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  • Author: Harith Hasan, Kheder Khaddour
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: The Iraqi-Syrian border continues to be geopolitically restless. Kurdish parties have taken advantage of central government weaknesses to increase their autonomy in these areas. Even after the collapse of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Iraqi-Syrian border continues to be one of the most geopolitically restless areas in the Middle East. In the last few years, a variety of Kurdish entities and groups have increasingly shaped the dynamics across the northern section of this border. In particular, there are two dynamics that deserve attention. First, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Kurdish-dominated Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria have come to effectively control new border crossings in this area as the Syrian government has lost access and the Iraqi government’s presence has been contested. This means that the movement of people and goods in this area is largely controlled by two entities that are neither state nor nonstate actors. The reality on the ground reflects hybrid arrangements that have emerged as a result of the weaknesses of both central governments and the increasing autonomy gained by Kurdish parties (which, in the case of the KRG, is stipulated constitutionally). Second, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), by virtue of its participation in the war against the Islamic State and by taking advantage of the consequent power vacuum, managed to augment its influence along the border. Its ideological and organizational ties with local groups, such as the People Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS) in Iraq, enabled it to exert security and political influence. On the one hand, this turned segments of the border into an arena for transnational, pan-Kurdish militancy. On the other hand, these groups’ presence intensified intra-Kurdish rivalries, especially between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the KRG’s main ruling party, and the PKK. This rivalry reflects a clash of two visions for the border: the PKK’s revolutionary, transnational vision that seeks to eradicate or at least underplay the reality of the border; and the KDP’s pragmatic and territorial vision seeking to assert the border’s reality as a demarcation of the KRG’s authority and future statehood. In addition, the KDP is allied with Turkey, which has been fighting the PKK for several decades and is currently waging a military campaign against the group in northern Iraq and Syria. To a large extent, the future of this border is predicated on this geopolitical conflict and whether the PKK manages to entrench itself further or becomes isolated and marginalized as the KRG, the Autonomous Administration, and the Iraqi federal government assert their territorial authorities.
  • Topic: Governance, Conflict, Borders, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Bader Al-Saif
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Abstract: Over time, the Kuwait-Saudi border has developed a unique, flexible approach of firm physical boundaries but open economic boundaries. This approach allows both countries to resolve border disputes, such as an oil-related dispute from 2009 to 2019, but more investment could further strengthen Kuwait-Saudi ties. In a divided zone along their border, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have introduced a flexible arrangement based on a rigid physical border and a fluid economic border. This flexibility, leading to the co-management and equal profit sharing of hydrocarbons, has largely averted conflict. It rests on constructive ambiguity and avoidance of direct confrontation. The approach has its challenges but showed its merit in 2009–2019 when the two resolved a major dispute over the zone.
  • Topic: Political stability, Conflict, Borders, Investment
  • Political Geography: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Philip Remler
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Over the past decade, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been returning to its origins as a Cold War–era Conference – a forum where states and blocs, often antagonistic to one another and espousing opposing ideals, can air their frictions and hostilities. The OSCE was created without legal personality and with the liberum veto of the consensus principle. These constraints stunted the growth of executive capabilities and bound the OSCE closely to the will of its participating States. That rendered most mediation efforts ineffective, especially where an OSCE state is both belligerent and mediator in the same conflicts. Peace operations have been more effective – notably the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – but the same factors have tightly constrained its activity. Though all participating States committed themselves to democratic governance, rule of law and respect for human rights, these ideals failed in much of the former Soviet Union, and autocrats have used the organisation’s lack of legal personality and the consensus principle to hobble the OSCE’s efforts. If the OSCE’s participating States want it to remain an Organization, not a Conference, they must take action to secure its executive autonomy.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Peacekeeping, Democracy, Conflict, OSCE
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Eurasia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: Adel Abdel Ghafar
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The role played by countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Eastern Mediterranean is becoming increasingly important. This calls for an assessment of their evolving relationship with countries in the region, as well as their involvement in the Libyan conflict. Increased involvement by Gulf actors may inflame existing regional rivalries and geopolitical tensions. The interests of GCC countries in the Eastern Mediterranean are first analysed in the broader context of regional rivalries. Special attention is then devoted to Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Greece and Cyprus, while considering the role of other key regional actors such as Turkey and Israel. Recommendations on why and how the new US administration should intervene to decrease regional tensions are provided.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Gulf Nations, Geopolitics, Economy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Israel, Greece, Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Mediterranean
  • Author: Line Jespersgaard Jakobsen
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: This DIIS Working Paper elaborates how local consent to a huge industrial mining complex, including a port and a 150 km railway built in the 1980’s on indigenous arid lands, were created. Showing how both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ security technologies were effective in preparing the complex, constructing the necessary infrastructure and securing the operation, the paper at the same time illustrates how corporate security practices have changed over time in the northern part of Colombia. The paper is based on extended ethnographic fieldwork in La Guajira, Colombia, carried out through 2018 and 2019 as well as historical written documents.
