Jamal Khashoggi: why stating the truth is getting a lot of journalists killed

By Chris Paterson, University of Leeds

It took a while for obituaries to start appearing for murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and there is still some uncertainty over the manner of his death. Turkish authorities are so far declining to release either sound or video of the assassination – both of which they are alleged to possess.

But as the wrangling continues, it is worth stepping back for a longer view of why this state murder of a journalist is important. More than 230 media workers have been killed around the world over the past three years and, according to press freedom organisations, in many cases there was clear state involvement.

Interestingly, given its strident calls for justice in Khashoggi’s case, one of the worst regimes in terms of freedom of the press at the moment is Turkey – which Reporters without Borders labels the “world’s biggest prison for professional journalists”.

Some are saying that Khashoggi’s murder marks the end of rules-based global order. Maybe that’s because it suggests authoritarian leaders can silence their critics with impunity. And when the US president quite clearly privileges trade over human rights – as he appeared to do initially with Khashoggi – it should be deeply worrying for anyone concerned about press freedom and political accountability.

According to the latest reports, Trump now seems to accept the involvement of the Saudi leadership. But there is little evidence of concern for free expression. Instead, he has complained about the quality of the cover-up, and expressed disappointment at the publicity rather than the killing, saying: “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.”

At around the same time that the Khashoggi story was gathering pace, the US president showed what he thinks of journalists with whom he doesn’t see eye to eye, when he took time out during a rally in Montana to praise the local Republican senator, Greg Gianforte – who is up for re-election in November – for assaulting Guardian journalist Ben Jacobs in 2017.


Both Khashoggi and Jacobs remind us that the problem of suppressing free expression through violence toward the media is widespread and increasing – and certain nations who pay lip service to the notion of press freedom have enabled an environment of state impunity for attacks on media workers.

Death in Belgrade

In April 2019 a momentous 20-year anniversary will pass with little notice – an anniversary which, to my mind, marks the more realistic start of the end of global order. It marked the moment that the US, supposedly the dominant defender of global press freedom, switched – in an explosive instant – to become a press predator.


Ruins of the RTS in Belgrade which was bombed by NATO aircraft in 1999.
WhiteWriter via Flickr., CC BY-SA


This was the destruction in 1999, by US-led NATO forces, of the Serbian public broadcaster in Belgrade, resulting in the murder of 16 civilian media workers who shared the misfortune of being on the wrong night shift. A NATO spokesman said the next day they had be bombed because the US and its NATO partners did not approve of “their version of the news”.

It was the first shot in a decade-long US campaign of violence against media workers resulting in at least 46 media deaths, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan between 1999 and 2007 – a period documented in my 2014 book War Reporters Under Threat: The United States and Media Freedom. The US is culpable of further injuries and detentions of journalists and other media workers in this period along with increasing harassment and surveillance of journalists since, at home and abroad.

My research analysed 12 cases of US military attacks on media facilities resulting in 20 deaths and 26 further media worker deaths linked to US government employees (but not part of an attack on a specific media facility). Most of those were shootings of journalists as they reported, and many received little public attention. As with the 2003 shelling of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad where international journalists were staying, in which three media workers were killed, there may not have been a deliberate plan to target media workers. But I believe there was certainly negligence by the US government – and likely violations of international law in every case.

And, despite determined efforts by the relatives of murdered journalists, press freedom advocates and, occasionally, from the governments of other states – including Italy and Spain – whose citizens had been killed, the US has enjoyed utter impunity for those deaths. This has effectively provided a blank cheque to governments everywhere by making clear that attacks on the press will not be challenged or punished if the US has anything to do with it.

Only once has the murder of a journalist by a close ally of the US in the Middle East been investigated and declared unlawful, when an inquest into the death of British journalist James Miller concluded he had been murdered. To date, nobody has faced prosecution for the murder.

War on reporters

Holding states to account for violence against media workers depends on robust international legal structures – and Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and recent US attacks on the mission of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court will certainly undermine these.

Journalists reporting on the US president’s unusual political rallies have been penned in and his supporters have been encouraged to taunt and threaten them). Trump’s populist condemnation of proper and necessary watchdog journalism by media organisations has set the stage for longstanding US hostility to journalism to become a new wave of state-tolerated or sanctioned anti-press violence.

As someone whose job involves preparing students for a career in journalism, I have to live with the knowledge that we’re in a new era of news, where reporters can be targeted with impunity – even with the encouragement of world leaders – for simply doing their jobs.The Conversation

Chris Paterson, Senior Lecturer in International Communication, University of Leeds

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Regional Integration in ASEAN: The Need for a Progressive Alternative

The ‘Principle of Non-Interference’, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ anachronistic view on state sovereignty, is the leading obstacle blocking deeper progress in the region. It also serves as a smokescreen that enables rampant human rights violations to surface. A radical overhaul of this union is long overdue – and it must come from the people themselves.

The European Union (EU) and the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are two of the world’s foremost regional integration projects. And while the EU can brag that theirs is a bloc based on values – the promotion of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, protection of minorities, etc. (a debatable issue in itself, especially in the current political environment) – the same cannot be said for ASEAN, despite having similar paper instruments that prove otherwise.

With its foundation in 1967, ASEAN could have mirrored the EU as a regional organization advancing the collective peace and stability among its member states. But the realities of the Cold War in the subsequent years were a real hindrance to such a development and it was only until the early 21st century did the bloc take steps in launching the ASEAN Charter, a landmark document with the genuine intent to set up an EU-like institutional framework as well as spearheading a more liberal political discourse.

Nevertheless, all ten of its member states have been accused of grave violations of the ASEAN Charter’s provisions on upholding international law with regards to human rights. In a 2017 Rappler article citing Human Rights Watch (HRW), it was reported that “by just about every measure – freedom of expression and peaceful protest, religious tolerance, non-interference in civil society, respect for democratic principles, fair treatment of refugees and migrants – the region is falling deeper into dictatorship, repression, and rights abuse.”

Assessing Southeast Asia’s Dismal Human Rights Record and Democratic Erosion

Whether it’s Brunei’s strict imposition of sharia law, the Cambodian prime minister’s continuing concentration of power, extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, the military junta in Thailand, Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against the Rohingya, Indonesia’s failure towards a genuine democratic transition since the end of the Suharto era, the Laotian and Vietnamese Communist governments’ continuing crackdown on oppositional voices as well as Malaysia’s and Singapore’s hostile policies against dissent, Southeast Asian countries find themselves distanced from the promises of an instrument of regional solidarity.

ASEAN’s “deafening silence” regarding human rights violations is rooted in one of the foundational principles of the regional organization, namely the principle of non-interference. This principle, according to HRW, basically acts as a “de facto code of silence,” which subsequently leads to inaction and helplessness within the bloc when it comes to rampant rights violations.

Although the creation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in 2009 and the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012 were deemed as milestones, HRW regarded the subsequent developments as a failure by stressing the “lack of meaningful and substantive human rights policy or actions in its 50-year history.”

For one, the AICHR has no competence whatsoever to enforce human rights statutes and its mandate is merely a consultative one in which its operation is done through consensus among the ten representatives of the bloc’s member states, who at the same time enjoy veto rights.

Despite these obstacles, ASEAN has still been reported to become the next EU, at least according to certain government officials and those working on the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Doubts exist as to its path of achieving it, even with the AEC’s establishment of a single market, considering the challenges posed by economic integration of countries with hugely distinct stages of development and social systems and different political histories that are often mired by corruption and mistrust.

Therefore, it is to be expected that its desire to make the best out of this economic project might be overshadowed by its inefficiency, in particular when it comes to issues regarding the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy.

