Back to the Future? UN peacebuilding in a Multipolar World Order

In the current international environment characterized by multipolarity and rising geopolitical competition, what role the United Nations (UN) can play in peacebuilding? In a new article, Fanny Badache, Sara Hellmüller and Bilal Salaymeh try to provide some answers and uncover the role of the UN in a multipolar world order.

Peacebuilding is the flagship activity of the United Nations (UN). It was defined by Boutros Boutros-Ghali – former Secretary-General – in his ‘Agenda for Peace’ as the “action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace”. As of October 2022, the UN deploys 12 peacekeeping operations led by the Department of Peace Operations and 24 field missions led by the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (special envoys and special political missions).

The mandate that member states confer to the UN determines its peacebuilding approach. In our article, we examine what major powers see as the role of the UN in peacebuilding. We analyze peace-related speeches at the UN Security Council from 1991 to 2020 by three types of actors: France, UK, and US as western permanent members; China and Russia as non-western permanent members; and Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey as non-western non-permanent members.

To examine the role conferred to the UN, we distinguish between conflict management and conflict resolution. We then analyze both the types of tasks the UN is legitimized to carry out as well as the approach through which it should carry out these tasks. In conflict management, the main tasks of the UN are to help the parties find a settlement and to monitor that settlement once it is reached in view of stabilizing the situation. The main approach to peacebuilding is state-centric in that it should strictly uphold the sovereignty and consent of the host state. On the other hand, in conflict resolution, the main tasks of the UN are to support wide-ranging peacebuilding programs addressing the root causes of conflict in view of building a long-term positive peace. The main approach to peacebuilding takes a societal rather than a state focus. While the idea is still to work with the respective governments, it also foresees an important role for other actors, such as civil society.

What tasks for the UN in peacebuilding?

We found that UN member states differ in terms of their conceptions of the peacebuilding tasks the UN should engage in. France, the UK, and the US see the UN’s role in conflict resolution tasks that overlap with a liberal peacebuilding approach, such as democratization, good governance, and human rights promotion. China and Russia mostly stress conflict management tasks, such as finding a political settlement, demilitarization and demining. While they sometimes mention conflict resolution tasks, they underline more “value-neutral” areas, such as economic reconstruction, security sector reform, and rule of law. Among the rising powers, South Africa is the only one who refers more often to conflict resolution tasks (in particular rule of law and reconciliation). Brazil and Turkey mostly refer to conflict management tasks, in particular the provision of good offices to stabilize the security situation.

Despite these differences in countries’ conceptions of the UN’s role, we can see that some peacebuilding tasks such as mediation, security sector reform, and fostering the rule of law are underscored by both traditional and rising powers. These tasks could thus constitute the common denominator for future UN peacebuilding efforts.

What approach of the UN in peacebuilding?

The main fault line among the member states studied rests in their conception of the UN’s approach to peacebuilding. France, the UK, and the US underscore a conflict resolution approach which consists of working with governments, but also societal groups. To the contrary, China and Russia constantly underline that peacebuilding activities (whatever they are) should be done in cooperation with national authorities only and in full respect of state sovereignty and the principle of non-interference. As regards to rising powers, their discourse on the approach is more nuanced. Like Western powers, they advocate for the UN to work with local communities and civil society actors beyond governmental actors. Yet, at the same time, similar to China and Russia, they insist on the need to foster national ownership in the peacebuilding process by building national capacities. Their narrative is particularly centered on the need to avoid dependency (and conditionality) upon international aid and to adopt context-specific approaches.


So, what kind of UN peacebuilding are we likely to see in a multipolar world order? Our research shows that states see a role for the UN in terms of tasks beyond mere conflict management as long as it is conducted with the respect of national sovereignty and in cooperation with state authorities. We can thus expect that future debates in the UN Security Council will be more about the extent to which peace interventions are intrusive in states’ internal affairs and prescriptive in terms of values and norms they promote. We thus concur with other scholars that it is likely that the UN will engage less in multidimensional peacebuilding endeavors and concentrate its efforts on managing conflicts through more focused missions. In a sense, it is possible that “the future of peacebuilding is its past”.

Fanny Badache, Sara Hellmüller and Bilal Salaymeh work at the Geneva Graduate Institute in Switzerland. They are the authors of “Conflict management or conflict resolution: how do major powers conceive the role of the United Nations in peacebuilding?”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Disarmament and the production of less violent and more responsible nuclear states

Nuclear weapons states regularly underline their commitment to disarmament. Building on feminist scholarship, Carolina P. Panico argues in a recent article that this renders nuclear possession actually more acceptable.

On March 16, 2021, the UK announced changes to its nuclear weapons policy, significantly increasing its overall nuclear stockpile cap. While the previous self-imposed cap set a target of no more than 180 warheads in the stockpile by the mid-2020s, the new limit now sits at 260. The announcement comes with the reassurance that the UK remains committed to a world free of nuclear weapons and continues to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the rules that come with it. What is interesting, however, is that the UK invokes its commitment to disarmament at the very moment it seeks to expand and modernize its nuclear arsenal.

Although the NPT establishes that the five nuclear states must take steps to disarm in good faith, the disarmament discourse must not be taken for granted. One may think that the scenario outlined above is nothing but a reflection of the rules-based order in operation. After all, the NPT sets disarmament as an end goal. However, this position fails to appreciate how the system of thought revolving around disarmament can modify our perception of what is right and wrong in the context of nuclear politics. Article VI, the disarmament proposition of the NPT, is usually seen with great enthusiasm and described as a focal point for collective responsibility towards nuclear disarmament. In a recent article, I present a different story about Article VI. I argue that it makes possible the very thing it is supposed to prevent; it renders nuclear possession more acceptable.