  • Topic: Security, Environment, Oil, Poverty, Natural Resources, Non State Actors, Gas, Capitalism, Inequality, Economy, Conflict, Ethnography, Violence, Investment, Justice, Land Rights, Minerals
  • Political Geography: Colombia, South America, Latin America
  • Author: Gema Kloppe-Santamaría
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Kellogg Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Despite the formal end of civil war and armed conflict, Mexico continued to experience significant levels of violence during the 1930s and 1940s. This period has traditionally been associated with the process of pacification, institutionalization, and centralization of power that enabled the consolidation of rule in post-revolutionary Mexico; a process epitomized by the marked national decline in levels of homicide that began during the 1940s and continued throughout the second half of the twentieth-century. However, the dynamics of coercion and resistance that characterized state-society relations during this period, particularly at the regional and local levels, reveal that violence pervaded all aspects of society and that it was perpetrated by a multiplicity of actors, including vigilantes, pistoleros, private militias, lynch mobs, military, police, and others, including violent entrepreneurs. Violence was used both as a means to contest the legitimacy of the post-revolutionary state project and as an instrument of control and coercion on behalf of political elites and local power brokers. Conversely, violence superseded the realm of traditional politics and constituted a central force shaping Mexican society. Violence against women in both the public and private sphere, violence driven by economic interests, and violence incurred in citizens’ attempts to control crime and social transgressions, reveal that citizens—and not only state actors—contributed to the reproduction of violence. Although violence in post-revolutionary Mexico was neither centralized nor exercised in a top-down manner, impunity and collusion between criminal and political elements were central to the production and perpetuation of violence, both within the Mexican state and within civil society. When examined in light of these two decades of the post-revolutionary period, the character and levels of violence in contemporary Mexico appear less as an aberration and more as the latest expression of a longer historical trajectory, uneven and nonlinear, of decentralized, multifaceted, and multi-actor forms of violence.
  • Topic: Security, Religion, Culture, Peacekeeping, Democracy, Conflict, Violence
  • Political Geography: Latin America, North America, Mexico
  • Author: Stephanie Savell
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University
  • Abstract: United States “security assistance” exports a militarized counterterrorism model to dozens of countries through money, training, and weapons. This model comes with dangerous costs. The narrative, tactics, funding, and institutional supports of the U.S. post-9/11 wars fuel repression and corruption, and escalate cycles of violence. This paper delves into the current conflict in Burkina Faso as an illustrative case study of how the U.S. counterterrorism model has caused more, not less, instability and violence. Despite the relatively low levels of terrorism assessed in Burkina Faso at the time, the United States laid the groundwork for increased militarism in the region when it began providing security assistance to the country in 2009. Today, Burkina Faso is enveloped in a spiraling conflict involving government forces, state-sponsored militias, and militant groups, and civilians are paying the price. Militant groups have strengthened and seized territory, ethnic tensions have skyrocketed, thousands of Burkinabe have been killed and over one million displaced. A Burkina-based human rights group has warned that the government’s ethnic killings may lead to the “next Rwanda.”