Civil society organizations advocating for better social protection measures and more democratic participation in the political sphere around the region have criticized the AEC as doing the opposite, instead exposing it to become a neoliberal and elite-driven project that creates more inequality and marginalizes the socially weak by prioritizing the pursuit of policies such as market liberalization and deregulation at the expense of popular welfare.

With the intention of boosting liberal economic integration initiatives through blueprints that would be implemented in the subsequent years, the AEC was seen to be a move by ASEAN to have a more effective impact on its citizens‘ lives. But critics such as Walden Bello have pointed out its flaws and move in the wrong direction; ASEAN has merely been an abstract entity distant from the ordinary people of Southeast Asia.

The current conjuncture reflects a lack of political will from national governments to pursue a more reformist agenda that would overcome the bloc’s weak institutional instruments as it contradicts the interests of member states whose rights records are also diminishing. The longer this continues, the more critical it is that these issues mandate collective action and coordination at the regional level.

And here is where the EU can take a more genuine stance and where it can strengthen its comprehensive approach to foreign policy. So far, it has not produced any efficient policy on shaping reform initiatives whatsoever. Despite the European Commission’s statements of successes in promoting EU values abroad, the realities produced offer nothing but lip service. This is articulated in some reports that have emerged regarding the EU’s continuing failure to promote its “values” in the Global South.

The EU’s mandate in global affairs is to advance the foundational values that it pledged to uphold when the Union was created, which meant the consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedoms and the respect for international law. Yet the EU’s insufficient action in addressing the humanitarian crises currently plaguing ASEAN states is an alarming development for the Union’s foreign policy.

Empowering the Grassroots towards People-Centred Regionalism

The EU must indeed take a brave step, considering the bloc’s leading role as a supranational union with unprecedented competences that can shape nation-state policies as well as foreign affairs. If it cannot persuade governments to change, then it must start to engage with civil society actors and grassroots movements and help them collectively pave the way towards a reformist and people-centred regional integration.

But one huge challenge to all this remains to be the fact that ASEAN member states are continuingly resisting any input and engagement coming from their respective civil societies. Concerns that have been consistently raised by these actors in their engagement with ASEAN governments include diminishing democracies that sustain a deficit of popular participation in decision-making processes within the bloc as well as weak social protections and access to justice against human rights violations and rogue regimes.

Paving the path towards an alternative regional integration model would mean establishing alternative regional structures; structures that, as Eduardo Tadem argues, “offers an alternative to the existing ASEAN process, one that is based on people-to-people interactions rather than state-to-state relations or purely market-oriented interactions.”

This view is not only shared by civil societies in the Southeast Asian region, but also by the European Parliament (EP) and its networks. A 2017 paper by the EP’s Directorate-General for External Policies emphasized the imperative to promote “people to people relations” by “democratizing regional governance and involving civil society in the decision-making process” as means to gain the credibility of becoming a legitimate regional union.

The EP also reiterated the need for EU and ASEAN to adhere to their mutual principle of safeguarding fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in their respective foundational documents as well as in bilateral agreements ratified by both unions, which has proven to be a challenge when implemented. This trend all the more supports the ideas of an enhanced engagement with non-state actors and a more dedicated and consistent dialogue with member states regarding these issues.

It is understandable that lecturing governments would lead to an unproductive relationship and further alienate state partners, but the EU should affirm existing alternatives towards promoting fundamental principles they hold sacrosanct and universal. ASEAN’s core value of non-interference should be condemned. Paying lip service to the bloc and to the individual member states would be deemed as an unproductive move and a missed opportunity for Europe to prove itself a responsible and capable global actor.

Recognizing the essence of NGO-led congresses and conferences is one way to enhance a committed engagement toward change. For instance, the 2017 ASEAN Civil Society Conference and the ASEAN Peoples’ Forum, which gathered various progressive political movements and civil society organizations as a counter pole to a number of official ASEAN summits last year. A rally held in Manila at the 50th anniversary of the bloc in August called for an alternative regional integration that must be undertaken and stressed the importance of social protections that affirm every individual’s right to live with dignity.

In a collective call, they demanded structural changes to realize a socially sustainable ASEAN, emphasizing on addressing “democratic participation, gender equality, and protection and promotion of rights of workers and vulnerable groups.” They also called for making binding existing regional documents and treaties that have a social dimension.

These structural changes can only happen when the grassroots succeed in pressuring dominating state powers into realizing them, as well as ensuring that national and regional institutions are to be advanced and be given the competence to implement and enforce provisions that underline fundamental human rights, socioeconomic protections and progressive ideals. Only through such a radical reorientation of the existing system can a case for an alternative regional integration be made.


Featured image: ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples‘ Forum Rally in Manila – Creator: Eduardo C. Tadem – This image is licensed under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

„Strategie neu denken: Ist Strategie lehrbar? Struktur und Inhalte eines Lehrgegenstandes Strategisches Denken“ – Wiener Strategiekonferenz 2017

Zum zweiten Mal fand diesen Juni die Wiener Strategiekonferenz statt, organisiert von der Österreichischen Militärischen Zeitschrift (ÖMZ) und der European Military Press Association (EMPA) in Kooperation mit dem Zentrum für menschenorientierte Führung und Wehrpolitik (ZMFW). Der Erfolg der letztjährigen Konferenz veranlasste den Organisator Brigadier MMag. Dr. Wolfgang Peischel, Chefredakteur der ÖMZ, dazu, wieder hochkarätige MilitärexpertInnen aus Praxis und Wissenschaft zum Austausch an die Landesverteidigungsakademie in der Wiener Stiftskaserne zu laden.


Dieser Konferenz vorgestaffelt war der 36. Kulturwissenschaftliche Dialog zum Thema „Kognitionswissenschaften und Strategisches Denken”. In dessen Rahmen wurde u.a. kritisch reflektiert, wie Erfahrungen und Kategoriensysteme, sprachliche Tabus oder falsche Grundannahmen unsere Wahrnehmung beeinflussen, und wie man Kognitionswissenschaft und Phänomenologie nutzen kann, um dem entgegenzusteuern.


Eine Vielfalt an Disziplinen und Vortragenden


Im Zentrum der anschließenden Strategiekonferenz stand die Frage, ob Strategie lehrbar ist und – wenn ja – wie ein solcher Lehrgegenstand inhaltlich beschaffen sein soll. Im Vorfeld der Konferenz wurde zu diesem Zwecke eine Mindmap kreiert, welche die fachlichen Zusammenhänge zwischen dem Kernfach Strategie und anderen Wissenschaftsdisziplinen skizziert. Diese Mindmap zeigt ein äußerst interdisziplinäres Bild, welches auch die Struktur der Konferenz vorgab: Zahlreiche Panels untersuchten die Schnittstellen zwischen Strategie und den Feldern der Internationalen Politik, Geowissenschaften, Medienwissenschaften, Medizin, Biologie, Geschichtswissenschaften, technischen Wissenschaften, Religions- und Kulturwissenschaften sowie der Philosophie. Die Bereiche Militärwissenschaft, Militärphilosophie und Strategiegeschichte wurden durch zusätzliche Vorträge abgedeckt. Außerdem wurden Länderstudien (Schweden, Finnland, USA, Russland) vorgetragen, und wie auch letztes Jahr waren die Ideen des preußischen Generals Carl von Clausewitz ein ständiger Begleiter.


Die Vortragenden, deren Anzahl sich im Vergleich zum letzten Jahr quasi verdoppelt hat, waren in erster Linie Militärs mit universitärer Ausbildung, die Erfahrungen aus ihrer Karriere anhand theoretischer Konzepte aufarbeiteten. Auch die Anzahl ziviler ForscherInnen, ebenso wie jene der weiblichen Vortragenden stieg im Vergleich zur letztjährigen Konferenz.