The article advances three core points. First, I examine the ideas accompanying our understanding of disarmament, such as peace, non-violence, anti-war, and explain that these meanings change the way we see the act of possessing nuclear weapons. I compare the nuclear case to feminist critiques of ethics, arguing that invoking disarmament adds a layer of responsibility and peaceful purposes to the nuclear discourse, producing less violent and more responsible possessors.

Second, the disarmament principle allows the nuclear powers to justify possessing their weapons on the grounds of responsibility. To support this claim, I compare the disarmament principle to the norms around non-combatant immunity, which allow states to justify killing civilians in war based on the “good” intentions of “not targeting” or “not intending to harm them.” Under the laws of war, killing is acceptable so long as soldiers follow the prescriptions of the Geneva Conventions accordingly. In nuclear politics, the continued possession and rebuilding of nuclear arsenals is justified if one demonstrates a commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, which reiterates responsible behavior.

Third, I draw attention to how the persistence of nuclear weapons in global politics is associated with a process of repetition and reiteration of responsibility through the disarmament discourse. More importantly, I argue that so long as we have states performing in a way that replicates dominant understandings defining what passes as “normal” in nuclear politics, in which responsibility is key, nuclear possession will remain a more acceptable practice.

While I remain optimistic that it is possible to eliminate nuclear weapons, my work sheds light on some obstacles preventing us from moving forward with disarmament initiatives. It encourages thinking disarmament in a way that avoids recycling the tightly controlled requirements that constitute the current nuclear order. It is important to note that despite presenting a critique of the NPT and its normative apparatus, I am not advocating for abandoning the treaty. On the contrary, my article suggests that even though the treaty is at the heart of the nuclear problem, the reworking of power structures that arise from its normative framework will lead to transformation. With the TPNW now in force, the findings presented in the article can help develop implementation strategies while encouraging thinking the TPNW as a tool to shift dynamics rendering possession a more acceptable practice.

Uncovering stories that help us understand what makes nuclear weapons such a persistent feature of global politics is an integral part of the process of disarming. It is only through a deepened understanding of the origin and structure of nuclear order that one will be able to grasp and seize possibilities for change, therefore, reorganizing such knowledge as effective sites of resistance.

Carolina P. Panico is a Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Teaching Fellow at the University of Auckland, Department of Politics and International Relations. She is the author of “Making nuclear possession possible: The NPT disarmament principle and the production of less violent and more responsible nuclear states”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here. Her Twitter account is: @CarolPantoliano

Ethiopia’s Descent into War

In a recent article Harry Verhoeven and Michael Woldemariam explore the genesis of Ethiopia’s current civil war and demonstrate that evolving US foreign policy approaches toward a vital African “anchor state” for security and development were a critical catalyst.

Since November 2020, tens of thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, rebels and citizens have died in one of Africa’s most lethal conflicts. UN estimates put the number of Ethiopians facing “an extreme lack of food” in the Tigray region at 2.5 million and another 6.5 million are acutely food insecure elsewhere on the territory. This descent into famine and state disintegration of a country that has served as an “anchor” of Western strategy in the Horn of Africa for decades raises many questions. Prominently is what role did the foreign policy of the United States, long Ethiopia’s foremost external partner, play in the crisis’ genesis?

Based on extensive interviews with Ethiopian elites, officials in the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and other national security organs, and European and Middle Eastern allies, Verhoeven’s and Woldemariam’s article makes three important contributions.

First, the paper documents US government backing for Abiy Ahmed’s domestic consolidation of power. Following his selection as Ethiopian PM in April 2018, Abiy Ahmed enjoyed near unequivocal support from Washington to aid the expansion of his authority, and enable the wide-ranging reforms in the economy, security services and party-state he appeared to be pursuing. US Embassy Addis played a central role in developing and advancing this policy, including by packaging it for political appointees in the Trump administration.

Yet the troubling side-effects of this approach were ignored, even as growing evidence emerged that such policies might weaken state capacity to deliver public goods as well as broader state-society relations. The article documents the recurring failure of US officials to raise concerns when the PM pursued actions that were essential to consolidating power but destabilizing at the same time—the creation of the Prosperity Party, postponement of national elections, and crackdown on political opposition in July 2020 being notable examples. There was also little effort to encourage a transition roadmap or national dialogue. US officials dismissed metastasizing violence and growing criticisms from various population groups and social forces in Northern, Eastern and Southern Ethiopia as the sour grapes of the country’s displaced old guard or the opportunism of ethno-political barons.

Second, the article documents how the pursuit of this counterproductive policy must be situated in the long-arc of US-Ethiopia relations and competing global and regional geostrategic imperatives. By the time Abiy became PM, US ties with this most important of African allies were in trouble. Washington had found security cooperation with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) increasingly challenging. The EPRDF’s ideological proximity to the Chinese Communist Party and Ethiopia’s economic dependence on Beijing was the source of added anxiety. And the EPRDF’s explicit illiberalism had become ever more unpalatable due to a rising tide of popular resistance that was eroding the country’s stability. Against this backdrop, the new PM positioned himself as a pro-American reformer who could revitalize a fraught partnership. Such spin worked. In August 2018, US Embassy Addis dubbed Ethiopia’s Abiy-led transition “a once in a generation opportunity” to rebalance the relationship in manner that better suited US interests. The dizzying array of liberalizing reforms in the early months generated a reservoir of goodwill in Western circles. But this alone cannot explain the scale and consistency of Washington’s embrace of the PM, since “democracy” and “human rights” were not Trump administration priorities and Abiy’s equivocation on these issues soon became apparent.