  • Topic: Security, Ethnic Conflict, Counter-terrorism, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States of America, Burkina Faso
  • Author: Stephanie Savell, Rachel McMahon, Emily Rockwell, Yueshan Li
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University
  • Abstract: The map illustrates countries in which the U.S. government conducted operations it explicitly described as counterterrorism, in an outgrowth of President George W. Bush's “Global War on Terror.” These operations include air and drone strikes, on-the-ground combat, so-called “Section 127e” programs in which U.S. special operations forces plan and control partner force missions, military exercises in preparation for or as part of counterterrorism missions, and operations to train and assist foreign forces. (The map does not comprehensively cover the full scope of U.S. post-9/11 warfare, as it does not document, for instance, U.S. military bases used for counterterror operations, arms sales to foreign governments, or all deployments of U.S. special operations forces.) Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the U.S. is shifting its strategic emphasis away from counterterrorism and towards great power competition with Russia and China, examining U.S. military activity on a country-by-country basis shows that there is yet to be a corresponding drawdown of the counterterror apparatus. If anything, the map demonstrates that counterterrorism operations have become more widespread in recent years.
  • Topic: Military Affairs, Counter-terrorism, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Global Focus, United States of America
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, Princeton University
  • Abstract: The Handbook on the Prevention and Resolution of Self-Determination Conflicts is the latest product of a long and fruitful collaboration between the Mission of Liechtenstein to the United Nations, New York, and the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University to assess the relationship of self-determination to conflict. The Handbook includes four case studies: Aceh, Bougainville, Mindanao, and Northern Ireland, in addition to setting out guidelines specifically aimed at those working to prevent and resolve self-determination conflicts. The handbook was conceived chiefly as the result of two meetings on self-determination held jointly by the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and the Liechtenstein Mission to the UN: “Models of Self-Governance as Tools to Promote Peace and Stability in Europe,” held in March 2016, in Triesenberg, Liechtenstein, and “Self-Determination in Conflict Prevention and Resolution,” held in December 2018, in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A. In these meetings, participants discussed the relationship between self-determination and conflict, as well as ways that self-determination conflicts may be prevented and resolved. These discussions drew on the tensions and links between self-determination, minority rights, autonomy and self-governance, and mediation, all of which are key elements of the handbook.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Diplomacy, Governance, Self Determination, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Global Focus
  • Author: Paul A. Goble
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War (September 29–November 9) has had a transformative effect on the country. It not only changed the attitudes of its population, whose members now feel themselves to be heroes rather than victims (see EDM, January 21), but also bolstered the diplomatic weight and possibilities of the Azerbaijani government in its dealings with other regional states. In prosecuting a triumphant war against Yerevan, Baku demonstrated its own ability to act. But just as importantly, Azerbaijan has shown to peoples and governments in the Caucasus and Central Asia that it is a force to be reckoned with, in part thanks to its growing links with Turkey. Moreover, that alliance makes possible an appealing path to the outside world for all who join it. That reality is causing countries east of the Caspian to look westward to and through Azerbaijan in their economic planning and political calculations. At the same time, however, these developments are generating concerns in Moscow and Tehran, which oppose east-west trade routes that bypass their countries’ territories and instead favor north-south corridors linking Russia and Iran together. As a result, Azerbaijan’s recent successes in expanding links with Central Asia set the stage for new conflicts between Azerbaijan and its Turkic partners, on the one hand, and Russia and Iran, which have far more significant naval assets in the Caspian, on the other (see EDM, November 27, 2018 and February 20, 2020; Casp-geo.ru, December 24, 2019; Chinalogist.ru, November 21, 2019).
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Central Asia, Middle East, Azerbaijan