Zu den spannendsten Erkenntnissen der Konferenz zählten wohl die zahlreichen Zusammenhänge zwischen dem Bereich der Strategie und den vertretenen Fachbereichen. Fühlte sich der ein oder die andere Vortragende zuvor als Exote/in, wurde ihnen durch diese Konferenz bald bewusst, wie viele Erkenntnisse ihres Fachbereichs sie mit anderen Fachbereichen und besonders dem der Strategie teilen. Im Folgenden werden ein paar Auszüge dargestellt.


Im Panel „Strategie und Technische Wissenschaften“ argumentierte Univ.-Prof. Dr. Josef Eberhardsteiner, Bauingenieur und Professor an der Technischen Universität Wien, am Beispiel Holz, dass man, um Verhalten verstehen zu können, es in seine Einzelteile herunterbrechen muss – ein Gedanke, der in Form einer Situationsanalyse die Basis jedes Strategieformungsprozesses beschreibt. OR Mag. Dr. Peter Sequard-Base, Physiker und Referatsleiter im Verteidigungsministerium, argumentierte, dass ein Blick auf die Naturwissenschaften für den Strategen deshalb lohnend ist, weil ihre Paradigmen langfristig in der Mitte der Gesellschaft landen. So führte beispielsweise der in der Evolutionstheorie und Quantenmechanik deutlich gewordene Umschwung vom Determinismus zur Hervorhebung der Rolle des Zufalls in den Naturwissenschaften etwas später auch in der Gesellschaft zu einem Umschwung: Ideologien mit einem deterministischen Gesellschaftsverständnis wie der Nationalsozialismus oder der Kommunismus waren von Ideen des 19. Jahrhunderts geprägt und wurden im 20. Jahrhundert von einem offeneren Denken abgelöst, welches Freiheit und Emotionalität in den Mittelpunkt stellte – sichtbar beispielsweise in der 1968er-Bewegung. Durch diesen gesellschaftlichen Umschwung weg vom deterministischen Denken nahm allerdings auch das Gefühl der Unsicherheit zu, womit Sequard-Base das Aufkommen von Umweltbewegungen oder dem Club of Rome erklärt.


Ein weiteres scheinbar fachfremdes Panel war jenes zum Thema „Strategie und Medizin/Biologie/Biotechnologie/Biogenetik“. Die Zusammenhänge zwischen den zwei Bereichen sind jedoch zahlreich und inkludieren Themen von der medizinischen Versorgung im Einsatz und der Krankheitsvorsorge für die eigene Bevölkerung, um Bevölkerungswachstum und Wehrfähigkeit aufrecht zu erhalten, über biologische Waffen hin zu Methoden des Human Enhancement. Dr. Fillippa Lentzos vom King’s College London skizzierte das bisher und vielleicht in naher Zukunft mögliche Spektrum biologischer Waffen; Dr. Annika Vergin vom Planungsamt der Bundewehr berichtete über Methoden und militärischen Nutzen von Human Enhancement (Leistungssteigerung über das Natürliche hinaus); Prof. Dr. Harald Harbich, Oberstarzt beim Bundesheer, sprach über den Beitrag der österreichische Militärmedizin zur Gesamtstrategie des Staates; und der Kardiologe Prof. Dr. med. Yskert von Kodolitsch stellte Überlegungen darüber an, mit welchen politischen Mitteln die Bundesregierung auf Ärzte einwirken kann, damit diese ihren Pflichten nachgehen (anstatt sich bspw. der Beeinflussung durch die Wirtschaft oder Pharmaindustrie hinzugeben). Die interessante Feststellung auf der dieser Vortrag gründete: Während Bismarck die Krankenversicherung und ärztliche Versorgung für die breite Bevölkerung im Deutschen Reich ursprünglich einführte, um Wehrpflicht und wirtschaftliche Produktion sicherzustellen – Medizin also dem staatlichen Interesse diente –, sind Finanzierung und Verantwortlichkeiten im Gesundheitssystem inzwischen zunehmend ökonomisiert und privatisiert.


Auch das Panel zum Thema Religion, Werte und Interkulturalität bewies, dass diese Themen für den Bereich der Strategie größere Bedeutung haben als vielleicht anzunehmen wäre. Das Fazit des Panels ist, dass Diversität in all ihren Formen den Rahmen für die Strategiefähigkeit eines Staates vorgibt: Wird sie nicht angemessen geregelt, kann sie die Demokratiefähigkeit oder Wehrbereitschaft und somit das Überleben des Staates gefährden. Im Heer selbst kann man sich Diversität zunutze machen: Unterschiedliche Herkunft, Positionen und Wissensschätze vergrößern das Erfahrungs- und Wahrnehmungsspektrum und ermöglichen somit eine bessere Beurteilung und Analysefähigkeit von Spannungen und Konflikten, besonders im Ausland.


Andere Panels waren durchaus näher am Kernfach Strategie, konnten aber dennoch durch ihre innere Vielfalt bestechen. Im Rahmen des Panels „Strategie und internationale Organisationen/Internationale Politik“  referierte Dr. Sarah Kirchberger von der Universität Kiel über Chinas Geopolitik, GenMjr. Wolfgang Wosolsobe, ehemaliger Chef des EU-Militärstabs, über die Rolle internationaler Organisationen im strategischen Denken, Obst d.G. Mag. Franz Löschnigg über die Militärdiplomatie als gewaltloses Werkzeug der Strategie und Tim Rohardt M.A., Politikwissenschaftler an der Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin, wandte theoretische Konzepte der Kopenhagener Schule auf Sprechakte internationaler Organisationen an. Am Panel „Strategie und Medien/Strategische Kommunikation“ wurde die Rolle der Medien vom Kommunikationsmittel bis zur Waffe thematisiert. Obst a. D. Friedrich Jeschonnek wies darauf hin, dass die Bedeutung der Medien als Waffe besonders zugenommen hat, seitdem der Einsatz militärischer Mittel geächtet wird. Mag. Mikko Harjulehto, Abteilung Öffentlichkeitsarbeit im finnischen Generalstab, ergänzte, dass selbst wenn man auf Social-Media-Plattformen (Gegen-)Kampagnen führen wollte, sich die Frage stellt, ob wir die Dynamiken dieser Kanäle überhaupt genau genug verstanden haben. Thematisiert wurde auch die Medienstrategie des Heeres, zu der Jeschonnek anmerkte, dass diese besonders dadurch erschwert wird, dass eine Militärstrategie und besonders ihre Durchführung notwendigerweise der Geheimhaltung unterliegen. Die Arbeitsgruppe „Strategische Kultur“ diskutierte nach kurzen inhaltlichen Inputs die Frage, ob Österreich eine strategische Kultur besäße. Der kleinere Rahmen dieser Gruppe ermöglichte eine breite Diskussion zwischen allen Teilnehmenden und somit einen Einblick in verschiedene Perspektiven. Im Panel „Strategie im Österreichischen Bundesheer“ wurde anhand des Strategischen Führungslehrgangs und den Kursen der Landesverteidigungsakademie beispielhaft gezeigt, wie man Strategie lehren kann. Weitere Panels beschäftigten sich mit den Themen Geopolitik, Strategiegeschichte, maritime Aspekte der Strategie und Philosophie.