Instead, the new PM was understood to subscribe to three, inter-related geostrategic imperatives deeply ensconced in the Trump administration worldview: turning Ethiopia away from China; generating commercial opportunities for American businesses in Africa’s second most populous state; and encouraging proximity between Ethiopia and America’s Middle Eastern allies, especially the UAE, which was a pivotal actor in the emerging Abraham Accords and US strategy in the broader Middle East. Such priorities appeared useful in Washington, but they blinded US policymakers to a sober assessment of their interests in Ethiopia and the Horn and how the new course of action might undercut these.

Third, the paper evidences the complex impact of US foreign policy on the decision making of Ethiopian actors. Ethiopians of course had agency and exercised it decisively and often shrewdly. This was especially the case with the new Premier. But the net effect of US engagement was to diminish the possibility of an Ethiopia-wide political settlement and catalyze conflict. The mechanism at work was one of moral hazard, whereby American support incentivized increasingly risky power consolidation moves by the PM and dangerous counter-measures from opponents like the TPLF and Oromo opposition forces. The coup de grace was the Tigray war, which despite ample warnings US officials did little to prevent. They then provided political cover for the PM’s decision to use force, with allies such as Eritrea and the UAE. It was only once the war had spun out of control that the Trump administration begin to cautiously recalibrate its support for Addis, a shift accelerated by the Biden administration after January 2021.

This careful documentation of recent Ethiopian history and US foreign policy also carries broader implications. The politics of enablement that characterized US policy toward Ethiopia between 2018-2020 seemingly echoes the routinized and institutionalized patterns of US relations with many other anchor states—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and even several of Abiy’s predecessors. But the parallels only go so far. US policy vis-a-vis Ethiopia in recent years was a less a reflection of enduring patterns of diplomacy than a bold gambit to fundamentally remake US-Ethiopia relations. That this effort backfired was in large part due to some wishful thinking and the pursuit of geostrategic imperatives at the expense of Ethiopian stability. This fact carries major lessons and warnings for the management of US alliances in an era of so-called Great Power Competition.

Harry Verhoeven and Michael Woldemariam are the authors of “Who lost Ethiopia? The unmaking of an African anchor state and U.S. foreign policy”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here

Russia’s Lego Approach to Space Warfare

Russia has been acquiring and demonstrating anti-satellite and counter-space at a rapid clip. What drives all these Russian efforts? Jaganath Sankaran shows in a recent article that Russians believe they need to respond to the unbridled American weaponization of space and that high-precision aerospace weapons will be a decisive factor in future conflicts.

In November 2021, the Russians conducted a hit-to-kill direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test, striking a defunct Tselina-D satellite and creating more than 1,500 pieces of space debris. Gen. James Dickinson, head of U.S. Space Command, called the Russian ASAT test an attempt to “deny access to and use of space” to the United States and undermine strategic stability. Russians quickly retorted that it was America that sought comprehensive military superiority. Russians cast the test as a proportionate and defensive attempt to restore deterrence against the United States. They accuse the U.S. of being duplicitous and silent about its ASAT efforts. They dismiss all criticisms of their ASAT efforts as “propagandistic information attacks.”

Russia has been acquiring and demonstrating anti-satellite and counter-space at a rapid clip. For example, in January 2020, Russia’s Kosmos-2542 and Kosmos-2543 satellites performed complex coordinated maneuvers in the vicinity of a military reconnaissance satellite, the KH-11. Six months later, in July 2020, the Kosmos-2543 satellite fired a high-velocity projectile showcasing a potential weapon designed to bombard another satellite and incapacitate it quickly. In 2017, three Russian “nesting doll” satellites—Kosmos-2519, Kosmos-2521, and Kosmos-2523—engaged in high-velocity orbital maneuvers. The Russian have also developed ground-based laser and jamming weaponry to target satellite systems.

What drives all these Russian efforts? Russian military literature reveals two primary motivations behind its anti-satellite and counter-space programs. First, Russians believe they need to respond to the unbridled American weaponization of space. They assert that the “U.S. keeps on conducting the full range of research” that will eventually lead to the deployment of “real space weapons within the shortest time frame.” Russia believes it has to do the same to keep up with American technological advancements.

Second, Russian analysts suggest that state-of-the-art U.S. and NATO high-precision aerospace weapons, supported with satellite-based targeting and navigation, will be a decisive factor in future conflicts. Russians offer recent NATO operations against Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya as evidence that political-military operations can now be conducted without engaging the adversary’s army. Russian military leaders speculate that such campaigns, executed using high-precision weapons, may have made it possible to strike a fatal blow to Russia. The argument goes that Russian anti-satellite and other counter-space weapons will “deter aggression” by the U.S. and its allies “reliant upon space” to execute an aerospace strike against Russia. And if such a deterrent fails to hold, these weapons might offer Russian leaders the ability to target critical military satellites. Irrespective of the accuracy of these Russian assertions, the vast majority of Russian analysts continue to display a severe “fear of Western technological superiority.”  While these fears may reflect a worst-case scenario, they influence Russia’s space weapons and arms-control policies.

The U.S. and its allies will need to manage these Russian fears and the consequences. Managing space security will require a prudent combination of unilateral defensive and multilateral cooperative measures. Unilateral measures that reduce the vulnerability of satellites and increase their resiliency are vital. An immediate priority is to avoid the continued acquisition of legacy and expensive satellite systems that present “large, big, fat, juicy targets.” Instead, cheaper and more distributed satellite constellations enable both dispersions of critical space assets and rapid reconstitution in an adversary attack. The Space Development Agency (SDA), established in 2019, is developing cheaper satellites that would be more resilient to disruptions or attacks. These SDA satellites can complicate an adversary’s anti-satellite efforts.

