A primer on geo-economics

Geo-economics seminar
We in the editorial department have to admit we weren’t entirely sure what we were getting when the institute announced its ‘geo-economics’ and strategy programme in 2011. Nearly ten months on, we’re more familiar with the concept. However, we were still happy to see an in-depth explanation of, and introduction to, geo-economics preface the latest IISS seminar on the subject.

As programme director Dr Sanjaya Baru explained, geo-economics may be defined in two different ways: the geopolitical consequences of economic phenomenon, or conversely, as the economic consequences of geopolitical trends and national power. Both interpretations held sway during our seminar ‘A New Era of Geo-economics: Assessing the Interplay of Economic and Political Risk’, which examined the subject from several angles.

Oxford University’s Linda Yueh discussed China’s growing global influence, as it increases its outward foreign investment as its firms ‘go global’. Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, looked at how difficult it is to accurately measure ‘strategic influence’ – and how economists need to take greater account of psychology, while military strategists should not under-estimate the importance of economics.

Dr Andrew Erdmann, from McKinsey, provided general advice  on interpreting economic and political risk – and the interplay between the two. Meanwhile, renowned economist Robert Skidelsky examined the scenarios facing the global economy after the financial crisis of 2008, arguing that ‘the achievement of peace and prosperity requires more government, not less’.

Even if we say do so ourselves, the seminar papers together provide a great overview of the field. Read them here.

Bosnia knocks again on Europe’s door

Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija at the IISS, 28 March 2012

Two decades after the start of the Bosnian war, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija says his government wants Bosnia to join NATO and the European Union as a way of assisting the country’s economic and social cohesion. Speaking at the IISS almost 20 years to the day the siege of Sarajevo began, Lagumdzija said that the Dayton Agreement that ended the inter-ethnic war in 1995 had left Bosnia with an incomplete peace and a complicated political system.

However, with a new central government finally in place after months of stalemate, Lagumdzija said Bosnia wanted to get ‘upgraded from cargo to economy’ by entering NATO’s Membership Action Plan at the military alliance’s summit in Chicago this May. This would be with a view to full membership in 2014.

Lagumdzija said his government would also do everything within its power to lodge Bosnia’s application for EU membership by the end of June.

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Syria peace plan suits Assad’s strategy

President Bashar al-Assad in Homs. Photo SANA

There’s a spot-on quote on Syria from Emile Hokayem, our Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, in Time today. Hokayem has long highlighted the problematic splits in the Syrian opposition. Now he tells Time that President Bashar al-Assad, for his part, is playing a masterful game. Assad’s tour of Homs on Tuesday (pictured), and his supposed acceptance of special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace deal matches the president’s ‘three-leg strategy’. The messages Assad wants to send are clear, Hokayem says: that his military strategy worked; that he makes reforms on his terms; and that he can accept Annan’s plan to please his allies ‘and give them some room’.

You can also read more of Hokayem’s thoughts in his recent Survival article, Syria and its neighbours.

Oil at heart of Falklands dispute

UK military assets in the Falklands region

Argentina has been turning up the heat on its simmering row with the UK over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, as the 30th anniversary of the war approaches. In an effort to force the UK to the negotiating table, Cristina Kirchner’s government has persuaded its increasingly powerful Latin American neighbours to speak out in its favour and put pressure on domestic companies to cut off UK trade links. Even Hollywood actor Sean Penn has weighed in. But as the latest Strategic Comment explains, spurring on the dispute are the significant oil reserves that are thought to lie beneath the waters surrounding the islands.

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The US in the Arctic: policy not strategy

Members of the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station clear ice from the hatch of the attack submarine USS Annapolis (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones/Released)

The United States doesn’t so much have a strategy in the Arctic as simple policies on the region – as Washington has not yet undertaken a comprehensive assessment of national interests and capabilities in the High North. This was one of the messages to emerge from a talk at the IISS last week by Sherri Goodman, General Counsel of CNA and Executive Director of CNA’s Military Advisory Board.