Paneldiskussionen wechselten sich ab mit Vorträgen, die den ExpertInnen die Möglichkeit gaben, tiefer in die Materie einzudringen. GenMjr a.D. Christian Millotat und Manuela R. Krueger, u.a. Leiter und Co-Leiterin des Forum Mainz der Deutschen Atlantischen Gesellschaft, referierten in diesem Rahmen über Voraussetzungen und Charakteristika einer Gesamtstrategie mehrerer Staaten, wie sie bei multilateralen Einsätzen notwendig ist, und zogen dabei Lehren aus Erfahrungen vergangener Einsätze. DDr. Christian Stadler, Rechtsphilosoph an der Uni Wien, arbeitete sich mithilfe von Clausewitz, Kant, Platon, Hegel und Heraklit an die strategische Bedeutung von Energie heran, einer Ressource, die im Krieg sowohl strategisches Ziel, taktisches Mittel wie auch politischer Zweck sein kann und somit ein unerlässlicher Faktor in der Konfliktanalyse (Polemologie) ist. Bgdr MMag. Dr. Wolfgang Peischel feilte in seinem Vortrag am Konzept des strategischen Leaderships, dessen Aufgabe es sei, in einer Gesellschaft, in der Individualismus und Wohlstand zunehmen und somit Bedrohungsempfinden und Wehrbereitschaft abnehmen, zu kommunizieren, dass Freiheit und Sicherheit nicht selbstverständlich sind, sondern weiterhin erkämpft werden müssen. Eines der Konferenzhighlights war wohl der Vortrag des britischen Militärhistorikers Hew Strachan, der sich mit der Bedeutung von Geschichte und Geschichtswissenschaft im Bereich Strategischer Studien befasste. Strachan zufolge wurde diese Bedeutung in den 1950er- und 60er-Jahren zunehmend durch politikwissenschaftliche Ansätze verdrängt; historische Beispiele werden von AkademikerInnen heutzutage nur noch bemüht, um einen Anschein historischer Kontinuität zu erwecken, oder um als oberflächliche Fallstudien einen scheinbaren Beweis für Theorien zu liefern. Der wahre Nutzen der Geschichtswissenschaft für StrategInnen liege aber in ihrer Fähigkeit, Wandel und Veränderungen zu erklären und kreatives Denken zu fördern.


Ein Kernfach Strategie?


Wie aber steht es nach all diesen Inputs um die Beantwortung der Leitfrage? Kann man Strategie lehren? Die Vortragenden waren sich uneinig, wobei eine Mehrheit die Frage bejaht – schließlich ist für viele genau das ja ihre tagtägliche Aufgabe. Dan Shueftan, Chef des National Security Studies Center an der Universität von Haifa, gehört zu jenen, die davon nicht überzeugt sind: Seiner Meinung nach hat man entweder die Fähigkeit zu strategischem Denken oder eben nicht. Dies ist aber nicht weiter problematisch, da es zahlreiche andere Fähigkeiten gibt, die im Militär oder in der Politik gebraucht werden. Auch Karsten Schneider, Flottenadmiral und stellvertretender Leiter der Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr, gibt zu bedenken, dass es im Endeffekt nur eine beschränkte Anzahl an StrategInnen braucht, und diese konnten zusätzlich zu ihrer strategischen Grundausbildung durch ihre langjährige Laufbahn viel Erfahrung sammeln. Horst Pleiner, ehemaliger Generaltruppeninspektor im Bundesheer, meint deshalb, man solle in der Ausbildung eben jene Leute herausfiltern, die besonders zu strategischem Denken fähig sind.


Zur Frage, wie denn ein Unterricht in Strategischem Denken aussehen sollte, gibt es zahlreiche Vorschläge: GenLt retd. Robert E. Schmidle, ehemals Deputy Commandant for Aviation, gibt – indirekt der von Prof. Eberhardsteiner vorgegebenen Logik der Aufteilung in Einzelschritte folgend – drei grobe Themenkörbe vor: Analysefähigkeit, Synthesefähigkeit, die im Besonderen Kreativität beinhaltet, und Charakterstärke, womit besonders Empathie, moralischer Kompass und Tugendhaftigkeit gemeint sind. Horst Pleiner wird konkreter: Unterrichten muss man zumindest Führungsqualitäten, soziale Kompetenz, Management, strategische Planung und deren Methoden (beispielsweise Risikoanalyse und Szenariotechnik) sowie Strategiegeschichte. Ihm zufolge bräuchte es dazu entweder eine Gesamttheorie der Strategie oder eine Vertiefung der Klassiker. Dr. Tihamér Margitay, Professor an der Technischen und Wirtschaftlichen Universität Budapest, vertrat am Panel „Strategie und Philosophie“ eine andere Herangehensweise: Basierend auf dem theoretischen Konzept des „impliziten Wissens“ – jenes tief verinnerlichte und daher nicht reflektierte Wissen, das uns Routinehandlungen erlaubt – forderte er, man soll weder unterrichten, was Theorien sagen, noch was ExpertInnen sagen; stattdessen soll man studieren, wie sich ExpertInnen in den entsprechenden Situationen verhalten – ihre Routinen, Denkmodelle und Wahrnehmung.


Offen bleibt vorübergehend, wer am besten geeignet ist, Strategie unter Berücksichtigung dieser Vorstellungen zu lehren. Müssen Lehrende Allrounder sein, die von Medizin bis Philosophie jedes Gebiet beherrschen? Muss Lehre durch verschiedene ExpertInnen gemeinsam gestaltet werden? Wie packt man so viele Inhalte in ein Fach, ohne es zu überfrachten? Die diesjährige Wiener Strategiekonferenz kann diesbezüglich als Brainstorming gesehen werden, bei der Zusammenhänge ausgelotet und den Vortragenden keine gedanklichen Grenzen gesetzt wurden.


In diesem Sinne war die Multidisziplinarität zwar bereichernd, gleichzeitig aber eine enorme Herausforderung für ZuhörerInnen. Die Panelgestaltung, bei der Panelleiter selbst gerne Referate hielten, anstatt sich auf die Rolle der Moderation zu beschränken, und die Beiträge der PanelistInnen eher eigenständige Kurzreferate als sich aufeinander beziehende Statements waren, grenzte aufgrund ihrer Vielfalt und Dauer fast schon an eine Überforderung. Hätte man die Panels verstärkt entlang gemeinsam diskutierter Fragen aufgezogen, hätte dies zwar etwas Vielfalt geraubt, dafür aber eine gemeinsame Diskussion erlaubt. Diese Kritik soll aber die Erkenntnisgewinne der Konferenz nicht schmälern, sondern lediglich einen Hinweis auf Verbesserungspotentiale geben. Die Wiener Strategiekonferenz ist nach wie vor in ihrer Ausrichtung und Größe eine Besonderheit im deutschsprachigen Raum und wird auch 2018 wieder einen spannenden Rahmen für Austausch bieten.



Bericht der letztjährigen Konferenz http://www.nihiladdendum.com/2016/08/08/strategie-neu-denken-ein-konferenzbericht/
Webseite der ÖMZ  https://www.oemz-online.at/display/ZLIintranet/STARTSEITE

Programm der Konferenz https://www.oemz-online.at/display/ZLIintranet/Programm+2.+Wiener+Strategiekonferenz

Youtube-Kanal der ÖMZ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLE_PpeQBV3VHANUKFjFYag

Kashmir and the Problems of Peace

Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K


Triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani, a popular social media activist and separatist leader, protests and riots broke out in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), culminating in at least 80 civilians dead and thousands injured and arrested. According to The Indian Express, more than 280 incidents of skirmishes and shelling between Indian and Pakistani forces have been reported since the Indian army conducted “surgical” strikes against militant groups on Pakistani soil in late September.1

This course of action reflects the prevailing view of the Indian government. Based on the simple assumption that the emergence and persistence of insurgent groups depends on external support, the Indian government solely considers the insurgency in Kashmir as a Pakistani proxy war.2 Not only the Indian government, but also several academics brought forth the narrative of Afghan Mujahideen being deployed in Kashmir by the Pakistani leadership after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.