Additionally, dialogue with Russia to institute cooperative behavioral norms and arms control arrangements is essential. In a welcome move, the Biden administration has unilaterally committed not to conduct “destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing.” The commitment was justified in explicit terms of establishing norms. The White House Fact Sheet notes: “the United States seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space…[and] called on other nations to make similar commitments and to work together in establishing this as a norm, making the case that such efforts benefit all nations.” Now, the focus should be on gaining such commitments from Russia, China, and other states.

Finally, when geopolitical conditions permit, policymakers in the U.S., Russia, and China need to explore arrangements to restrict advanced aerospace weaponry, possibly with an instrument similar to the INF Treaty. Achieving meaningful future restrictions on these weapons will be the challenge that needs to be faced to achieve space security and strategic stability.

Jaganath Sankaran is the author of “Russia’s anti-satellite weapons: A hedging and offsetting strategy to deter Western aerospace forces”, Contemporary Security Policy, which is available here.

Russian great power identity in the debate on “killer robots”

Russia prominently opposes new regulations for autonomous weapons systems (AWS), or so-called “killer robots” which can select and attack a target without human intervention. In a new article, Anna Nadibaidze explores the deeply rooted identity-related factors underpinning the Russian position in the global debate on AWS held at the United Nations.

Reports about the use of weapons systems with autonomous features, specifically the Russian-produced KUB loitering munition, in the war in Ukraine have strengthened the already existing concerns about the role of military autonomy and artificial intelligence (AI) in warfare. Only a few days before these reports came in, the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapons systems was meeting in Geneva to discuss potential ways forward on the regulation of AWS. The Russian delegation has blocked any kind of substantive progress by constantly claiming to have been “discriminated” against by the measures taken by the EU following Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Throughout the years of the GGE sessions, which have been taking place within the framework of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) since 2016, Russia has been vocal about its belief that technological developments in the areas of AI and robotics do not make it necessary to adopt any kind of new regulation on AWS because the latter are sufficiently regulated by current international law.

Given that the CCW operates by consensus principles, de facto giving a veto power to all states, Russia’s agreement to develop a potential new instrument is needed to move forward in the debate, which has had only a discussion mandate so far. Approximately 30-40 states parties, along with several civil society organizations, are arguing for the necessity of a new legally binding regulation on AWS. Can Russia’s position be reconciled with theirs?

Great power identity in Russia’s position on AWS

In order to understand whether Russia could potentially agree to developing a new legally binding instrument, it is vital to examine its position in depth and from different perspectives.

Russia is one of the key developers of weapons systems with autonomous features and has shown strong interest in integrating higher levels of autonomy and AI as part of the modernization of its armed forces. From the rationalist perspective, the Russian position in the GGE debate is associated with strategic interests and quest to gain strategic advantage without any international restrictions.

While I do not dismiss these arguments, I argue for a more thorough investigation of Russia’s position and exploring deeply rooted factors, namely the Russian leadership’s self-perception as a historical great power, which has been a prominent feature of Russian foreign policy, especially since Vladimir Putin came to power.

My analysis of statements that the Russian Federation delivered to the CCW from 2014 to 2022 demonstrates that two integral principles of Russian great power identity have been guiding its position in the global debate on AWS. First, Russia promotes a multipolar world order based on many centers of power. Second, it seeks to ensure recognition of its perceived parity with other great powers and its equal participation in global affairs. These principles feature not only in the literature about Russian foreign policy, but also in its language used in statements on AWS at the CCW meetings.

Russian discourse on the global governance of AWS displays worries about the “politicization” of the debate and fears that the discussion would be monopolized by some states without taking into account others’ (Russian) interests and opinions. Russian statements display worries about the adoption of a polarized definition of AWS, for instance, when stating, “it is unacceptable to artificially divide weapons into ‘bad’ and ‘good’ ones based on the political preferences of certain States”.

The Russian conception of human control, a key element in the AWS discussion, is based on sovereignty. Russia believes that every state should decide on its definition of human involvement in the use of force and weapons systems. While it “does not doubt the necessity of maintaining human control over the machine”, it finds it unacceptable to be imposed with universal definitions and argues for “specific forms and methods of such control” to “be left to the discretion of States”.

Moreover, the Russian position presents technology in a positive light, not agreeing with what it perceives as “alarmist assessments” about fully autonomous weapons inevitably emerging. Russian delegations have constantly pointed out the benefits of military autonomy and warned against making hasty decisions which could “undermine the ongoing research in the field of peaceful robotics and AI”.

What does this mean for the future of the GGE debate?

As I show in my article, Russia’s position on AWS is deeply rooted and is not only guided by strategic costs/benefits analyses. It is facilitated by the Russian leadership’s strong belief about Russia being a great power in the post-Cold War multipolar world, on par with other great powers and deserving recognition, especially in topics touching upon international security.

With current ongoing tensions, the Russian leadership increasingly perceives any action from states it classifies as “unfriendly nations” as attempts to isolate Russia from global governance, or so-called “Russophobic” actions.

These identity-related factors make the Russian position on AWS more intractable and harder to resolve, especially for campaigners using humanitarian-based arguments to raise concerns about the development of “killer robots”, for instance their threat to human rights and human dignity. With its self-perception of a great power and guarantor of global security, Russia is likely to be more open to security-based arguments such as those pointing out the risks of AWS to strategic stability.

In Russia’s view, the CCW represents the perfect balance between humanitarian concerns and national security interests, while the consensus voting rule fits with its broader concerns with being able to have its say. It is therefore unlikely to accept an independent process outside of the CCW, as suggested by several civil society organizations in light of the stalled process at the GGE, or any process which would strip it of its veto power. If an independent discussion were to take place, Russia’s self-perception as a great power and the importance that it attributes to being seen as indispensable in multilateral negotiations is likely to lead it to criticize the process and accuse its organizers of disrupting global security.