Goodman pointed out that the most recent relevant policy of note was the 2009 Arctic Roadmap, jointly developed by the US navy and coastguard. The roadmap’s goal was to ensure naval readiness and capability, and to promote maritime security in the Arctic. Key elements included increasing operational experience, promoting partnerships and improving environmental understanding.

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What Seoul can and can’t achieve

Nuclear Security Summit, Washington 2010. Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

By Jasper Pandza, Research Analyst, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

‘Beyond Security, Towards Peace’: the official slogan of next week’s Nuclear Security Summit is plastered around Seoul. And as South Korea prepares to host the largest gathering of world leaders on its soil, hopes are high for significant agreements aimed at protecting nuclear materials, including preventing them from falling into the hands of terrorists.

However, the summit is already being overshadowed by North Korea’s planned satellite launch next month. Furthermore, while the agenda will include measures to better protect nuclear weapons-grade materials and nuclear facilities – as well as to prevent the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials – a weak international governance framework makes it virtually impossible for summits like these to effectively eliminate the nuclear-security threat.

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The power of partnerships

Ban Ki-moon takes questions after the inaugural Fullerton Lecture. Photo IISS/Sam Toh

By Tim Huxley, Executive Director, IISS-Asia

A satellite launch planned for next month by North Korea, developments in Myanmar and the increasingly urgent need to find a solution to the conflict in Syria were among the themes touched on by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the inaugural IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore. The speech focused on ‘Securing our Future: Singapore, the Region and Beyond’, and Ban said he was ‘very troubled, very deeply concerned’ by the DPRK’s intention to launch a satellite on 15 April, the hundredth anniversary of the birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung.

‘Security Council resolutions clearly prohibit the launch of any satellite using ballistic-missile technology,’ he said, briefly departing from his text to add that the launch would be a clear violation of UNSC resolution 1874 in particular. The Secretary-General had spoken to Chinese, American and Russian leaders and ‘urged them to exercise their influence to persuade the DPRK to reconsider its decision’. He said he would further discuss the situation while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul next week.

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Iran can be stopped

Iran's Sajjil missile. Photo Fars News Agency/Vahi Reza AlaeiOur prolific director of non-proliferation – or ‘the Great Fitzpatrick‘ as some others call him – has the cover story in the latest issue of the British current affairs magazine, Prospect. In the article, which draws on and updates both the strategic dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities that he edited last year, and 2010’s Iran missile dossier, he argues that sanctions and the threat of military action may dissuade Tehran from building a bomb.

‘It is not inevitable’, he writes, ‘that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons. Nor is a military strike by Israel or the United States the only alternative. Such worst-case assumptions could could lead to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time possibly lasting a decade or more.’ See the article at Prospect.

Bombings rise sharply in Iraq

Bomb attacks in Iraq. Figures from IISS-US researchBy Becca Wasser, Program Officer and Research Analyst, IISS-US

A series of coordinated bomb attacks shook Iraq yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of the US-led invasion and just days before the Arab League summit, scheduled for 27-29 March. The blasts bore all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which soon claimed responsibility, saying that it had wished to derail the ‘meeting of Arab tyrants in Baghdad‘. Parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi had already blamed the terrorists for wanting to keep Iraq ‘feeling the effects of violence and destruction’.

The latest bombings – in Kirkuk, Karbala, Samarra, Baghdad and other cities – are part of an upsurge in violence following the withdrawal of US troops on 18 December 2011. In the first three months since troops left (to 18 March 2012) there were 204 bombings – a 70% increase on the same period last year. With no more real US military targets in the country, the spike necessarily means that Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence has increased, and illustrates the need for a strengthened local security force.

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Asia’s Syria Shame

Graffiti in Idlib. Photo: Freedom House via a Creative Commons Licence

While the Western world has been vocal in its objections to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of dissidents, most Asian governments have remained eerily silent on the matter. Writing in The Diplomat, IISS Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asian Security Affairs Dr Chung Min Lee argues that now is the time for Asian governments to put aside their policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others. ‘If Asia’s rise is going to be about more than accelerated economic growth and vested commercial interests, it’s time that Asian governments spoke out forcefully against the brutal genocide in Syria and in support of the yearning for freedom and democracy worldwide,’ he argues.

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