But this assessment, I argue, is not accurate. Not only does the approach of the Indian government ignore that Pakistan’s belligerence and proxies are not the product of an independent foreign policy but rather a reactive strategy to balance India’s dominance. It also forgets to take into account that the Kashmir conflict consists of multiple dimensions. In fact, since the late 1980s the problems of peace have been less driven by the inter-state rivalry between India and Pakistan than by a home-grown insurgency that also includes elements of a transnational conflict waged by groups with a broader Islamist agenda and an inter-communal conflict between Hindus and Muslims.

It is certainly true that Pakistan’s involvement has intensified and prolonged the insurgency, but the primary impetus to its outbreak was a mixture of different domestic factors. Domestic factors such as the growing political awareness of an increasingly educated youth through rising literacy levels and the spread of mass media, the failure of the Indian government to channel growing demands for political participation, the lack of democratic legitimacy, institutional decay and the centralization of power taking place in the years before finally led to the outbreak of the insurgency in the late 1980s.3


The Path to Escalation

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had granted Kashmir large-handed autonomy and limited New Delhi’s influence to foreign policy, defence and communications, at least in his early years in power. Article 370 of the Indian constitution was supposed to guarantee Kashmir a special autonomous status. Moreover, non-Kashmiris were prohibited to purchase property in J&K because the Muslim majority feared that an influx of Hindus would change Kashmiri demographics.

At this time, Kashmiri politics was dominated by the charismatic leader Sheikh Abdullah and his party, the National Conference (NC). Measured by Western standards, of course, Sheikh Abdullah was by no means democratic. However, Kashmiris tolerated his authoritarian character as it seemed as if most of the political power was in the hands of Kashmiris. Furthermore, the first free elections in 1977, in which Abdullah’s party won, were considered as a positive step in the right direction.

Facing the declining power of the Congress Party and the political center New Delhi, however, Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter and successor, eliminated this autonomy through a series of presidential orders and gradually brought local governance in J&K under central control. In 1983, Indira engineered Farooq Abdullah’s dismissal from power and replaced him with Ghulam Mohammad Shah, whose government was eventually regarded as a puppet controlled by New Delhi.

On the way to Kargil


After Indira’s assassination in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s son and political successor, followed in his mother’s footsteps and continued to bring J&K under central control. In 1986, the NC was forced to join a formal alliance with the Congress Party, by which Gandhi transformed J&K into a de-facto one-party system controlled by the center. As a result, nationalist and Islamist parties emerged and filled the political vacuum left behind by Indira’s and Rajiv’s cooptation of the NC. One of these parties was the Muslim United Front (MUF). Yet, in the 1987 elections the MUF was able to mobilize the support from large parts of dissatisfied NC voters. However, the elections turned out to be rigged after Rajiv ordered the arrest of influential opposition leaders and allowed ballot-stuffing.

These developments had far-reaching consequences. Not only did the rigged elections and the increasing control over the NC by the Congress Party lead to growing dissatisfaction about Farooq’s party but also about party politics and the Indian state more generally. With mainstream politics being unable to channel local grievances against the center, power inevitably shifted to radical right-wing Islamist groups outside the political mainstream and electoral politics.

Several leaders of the MUF now preferred the bullet over the ballot and became commanders of militant groups – the leader of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen Syed Salahuddin is only one prominent example.4 By the time the conflict escalated in the early 1990s the central government had dissolved the Kashmiri General Assembly and directly appointed a governor who now controlled the fate of Kashmir. Electoral politics was no longer prevalent and by the mid-1990s the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, a coalition of separatist groups, had become the dominant non-parliamentary opposition.

In the following years the Kashmir valley saw an unprecedented level of violence. For the central government, repression became the standard method of dealing with the insurgency, including a large-scale counterinsurgency, curfews, intimidation, beatings and rapes, arbitrary detention of suspected people, or shootings at protesters.5 But the central government’s approach led to the opposite of what it was supposed to achieve. Instead of restoring stability, the conflict escalated throughout the 1990s, resulting in a death toll of 40,000 to 100,000 casualties between 1990 and 2000.

Between 2001 and 2010, however, violence declined significantly from 2,353 battle-related deaths to 165.6 What happened was that the Indian government under PM Vajpayee acted according to a strategy quite different from the usual hardline policies of the Congress Party and emphasized national and international reconciliation. Following the nuclear tests in 1998 and the Kargil War in 1999, India and Pakistan entered a peace process that included decreasing support for separatists by the Pakistani government.

More importantly, however, the progress made in regard to electoral politics and economic development led to the decline in violence. The repressive approach of the Indian government increased the costs for the insurgency, which resulted in a growing demand among Kashmiris for a political solution over time. At the same time, New Delhi took measures to reduce the costs for non-violent means. In 1996, the Indian government re-introduced a democratic assembly in J&K. Although the elections were boycotted by the Hurriyat, the newly introduced assembly provided the incentive necessary for other parties to re-enter electoral politics.

And with the emergence of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the late 1990s, today’s ruling party in Kashmir, electoral politics became more competitive and responsive to local demands. The PDP provided a new alternative to the corrupted NC and gradually restored trust in politics and state institutions. Whereas the NC had rejected separatism at all, as dictated by the Congress Party, the newly formed PDP identified itself with the separatist cause and was able to channel separatism into mainstream politics. Moreover, the restoration of democratic procedures and the emergence of the PDP did not only restore trust in Indian state institutions but also allowed the local government to address issues such as unemployment, infrastructure or corruption, which further decreased the support for the insurgency.7

Indian Military Base in the Ladakh Region


What’s Next?

In the 2014 elections the PDP under its popular leader Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was able to win the majority of seats in the state assembly and, for the first time, formed a coalition government with the Hindu nationalist BJP, whose political support is based on the Hindu majority in the Jammu region. But the recent developments reflect the political instability within the coalition. The coalition entered its first major crisis when Chief Minister Muhammad Sayeed passed away in January this year. But Mehbooba Mufti, Sayeed’s daughter and political companion, managed to become the new Chief Minister and to preserve the coalition. Nevertheless, it seems as if the coalition ended up in a political deadlock and has remained fragile given the recent unrest and other controversial issues such as the resettlement program of the displaced Pandits or the BJP’s attempt to revoke special autonomous rights.

Whether the conflict over Kashmir will be resolved, or at least remains a “cold peace”, primarily depends on the central government in New Delhi. While it is often claimed that no deal would satisfy the Kashmiris, the truth is that there has been no serious offer for autonomy since Nehru died. It is a widespread myth that Article 370 of the Indian constitution is still intact in its original form.8 Notwithstanding the positive effects of institutions as a vehicle to channel grievances, frequent killings of stone throwing protesters and the absence of a serious offer for self-determination continue to cultivate tensions in Kashmir. New Delhi has to be convinced that decentralization is a reasonable price to pay for stability and territorial integrity.


[1]              The Indian Express (2016) BSF jawan killed, 5 others injured after Pakistan violates ceasefire in Rajouri, 22 Nov., http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/ceasefire-violation-by-pakistan-in-rajauri-indian-army-retaliates-indian-troops-responded-to-ceasefire-violation-by-pakistan4386374/

[2]           Hindustan Times, Sushil Aaron, 7 Sept. 2016,  PM Modi’s hardline Kashmir strategy suits BJP, but not India or the Valley, http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/pm-modi-s-hardline-kashmir-strategy-suits-bjp-but-not-india-or-the-valley/story-zkJdNLGMYEMafvuIkvj86O.html

[3]               Widmalm, Sten (2002) Kashmir in Comparative Perspective: Democracy and Violent Separatism in India, Routledge, New York, pp. 2.; See also Ganguly, Sumit (1996) Explaining the Kashmir Insurgency: Political Mobilization and Institutional Decay, in: International Security, Vol. 21, No. 2, Fall, pp. 76-107.

[4]           Meyerle, Gerald (2004) Conflict Escalation in Kashmir: A Study in State-Society Breakdown; in:            Virginia Review of Asian Studies.