Anna Nadibaidze is a Ph.D. Research Fellow at the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark and researcher for the European Research Council funded AutoNorms project. She is the author of “Great power identity in Russia’s position on autonomous weapons systems”, Contemporary Security Policy, and the report “Russian perceptions of military AI, automation, and autonomy”, published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Why authoritarian states participate in liberal international interventions

Do troop contributions lead to democratic change in troop contributing countries as some argue? This is not necessarily the case as Martin Welz argues in a recent article on Chad’s contributions to international interventions.

Troop contributions of authoritarian states pose an empirical puzzle. For the participation in international interventions indicates the support for a liberal-cosmopolitan order that entails the protection of human rights on the international level, while authoritarian regimes deny such rights to their own citizens. The nascent research on this puzzle has produced contradictory findings. Some assume that the participation of authoritarian states in international interventions eventually leads to the implementation of a liberal-cosmopolitan order in such countries in the medium and long term. Others challenge that perspective and speak of a “myth of democratic peacekeepers” or go as far as to argue that troop deployment in fact impedes democratic change.

The article of Martin Welz adds substance to the latter finding through a study of Chad’s troop contributions during the reign of President Idriss Déby who came into power in 1990. The central argument is that Déby, who lacked domestic legitimacy and presided over a little-institutionalized state until his death in 2021, used the participation in international interventions for his own purposes, namely to stay in power. Déby made himself an indispensable ally of France (and to a lesser extent of the United States) and helped them to further their interests in the wider Sahel. He benefitted threefold from his alignment with France and his active stance in international interventions. First, he received large-scale funding that he could feed into his patronage network and strengthen the military; second, he could reduce tensions within the military by sending parts of it abroad; and finally and most importantly, he secured the support of major external actors that helped silencing national and international critique. In 2019, the French government even rescued the Chadian president, once rebels advanced toward the capital.

Indeed, the financial benefits for Déby were significant. France alone allocated €12 million per year for structural cooperation. In addition, donations and other forms of aid worth €53 million was available to be provided through the French forces which had a larger base in Chad. Particularly joining the G5 Sahel Joint Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force—two coalitions that seek to fight al-Qaida, Boko Haram, and their affiliates—was beneficial for Déby (and his fellow African presidents). Donors were willing to spend more on these mechanisms than they would have been prepared to offer if they had acted on a purely bilateral basis. Another source of foreign funding was the reimbursements paid by the United Nations for the peacekeepers. The 1,090 Chadian troops deployed in peacekeeping operations in 2014, for example, meant a reimbursement of an estimated US$17.4 million. These funds not only benefitted the military itself, but also Déby’s regime in two respects. On the one hand, Chadian troops became better equipped and trained, which helped the Chadian leader in his fight against domestic rebels and other challengers. On the other hand, these funds could be fed into the patronage network, thus resembling a kind of “rentier peacekeeping.” In the slipstream of military assistance, Déby’s Chad received large amounts of development aid, given its support for the Western agenda against terrorism.

Secondly, Déby’s benefitted from the participation in military operations as this allowed him to reduce tensions within the military and appease some parts of it. Sending troops abroad helped Déby to ensure that the military itself would not turn into a threat for his rule. Such a threat was looming since Déby had provided some positions within the military to his group, the Bideyat. This move mitigated some internal tensions within the group, yet it was costly and led to rivalries with other segments of the security apparatus.

Third and most important, Déby’s international reputation increased—as did the dependence on him. Even though oil revenues had generated funds to improve the military’s capabilities and secure Déby’s regime from within (Chad became a large oil exporter in the 2000s) external threats had been abound early in Déby’s rule. Chad had suffered from insecurity in its neighboring states and from a proxy war that had been partly fought on its soil on the one hand and French politicians had vigorously demanded the implementation of democratic norms in Chad on the other. It was the eventual alignment with France, the United States, and their counter-terrorism agenda that led to a situation in which Déby’s rule became significantly less challenged from abroad. Chad’s active participation in international interventions and Déby’s willingness to assume casualties—particularly in Mali, where his troops fought alongside France—were the main factors that brought that change. The Chadian president could translate the external recognition, visible, for example, through several visits of French presidents, into a stronger domestic position that overshadowed concerns about the legitimacy of his rule. At Déby’s funeral in April 2021 Macron dignified Chad’s late president as a “friend” and “courageous” soldier.

However, the international support for Déby and the dependence on his troops had a downside: it came at the expense of democracy and respect for human rights. The Chadian civil society was frequently frustrated with the unconditional support Déby had received from his international backers. Western governments ignored calls from national and international NGOs to hold Déby’s regime accountable for the human rights abuses and antidemocratic practices the president and his regime committed in Chad. The authoritarian rule was effectively strengthened. Déby was just too important—and it looks like same is true for his son, who succeeded him after his death.

Martin Welz is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He is author of “Omnibalancing and international interventions: How Chad’s president Déby benefitted from troop deployment”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

The Indo-Pacific and the decline of the rules-based order

The combination of antagonistic nationalist currents within East Asia and US resistance against the emergence of a post-Cold War order scuttled decades-long efforts to effectively institutionalize an Asia-Pacific region. Facing ever increasing rivalries over how to fill the ensuing void, Christian Wirth and Nicole Jenne analyse  in a recent article how foreign- and security-political elites embarked on strategies for safeguarding the “rules-based order” across the enlarged “Indo-Pacific.”

The past two decades have seen a lot of talk about the need to preserve what many in Europe and the US call the liberal international order and whose institutions and norms have governed international politics since 1945. Particularly in the neighbourhood of rising China, what has now become known as “rules-based order”, we are told, needs to be defended.

Yet, it is hard to defend, let alone bring back, something that has never existed.

Contrary to the framing of the rules-based order, the institutions and norms that undergird the international order of the Asia-Pacific region since the 1950s, remain predicated on a system of military alliances between the United States and its East Asian partners; a system that had been designed to contain the now inexistent Communist bloc.

