran’s theocratic ideology, stresses the tectonic social and cultural changes that have resulted in society’s estrangement from the state over the past forty years in a reaction against this ideology. The nature and depth of these social and cultural changes point to a historic process that is taking Iran toward becoming the first Muslim-majority society to weave into its spiritual, social, and intellectual fabric the principled separation of religion and the state characteristic of the liberal-democratic worldview.
  • Topic: Religion, Culture, Democracy, Protests
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Yascha Mounk
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Democracy
  • Institution: National Endowment for Democracy
  • Abstract: Until a few years ago, many argued that liberal democracy was the most just and attractive political regime. The most prominent manifestation of this optimism was Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of the “end of history.” Ironically, many of the same social scientists who dismissed Fukuyama’s work out of hand at the time were themselves committed to equally far-reaching assumptions. Now, as the tides of history are rapidly turning, the hypotheses of theory are being reversed. Indeed, some authors today predict that as the conditions that made liberal democracy possible fade away, it is likely to be supplanted by illiberal democracy, competitive authoritarianism, or outright dictatorship. Such conclusions risk being just as rash as the more optimistic ones that preceded them.
  • Topic: Democracy, Populism, Illiberal Democracy
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Francis Fukuyama
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Democracy
  • Institution: National Endowment for Democracy
  • Abstract: Since the publication of the Journal of Democracy began in 1990, the political climate has shifted from one of democratic gains and optimism to what Larry Diamond labels a “democratic recession.” Underlying these changes has been a reorientation of the major axis of political polarization, from a left-right divide defined largely in economic terms toward a politics based on identity. In a second major shift, technological development has had unexpected effects—including that of facilitating the rise of identity-based social fragmentation. The environment for democracy has been further transformed by other slow-moving changes, among them the shift toward neoliberal economic policies, the legacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lowered expectations regarding democratic transitions. Sustaining democracy will require rebuilding the legitimate authority of the institutions of liberal democracy, while resisting those powers that aspire to make nondemocratic institutions central.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, Democracy, Legitimacy, Democratic Decline
  • Political Geography: Global Focus