[5]           Behera, Navnita Chadha (2006) Demystifying Kashmir, Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C., pp. 49.

[6]           Battle-related deaths include combatants and not civilians. For detailed statistics see http://ucdp.uu.se/#/statebased/792.

[7]           Chowdhary, Rekha (2015) Democratic Processes in the Context of Separatism and Political Divergence: An Analysis of 2014 Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir, in: Studies in Indian Politics, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 164-178.

[8]           Mattoo, Amitabh (2014) Understanding Article 370, in: The Hindu, 29 May, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/understanding-article-370/article5426473.ece



Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism

The question whether countries post-conflict should focus on democratization or economic performance to ensure stability has shifted dramatically in the last few decades towards the latter. At the same time these two developments still, or increasingly so, are treated as independent from each other. In the following few paragraphs I will try to point out that not only the notion of economic performance before political transition is wrong (and vice versa), but also that these two issues cannot be, and should not be treated separately.

The last three or so decades of economic development have reduced global inequalities at an in modern times unprecedented speed. It lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and in many cases prepared the ground for peaceful transitions from old national as well as international conflicts. Countries like India, Algeria, Indonesia, Turkey, the Philippines or Peru are paramount examples of such. While some of these countries still, or even increasingly so since a few years, struggle with violent extremism and political violence, global levels of civil war casualties are down and falling.

At the same time however, two disturbing trends are observable: one is the maintenance and reinforcement of old, and the eruption of new conflicts in certain geographical pockets, which too are often hit by the lack of economic development. Afghanistan, Haiti, Sudan, Syria, Libya or the Central African Republic (CAR) are cases in point. The second is the global economic slowdown, combined with decreasing public space in many, if not most countries, with high fragility for violent conflict (read as: countries prone to violent extremism).

The international community, too ostensibly increasingly ideologically divided again, seems not to be able to get a grip on any of these developments. This might have to do with the growing global influence of actors like China and Russia, who understandingly show little to no interest in promoting democracy. But that also has to do with the general misperception that violent conflicts can be solved without including a broad set of measures.

Bearing in mind that conflicts do show regional and even local differences, all of the following measures – to a varying degree – play a key role in reducing the danger of violent conflict. The first is increasing the cost of violent extremism. This is a two way approach, one includes deterring measures that keeps people from employing violent means, and the other is creating an environment, where non-violent means have lower costs.

Contrary to what one would think, states do not sufficiently employ deterring means, mainly due to the fact that they lack the capacity to do so. Take the conflict in CAR as an example: even if the government if highly repressive towards alleged or real perpetrators of extremist violence, it has no means to deter actors outside the government’s centres of power. If, on the contrary, a group of armed militias thousands of miles away from Washington DC perpetrates acts of violence (or threatens to do so) the federal government can quickly and easily send security personnel to deal with the issue.

Deterrence of violent extremism must include all forms of such (e.g. also gender based violence) and requires international support for countries like the CAR. That includes peacebuilding efforts such as police/military assistance and putting pressure on neighbouring actors to stop harbouring violent extremists jeopardizing peace (like the case for Rwanda). In addition to increasing costs of violent means, the costs of non-violent means must be reduced, which leads me to the second measure.

Cost-reduction of non-violent means, similarly to the cost-increasing ones for violent means, can take many different forms. To start with, there needs to be a presence of non-military state representation on all local levels, particularly in geographically remote areas. For fairly obvious reasons countries like Sudan cannot afford to maintain substantial civilian presences in remote areas, thus they need assistance in putting up public infrastructure of that kind.

There are many ways of doing so, but the key is robust and inclusive local and national economic development, without which it cannot be sustainable. One might agree or not agree with liberalist policies, but the creation of jobs is essential in making rebellion more costly and helping set up civil services. Think of it that way: given the options of a decently remunerated job or joining a rebellion, at least from a rational actor’s perspective, one is far more likely to choose the job. Summarized the first two measures reduce what James Fearon would call overall “feasibility” of conflict.

This, in turn, leads to the third measure, reduction of grievances: local and national governments need to take steps to reduce discrimination, most notably along horizontal lines. To reduce discrimination, a government naturally needs to be more inclusive. For instance if a member of an ethnic group or part of the group that is not in power has political grievances, the government need to set up vehicle to turn these grievances into non-violent political results. An example could be a Sunni clan from western Iraq that feels left out of the daily political process and wants to have it fair say, the central government needs to find a way to peacefully transform those issues into policy output.

To be able to reduce grievances, governments must not only pursue non-discriminatory politics, but also adhere to a certain level of the rule of law and set up institutions that have the capacity to deal with complex political, economic and social problems. One could argue that if achieving economic growth or achieving democratization would be easy, states would simply do it. It is obviously trickier than that and states often are locked in old political, social and economic structures that make larger changes close to impossible. As the last few decades have shown, political development needs to be accompanied by economic development and vice versa.

Yet success models like China seems to show that economic growth is possible without political democratisation. Countries like China, although having plenty capacity for coercion, lack the necessary structures to transform public dissent peacefully, as the conflict in the countries far-west shows – leaving aside the fact that, as Robinson and Acemoglu vividly portrayed, China will have to find a way to turn its increasing societal pluralism into polity structures.

Similarly countries that started a process of democratization without the accompanying economic growth are bound to fail and fall into a vicious circle of violent extremism. There might be voting processes and democratic structures in Afghanistan, but with practically no formal jobs outside Kabul and the total lack of economic infrastructure in all but the capital, joining an extremist group – by coercion or voluntarily – becomes way more likely.

Thus the question whether focusing economic growth or democratisation is a chicken-or-egg one. Both needs to happen at the same time and the international community must put more efforts into solving existing conflicts and prevent new ones from erupting.

Sinusoidal Tendencies – A concise history of political violence in Turkey

Turkey is in the news again. This time supposedly as a major producer of political violence once more, as opposed to the beforehand popular portrayal of a victim of such. In this blog post I will try to analytically reflect the last three decades of political violence (at least the lethal aspect of it) and how that cumulates in today’s rather dire security situation in Turkey. When counting terrorism fatalities (according to the Global Terrorism Database), Turkey had its deadliest period in the 1990s. Yet, as a result of military weakening of the main perpetrator of terrorism in the country, the PKK, the capture of its leader and figurehead Abdullah Öcalan and probably more importantly a set of reforms in the country that pushed it towards “westernization” and “liberalization” terrorism fatalities dramatically decreased (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 number of terrorism fatalities 1985 – 2014

Similarly the number of overall casualties of the still ongoing rebellion, again mainly by the PKK, peaked in the 1990s and decreased dramatically since then – at least until mid-2015. Even when using a low estimate of casualties the Peace Research Institute Oslo puts the figures in most years of the 1990s above the 1000 deaths per annum civil war benchmark.

Figure 2

Figure 2 number of overall fatalities due to political violence 1984-2008 (high estimate)

In my recent research I found significant correlations between the fatality estimates and a certain set of policies that were descriptive of the first ten or so years of the 2000s in Turkey (see Figure 3 as an example in which I use IMF/IBRD loans as a proxy for demanded reforms towards market liberalization and the rule of law). These policies stand in stark contrast to the early developments after the 1980 military coup, in which civil liberties, democracy, the rule of law and human rights were treated with contempt, as a result of which, so my narrative goes, the degree of relative deprivation and horizontal inequalities reached new heights, cumulating in the eruption of the conflict of the PKK against the Turkish state.