Unless juxtaposed to authoritarian China, the system where East Asian regional states form the “spokes” converging on the US “hub” neither bears a particularly strong imprint of liberal values, nor has its static conception been flexible enough to adapt to the socio-economic conditions of the globalized world as it emerged in the 1990s.

In this sense, the institutions of the Asia-Pacific rules-based order share some commonalities with the remainders of its former nemesis, the institutions and norms undergirding the Chinese state. It has become precarious and increasingly costly to maintain.

Especially in the past decade, US and its East Asian allies have seen themselves compelled to drastically increase defence expenditures and enhanced centralized control over expanding national security interests in the name of safeguarding the rules-based order. While the US and its allies have increased their military capacities and strengthened their determination to share the euphemistic “burden” of upholding international stability and security, this burden has itself been increasing.

But how did we get this far? Has a post-Cold War order not been emerging?

Our study finds that the costs for maintaining “order” and “stability” have been ballooning after three decades of efforts at imagining and promoting the institutionalization of a post-Cold War order across the Asia-Pacific largely failed. While Southeast Asian governments successfully developed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) framework, early efforts on the part of Australian and Japanese leaders to enmesh East Asian states, including China, as well as the US, in Asia-Pacific wide frameworks faltered.

The obvious reasons therefore have been diverging views about the future of regional order among East Asian elites and governments. Yet, instead of leading the rebuilding of order in the wake of the monumental changes in the early 1990s, US decisionmakers have contributed to the deepening of the problem of order. Anxious about the possible emergence of an Asian bloc, potentially replacing the hub-and-spokes bilateralism, they have been seeking to neutralize East Asian initiatives for advancing regional multilateralism. Crucially, they also refused to lead such efforts themselves.

This lack of pro-active order-building has increased the predicament for US allies in East Asia.

Torn between their deepening economic dependence on China and strengthening military ties with the US, Australian and Japanese elites have once again pioneered efforts to expand the regional sphere. With the hope of retaining their status and forestall the perceived ascent of China’s regional hegemony, they embraced the idea of an Indo-Pacific region. The Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations followed their lead.

Thus, the study finds that, albeit directed against China for preserving the US-led rules-based order of the Asia-Pacific, the expansion of the region to South Asia signifies a dilution also of US power and influence. Numerous actors, such as ASEAN, India, and even the European Union, have jumped on the wagon and pronounced their own views on the Indo-Pacific.

The enlarged Indo-Pacific region provides a larger set of possibilities to cooperate for the majority of states who have sought to find a middle ground between the US and China. Mostly following pragmatic foreign policy practices, they recognize that enlisting on either side in the Sino-Allied struggle offers at best short-term benefits while increasing political and economic risks.

Although this amorphous Indo-Pacific meta-region is unlikely to become formally institutionalized any time soon, it signifies the gradual superseding of hub-and-spokes bilateralism. The US (and its allies) are not alone anymore in defining this strategic space. At the same time, the enlargement of the imagined region dilutes China’s (and India’s) influence. Thus, the ensuing order will remain a mix of conflict and cooperation.

Facing such a fluid “international order”, thinking in Indo-Pacific dimensions can help decision-makers bear the uncertainty over the future of relations between states and remove much of the perceived insecurity caused by tunnel views of linearly shifting power and anxiety about the decline of a liberal or rules-based order that never existed in the imagined form.

Dr. Christian Wirth is Research Fellow at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies. Dr. Nicole Jenne is Associate Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Institute of Political Science, and a researcher at the Centre for Asian Studies (CEA-UC) of the same university. They are the authors of “Filling the void: The Asia-Pacific problem of order and emerging Indo-Pacific regional multilateralism”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Defense treaties increase domestic support for military action

Using survey experiments in a new article, Jeffrey D. Berejikian and Justwan Florian show that when Americans are informed about the U.S.-South Korea mutual defense treaty they are more willing to support the use of U.S. combat troops in South Korea and accept casualties.

American political leaders often frame U.S. security interests by emphasizing the specific details of U.S. defense commitments. For example, during a recent high-profile diplomatic visit to the Philippines in July of 2021, Secretary of State Blinken privately affirmed the US commitment to President Duterte. The United States also signaled its intentions to China directly. An American warship was deployed to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to coincide with the visit.

However, in addition, Secretary Blinken took time to both publicly call attention to the specific details of a longstanding alliance between the US and Philippines and explain its meaning; “We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke US mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

When political leaders focus public attention on existing security commitments in this manner, it is unlikely that they are only attempting to send a signal to potential adversaries. The conventional wisdom is that, in direct state-to-state communication, actions speak louder than words. For instance, as noted above, during Blinken’s trip the US sent a clear signal to China’s leaders by detaching a naval vessel to the region.

We believe that public statements are better understood as political acts designed to mobilize domestic opinion and communicate to potential adversaries that there is sufficient popular support to follow through on promises to defend a security partner. Indeed, mobilizing domestic political support within an alliance during a crisis is critical to the success of deterrence threats, and emphasizing formal security commitments is, in part, intended as a guardrail against shifting domestic foreign policy preferences.

So, does this communication strategy work? The answer is unclear. Foreign policy research has traditionally focused on the degree to which formal alliances shape the expectations of external audiences—allies and adversaries—in the lead-up to conflict. Interestingly, recent scholarship has demonstrated that international law sometimes also works in the opposite direction; it can shape domestic attitudes about conflict behavior.

For example, there is evidence that the public is less likely to support military action when it violates explicit legal commitments to protect human rights. This result extends to the broader obligation that governments should attempt to protect civilians during conflict.  However, because the primary focus of existing research is on human rights law that emphasizes moral obligations to others, this scholarship might not extend to self-interested national security concerns.