Figure 3

Figure 3 scatterplot high estimate casualties (log) and the sum of IMF/IBRD loans

During most of the 1990s Turkey has had both, political and economic stagnation, despite strong efforts of actors like Turgut Özal. After a de facto insolvency in 2001 Turkey underwent a series of critical structural changes that paved the way for economic growth and subsequently political stability. In this environment the central government in Ankara increasingly held sway of affairs in the country and increasingly disempowered the military, which had a very hostile attitude towards Kurdish insurgents. As a result of all these developments, formerly underdeveloped regions in Turkey, particularly the majority Kurdish east and south-east, experienced many years of strong economic growth. At the same time political discrimination against minorities, while still far from sufficient, was reduced to the extent that in 2013, for the first time in the history of Turkey, a pro-Kurdish party overcame the 10% threshold to get elected into parliament.

Turkey thus simultaneously produced robust and inclusive economic growth, improved the rule of law and minority rights. Hence, the country saw a steady decline of political violence and the conflict with the PKK came to a standstill in 2013 when peace talks between the two parties were held.

But it did not take long until the conflict escalated again, this time at full tilt. Conflict related fatalities rose far beyond the civil war benchmark again in the period from June 2015 to July 2016[1], making the development a sinusoidal wave. There is a large set of reasons the conflict flared up again, but as the most important ones I would identify the developments in the civil war in Syria, domestic political reasons after the June 7 general elections in Turkey and domestic political developments that I would describe as a renunciation of former policies of “liberalization” and “westernization”.

It is hard to say which of these reasons is most important, maybe all of them are equally important. However, with the conditional exception of the conflict in Syria, all of them are home-made by the now ruling government – again, the very same government that produced and carried along the peace in the first place.

Now, how did this happen, and why? To start with, the development of the conflict in Syria, at least since the battle for Kobane, and the subsequent expansion of Kurdish territory under the PKK’s sister organization PYD[2], currently constitutes the greatest security concern for Ankara. It gives the PKK strategic depth to operate from, with close material and moral support by Turkey’s NATO ally, the United States. Although Joe Biden indicated a cautious reversal of its supports for Syrian Kurds, they remain heavily supported by the west.

Obviously Turkey could adapt its Syrian policy, and indications show, it might do exactly that[3], but as long as there is a domestic militant fraction that wants political autonomy, and that fraction has a safe haven in a neighbouring country, there is little Turkey can change to decrease the strategic threat that emerged from Kurdish actors in Syria. At the same time the so called Islamic State started to perpetrate major attacks within Turkey as well, making it a major security concern for Ankara as well.

In regard to the domestic reasons for the renewed escalation of the conflict between the PKK and Turkey, there are few to blame but the current government and President Erdoğan. When it became clear that the ruling AKP had lost many of its votes to the far-right nationalist MHP as a result of dissatisfaction of parts of the population with the peace process and other votes to the now 13% strong pro-Kurdish HDP in the June 2015 election, Erdoğan was quick at reversing his policies towards the Kurdish population and re-upping military operations against the PKK. The subsequent snap-elections proved his tactics successful and the AKP gained a clear parliamentary majority again.

But beyond those developments, Turkey was already undergoing a reversal of previous reforms and since around 2011/12 the country was actually sliding back into well-known patterns of patrimonialism and decreasing civil liberties. The rule of law, already standing on shaky grounds, got further weakened, human rights abuses amassed and above all the economy stagnated. As a result increasing parts of society felt disenfranchised, horizontal inequalities grew and the costs for armed rebellion decreased.

The combination of these factors led to the current situation, where senior European politicians in all openness suggest a cessation of accession talks with Turkey, senior Turkish politicians hint western involvement in the latest coup attempt, more than 1600 people lost their lives in some 13 months and many more had to flee their homes. All pragmatic actors involved on both sides however know that there is only one way forward and that is a return to the initial reform-course. This includes further approximation with the west, particularly the EU, and more, not less, dialogue on critical issues such as the west’s support for the PYD in Syria or Turkey’s continuing and complacent purges across all sectors.

One could argue that both sides have little room for manoeuvre and western actors have tried to persuade Erdoğan into reforms over and over again, to no end, but the west more often than not oversees the arrogance with which it does so. Instead of riding the wave of anti-Muslim and xenophobic resentment in the wake of the refugee crisis, European politicians are well advised to try to change Turkish public perception towards their favour. At the same time western politicians should not give in when it comes to human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, keep pushing Ankara for liberal reforms and the further adaption of the acquis communautaire to help the country return to peace. Erdoğan might no longer be a reliable ally[4] for the west, the people of Turkey for sure are though.

[1] https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/western-europemediterranean/turkey/turkey-s-pkk-conflict-death-toll

[2] http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/the-ypg-pkk-connection

[3] http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/63865

[4] http://www.cfr.org/turkey/turkey-no-longer-reliable-ally/p38209

Title picture by Kurdishstruggle via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)].

„Strategie neu denken“: Ein Konferenzbericht

ÖMZ Pilotkonferenz 2016 "Strategie neu denken"

Von 22. bis 24. Juni 2016 hat die Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift (ÖMZ) gemeinsam mit der European Military Press Association (EMPA) zur Pilotkonferenz „Strategie neu denken“ in die Wiener Stiftskaserne geladen. Anspruch dieser Konferenz war es, eine strategisch-militärwissenschaftliche Kommunikations- und Diskussionsplattform zu schaffen. Aus meiner anfänglichen Skepsis möchte ich kein Hehl machen: Das bescheidene Ansehen, welches das österreichische Bundesheer in der Gesellschaft genießt, spiegelt sich in der Politik wider (oder umgekehrt?), welche seit Jahren an einer schleichenden finanziellen Ausdünnung des Heeres zu arbeiten scheint (zumindest bis vor Kurzem). Meiner Intuition nach müsste sich dies wohl auch auf das Ausmaß an Expertise, die das Heer und seine Bildungsinstitutionen zu bieten haben, auswirken. (Fast) alles falsch, lehrte mir die Strategiekonferenz der ÖMZ.

Ein neues Verständnis von Strategie

Am Anfang der Konferenz stand die Diagnose eines allgemeinen Strategiedefizits, besonders im Bereich der Politik, und einer mangelhaften theoretischen Unterfütterung des strategischen Entscheidungsprozesses. Zweck der Konferenz war daher, ein neues Strategieverständnis zu vermitteln, das über bloße Militärstrategie (üblicherweise verstanden als der Einsatz militärischer Mittel zur Erlangung politischer Ziele – Stichworte: ends – ways – means) hinausgeht. Grundlegende Prinzipien militärischen Denkens sollten abstrahiert und zu einem gesamtstrategischen Denken, einer Führungswissenschaft, akkumuliert werden, die auch für zivile Bereiche anwendbar ist. Der Chefredakteur der ÖMZ, Brigadier MMag. Dr. Wolfgang Peischel, gab das Strategieverständnis der Konferenz vor: Strategie sieht er eher als Denken denn als Handeln, eher als Zweckgebung denn als Planung, eher initiativ als reaktiv. Außerdem ist Strategie langfristig angelegt; sie sei der erste Schritt eines Planungsprozesses, der noch nicht das finale Ziel gibt, sondern diesen Prozess erst anstößt.

Inhaltlich gliederte sich die Konferenz in drei Themenkörbe. Thema des ersten Korbes war strategische Kommunikation, also beispielsweise die Rolle, die militärwissenschaftliche Zeitschriften wie die ÖMZ in der Diskussion über Strategie einnehmen können und sollen. Wissensgenerierung wird hier als zentrale Aufgabe gesehen, besonders bis – und das ist das langfristige Ziel der Konferenzorganisatoren – Militärwissenschaft in Österreich auf Universitätsrang verankert wird. Der zweite Themenkorb beinhaltete Vorträge, die den militärischen Beitrag zum strategischen Denken herausarbeiten und zu einer allgemeinen Führungslehre verdichten sollten. Der dritte Themenkorb war ähnlich angelegt und behandelte Grundprinzipien politisch-strategischen Denkens. Die aus den Vorträgen gewonnenen abstrakten militärisch-strategischen Prinzipien sollen strategisches Denken für die Politik, Diplomatie und Privatwirtschaft verstärkt anwendbar und attraktiv machen. So soll beispielsweise die mehrheitlich kurzfristige, oft von Intuition und wahltaktischen Überlegungen beeinflusste Planung im Bereich der Politik überwunden werden; langfristige Zielsetzungen und deren wohlüberlegte schrittweise Umsetzung sollen zum Usus gemacht werden.