To answer this question directly, we conducted a novel survey experiment on a representative sample in the United States. We presented respondents with a narrative describing a military crisis on the Korean peninsula. Half of our respondents received a cue about the American mutual defense treaty with South Korea. The other half of our respondent pool did not receive this treatment. Subjects were then asked (1) whether they would support the use of U.S. combat troops in defense of South Korea, (2) how many U.S. military casualties they would be willing to accept, and (3) how many North Korean civilian casualties they would tolerate.

In a second wave, respondents received a stronger and more detailed experimental treatment that included information about the specific content of the U.S.-South Korean defense agreement. In addition, our experiment included several questions designed to evaluate the causal mechanisms by which defense treaties might potentially influence public support for military action.

Our research produced several interesting findings. First, emphasizing the defense treaty between Washington and Seoul increased support for military action on behalf of South Korea. However, the magnitude of this effect depends on the specificity of the information provided. Merely noting the fact of a prior commitment only affects attitudes of self-declared Independents. Democrats and Republicans, by contrast, were initially less responsive to our subtle priming on the U.S-Korean defense agreement. However, once individuals receive more detailed information describing the specific legal nature of the treaty – modeled on the kind of statements by American officials noted above – the gap between Independents and partisans largely disappears.

Second, we find that the reason defense treaties increase support for military action is that they elicit a belief that the United States is morally obligated to defend its ally and that backing down damages America’s international reputation. Third, formal alliances increase public “casualty tolerance.” Individuals in our treatment groups were both more tolerant of U.S. military deaths and more willing to accept North Korean civilian casualties than other respondents in the study. Interestingly, the subtle prime only influenced casualty tolerance among strong conservatives. However, again, as subjects received information about the specific legal nature of the U.S. obligation the gap between strong conservatives and others largely disappeared.

So, is framing conflict decisions around prior security commitments an effective way to shape public perceptions about conflict? The results reported here suggest that it is. Highlighting an existing promise to defend allies increases public willingness and resolve for military action. We find that this effect is not uniform across individuals and that support for military action and casualty tolerance increases as people receive more specificity about their country’s obligation.

These results demonstrate that security commitments, in addition to shaping the expectations and incentives of external actors, also contour the domestic political incentives for foreign policy action. This is, in part, why pollical leaders take such great pains to detail the nature of their country’s defense obligations to domestic audiences, even as they are communicating directly with allies and potential adversaries. Taken as a whole, these findings reveal a nuanced set of relationships between security commitments and individual-level attitudes about conflict and, as a result, generate new insights into the conditions under which leaders can use existing security agreements to mobilize the public.

Jeffrey D. Berejikian is a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, and Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs. Florian Justwan is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Idaho. They are the authors of “Defense treaties increase domestic support for military action and casualty tolerance: Evidence from survey experiments in the United States”, Contemporary Security Policy, available here.


The Paradox of the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is often labelled as a cornerstone of non-proliferation and one of the main factors curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. In a recent article, however, Orion Noda argues that the NPT is a nuclear proliferator; not of nuclear weapons per se, but of their symbolic value. 

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is often labelled as a cornerstone of non-proliferation and one of the main factors curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. Its pillars – non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology – were designed by the nuclear powers to counter a perceived immediate threat at the time (nuclear proliferation), whilst promising to disarm in good time.

I argue, however, that the NPT is a nuclear proliferator; not of nuclear weapons per se, but of their symbolic value. Drawing from different fields, such as Anthropology, Linguistics, and International Relations, I suggest a theoretical model to study nuclear weapons and the NPT focused on symbolism and I reach two major conclusions.

Firstly, despite the shrinking nuclear arsenals, we are no closer to “general and complete disarmament” – one of the goals of the NPT. The treaty focuses exclusively on quantitative forms of nuclear proliferation, that is, how many nuclear devices a given state has. In that sense, the NPT overlooks a series of proliferation forms, such as qualitative and, more importantly, symbolic. Qualitative proliferation is linked to the modernization of nuclear arsenals or delivery vehicles, for instance. What I call symbolic proliferation, on the other hand, relates to the proliferation of the symbolic values of nuclear weapons. These values are often connected to ideas of power, status, prestige, modernity, and civilization. In that sense, nuclear weapons evoke and symbolize these ideas, making them valued items.

Secondly, the NPT not only fails to account for non-quantitative forms of nuclear proliferation, but also acts as a proliferator of these symbolic values of nuclear weapons. The way this works is through two mechanisms: historical and conceptual entrapment. Historical entrapment relates to the fact that the values and idea of nuclear weapons contained in the NPT was that of that specific point in time when the NPT was being negotiated. The NPT was negotiated in the 1960s, during a time when the symbolic perceptions of nuclear weapons were strongly associated with positive features, not only material (such as their unparalleled destructive power), but also subjective (such as status and prestige). In that sense, the idea of nuclear weapons brought into the NPT was that of the 1960s, an idea and a set of values unchanged until today, given the few alterations the treaty suffered.

Conceptual entrapment, on the other hand, alludes to how the NPT funnels most – if not all – discussions on the topic of non-proliferation and disarmament and, as a consequence of the historical entrapment, the NPT proliferates the values of nuclear weapons it carries within. In other words, given that the NPT embodies a specific set of Cold War-era values of nuclear weapons and the centrality of the NPT (the ‘cornerstone’ of the non-proliferation regime), most of the discussions on the topic, which goes through the NPT, are tainted with the NPT’s interpretation, perception, idea, and values of nuclear weapons.

In that sense, the NPT has, so far, failed to fulfill its promise of more than 50 years ago. There are some who argue that we should probably abandon the NPT, whilst some argue that the NPT is a stalwart of non-proliferation. In the middle, there are those who argue that although the NPT has major flaws, we would not be better off without it.

In my new article, I have shown that the NPT, in fact, has not done everything it was supposed to do: whilst the curbing of the spread of nuclear weapons may be counted as a positive NPT influence, disarmament cannot, despite the decreasing numbers. In order for the NPT to survive and function properly, it must broaden its definition of proliferation beyond the quantitative realm and, more importantly, acknowledge and reverse its position of symbolic proliferator by engaging with the debate on the immaterial values (or lack thereof) of nuclear weapons.

Orion Noda is with the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, London, and the International Relations Institute, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. He is the author of “A wolf in sheep’s clothing? The NPT and symbolic proliferation”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here.

Externalizing EU Crisis Management: The EU, OSCE and Ukraine

After years of progressive enhancement of EU crisis management capacities, the Lisbon Treaty should have turned the EU into a more efficient global crisis manager. Yet Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré finds, in a new article, that the EU has relied on third parties to achieve its crisis management objectives, essentially externalizing its activities to actors over which it has no control.

The past decade offers both well-known and lesser-known examples of such externalization across different crisis management areas. Among other cases, the EU’s recruited and supported civil society organizations to promote human rights and democracy in the Middle East and in Northern Africa after the Arab Uprisings; it enlisted the Libyan coastguard and Turkey to manage migratory flows across the Mediterranean; and it relied on the OECD to improve public governance and support socio-economic development in the Western Balkans’ process of democratic transition. Hence, the question arises: Why and how does the EU outsource its security?

Through the lenses of the orchestration model, my recent article addresses this question by examining the EU relationship with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during the Ukrainian crisis. Not only the EU had deployed several CSDP missions in the eastern neighbourhood already before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, but the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the ensuing destabilisation of Ukraine were perceived as the most dangerous predicaments in post-Lisbon European security.

For sure, as this crisis unfolded, the EU devised a series of measures aimed at supporting Ukraine politically and economically. At the same time, while the EU sought to compel Russia to solve its conflict with Ukraine trough sanctions, it attempted to soft balance its position in Ukraine by boosting the resilience of the Ukrainian security sector through the civilian CSDP mission ‘EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine’. Still, to challenge Russia directly and confront Ukrainian separatists and Russian troops, the EU enlisted a third party over which it had no formal control: the OSCE.

My new article argues that the combination between the capability deficiencies across policy issues pertaining to EU crisis management activities and the OSCE’s capabilities determined the EU enlistment of the OSCE. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, EU member states favoured an approach that would avoid direct confrontation with Russia, particularly in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops and military equipment had been deployed.

Since the mobilization of EU military and civilian crisis management capabilities largely depends on member states’ unanimous consent and on their willingness’ to coordinate their resources on specific issues, the EU essentially lacked the operational capabilities to confront Russia directly. On the external level, in turn, EU lacked both the competence and the reputation for an acceptable intervention in the conflict. Addressing Ukraine’s destabilisation through NATO was not an option either. Not only Ukraine was not a member of the Atlantic Alliance, but NATO’s expansion was considered by many among the causes of the crisis.

Against this backdrop, OSCE’s regulatory competence over Moscow’s behaviour in Ukraine and its reputation vis-à-vis Russia were crucial in the EU’s decision to enlist this international organization. In fact, the OSCE was the only organisation within the European security architecture that could confront Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine directly. Since both Russia and Ukraine are participating states in this organisation, the OSCE had rights of implementation and enforcement over Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. Furthermore, the OSCE had a reputation for being an actor committed to ensuring cooperation between East and West.

The article’s findings have relevant implications for EU role as a conflict manager in international politics. Certainly, international organizations experience the absence of competence and/or reputation on a regular basis. Even if the EU had the competence and reputation to challenge Russia directly in the Ukrainian crisis, however, it would have not had the opportunity to mobilize the military and civilian capabilities needed to do this because of member states’ unwillingness to get directly involved in the conflict.

One could argue in this regard that decision-making stalemates and lack of political will to coordinate decentralized resources are typical of consensus based international organizations. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of a large part of the EU’s crisis management capabilities to member states’ contingent strategic preferences inevitably casts a shadow on the Lisbon Treaty’s attempts to boost the pooling of member states’ decentralized resources in the security domain.

The Ukrainian case demonstrates that orchestration has emerged as a crucial governance arrangement for the functioning of EU crisis management post-Lisbon. This governance arrangement can promote solutions to deal with contingent capability deficiencies which may mar different EU crisis management areas. In the case of Ukraine, outsourcing part of EU crisis management activities to the OSCE was not only necessary, but also appropriate given that the EU was perceived as being directly part of the conflict. Nonetheless, the EU’s adoption of orchestration to externalise its foreign policy activities raises serious questions about the EU’s overall capacity to act as a security provider through its crisis management activities.

For sure, the EU has enough ideational and material resources to guide and support third actors in addressing major security threats in its neighbourhood. In the long term, however, enrolling third parties cannot replace the lack of centralised operational capabilities at the EU level to respond to external conflicts and crises. Given the EU’s lack of control over its intermediaries, in fact, orchestration cannot be considered as a panacea for its structural deficiencies. This is especially so in policy sectors where the EU has so far mostly relied on member states’ voluntary coordination of their resources rather than on capacity-building, namely the CSDP’s military and civilian management; and the common foreign and security policy’s sanctioning power. Indeed, at a time when the West’s liberal values are being increasingly contested and hard security concerns have come back into the spotlight, the EU cannot afford to renounce to such crisis management tools.

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (EUI) and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at LUISS and a research associate at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). Her twitter account is @mariagiuliaama. She’s the author of “Externalizing EU Crisis Management: EU Orchestration of the OSCE during the Ukrainian crisis”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.