Ein breites Spektrum an Inhalten und Vortragenden

Die konkreten Inhalte, die im Rahmen dieser Themenkörbe adressiert wurde, waren weit gefächert: Ukraine, Syrien, Russland, die USA, Frankreich, Israel, Großbritannien, die Arktis, der Iran sowie die PKK dienten als Fallbeispiele; Strategie wurde sowohl im Lichte historischen Wandels als auch im Angesicht neuer, oft nichtstaatlicher Herausforderungen beleuchtet. Carl von Clausewitz war, wohl wenig überraschend, ein häufig genannter Name – Anhänger des Denkens des preußischen Generals hatten zudem schon bei der der Konferenz vorangestellten Tagung „Zur Aktualität von Carl von Clausewitz: Perspektiven und Implikationen für das 21. Jahrhundert“ die Gelegenheit sich auszutauschen.

Die Vortragenden der Konferenz kamen vorwiegend aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum und können teils beachtliche internationale Karrieren vorweisen – auf militärischem wie auch akademischem Terrain. Einer der bekanntesten Vortragenden war wohl General a.D. Klaus Dieter Naumann, seines Zeichens ehemaliger Vorsitzender des NATO-Militärausschusses sowie Teil der Kommission, die den bekannten Bericht zur Responsibility to Protect 2001 verfasste. In seinem Vortrag mit dem Titel „Europa vor alten, neuen und zukünftigen Gefahren: Herausforderungen für die Nationen Europas, die EU und die NATO“ beschrieb er die zunehmende Instabilität der globalen Ordnung seit Ende des Kalten Krieges. Zu altbekannten Konflikten wie Grenzkonflikten oder dem Unruheherd Naher/Mittlerer Osten gesellen sich neue Herausforderung, beispielsweise transnationaler Terrorismus und Klimawandel. Abschreckung – die Strategie des Kalten Krieges – sei für das 21. Jahrhundert nicht mehr zweckdienlich. Stattdessen dachte Naumann eine Strategie des preventive denial an, die proaktiv statt reaktiv und ihm zufolge auch auf nichtstaatliche Akteure anwendbar sei. Interessant dabei: die Ähnlichkeiten dieser skizzierten Strategie mit der hybrid warfare, die Russland momentan zu Lasten gelegt wird.

Die US-Perspektive war unter anderem vertreten durch Lt. General Robert E. Schmidle Jr., Deputy Commandant for Aviation. Dieser richtete die Aufmerksamkeit der KonferenzteilnehmerInnen besonders auf das operational design, also die Phase der Identifikation und Kontextualisierung eines Problems mitsamt seinen Ursachen und Dynamiken. Diesem Aspekt wird ihm zufolge meist zu wenig Zeit beigemessen. Erst nachdem dieser Prozess abgeschlossen ist, sei es aber sinnvoll, in die Phase des operational planning überzugehen, also des Findens einer Lösung für das identifizierte Problem. Auf der strategischen Ebene plädierte Schmidle für einen Wechsel vom bisherigen geopolitisch motivierten strategischen Denken zu einem Fokus auf technologische Innovationen und deren Auswirkungen.

Mit Oberst iGst Dr. Jérôme Pellistrandi („Die Entwicklung der französischen Strategie in den 77 Jahren der Revue Défense Nationale“) war ein weiterer Chefredakteur einer militärwissenschaftlichen Zeitschrift anwesend, der eben jene näher vorstellte und einen Blick auf das Fallbeispiel Frankreich warf. Prof. Dr. habil. Vasily K. Belozerov, Oberst dRes („Wissenschaftliche und sicherheitspolitische Grundlagen der Militärstrategie und der staatlichen Strategie Russlands“) diskutierte das Fallbeispiel Russland und CMDR Michael Codner vom britischen Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) das Beispiel Großbritannien („Strategy: The British Way?“).

Schlussendlich konnten besonders auch die österreichischen Vortragenden mit konzeptioneller Klarheit und theoretischer Innovation bestechen. In seinem lebendig gestalteten Vortrag („Grundprinzipien strategischen Denkens an der Schnittstelle zur politischen Entscheidungsfindung“) beleuchtete Wolfgang Peischel strategisches Denken stark aus wissenschaftstheoretischer Perspektive. Zudem bediente er sich unter anderem der griechischen Mythologie, Goethes Faust und Bob dem Baumeister, um seine Ansichten zu untermauern. Erwähnenswert ist besonders seine Einschätzung, dass Strategie den Weg in Richtung eines Ziels vorgibt, das man letztlich gar nicht erreichen will. Stattdessen erlaubt das Erreichen von Zwischenzielen eine Neubewertung der Situation und somit das Finden neuer, kreativer Ziele.

DDR. Christian Stadler von der Universität Wien („Polemologie: Eine strategische Kompetenz?“) betonte in erster Linie die auf Clausewitz basierende Unterscheidung zwischen Zweck und Ziel: Die Politik setzt den Zweck fest; der Krieg ist ein Mittel, wie auch die Wirtschaft, diesen Zweck zu erreichen. Strategie setzt das Ziel, das der Erreichung des Zweckes dient. Die Polemologie lehrt den Strategen, den Zweck der Politik richtig zu erfassen, um das richtige Ziel zu setzen. Interessant waren auch Stadlers Überlegungen zum Thema Frieden: Diesen sieht er als eine kulturelle Errungenschaft, die aktiv aufrechterhalten werden muss. Den Krieg hingegen sieht er als Normalzustand, auf den man daher vorbereitet sein muss. Si vis pacem, para bellum, also.

Fazit: Ein vielversprechender Start

Die Konferenz war die erste dieser Art in Österreich, quasi ein Pilotprojet, das den Bedarf und das Potenzial einer solchen Strategiekonferenz ertasten sollte. Man kann definitiv von einer gelungenen Premiere sprechen, die auf eine Fortsetzung hoffen lässt. Wünschenswert wäre solch ein regelmäßiger Austausch über Strategie in der Tat, um die angestrebte Wissensgenerierung durch MilitärwissenschafterInnen voranzutreiben. Wünschenswert wäre aber auch eine breitere Basis, auf der dieser Austausch stattfindet. Eine verstärkte Einbeziehung politscher Eliten sowie ziviler ForscherInnen könnte den beiden von Militärbediensteten so oft beklagten Lücken entgegenwirken: jener zwischen militärischen und zivilen ForscherInnen (erstere werfen letzteren oft Unwissenheit aufgrund fehlender Praxis vor), und jener zwischen MilitärexpertInnen und der politischen Elite (letztere ignoriert oft die vorhandene Expertise der ersteren; zudem werden der Mangel an gemeinsamen Entscheidungsfindungen und die unterschiedlichen Planungshorizonte beklagt). Außerdem könnte man durch Einbeziehung von Personen aus Politik, Privatwirtschaft und Diplomatie auch die konkrete Nachfrage und den Bedarf nach strategischem Denken in diesen Bereichen konkreter festmachen – die Konferenz selbst setzte diese Nachfrage ja voraus und lieferte das Angebot.

The bigger picture: Unser Heer kann doch was

Dass der Großteil der Vortragenden aus dem Ausland kam, spricht einerseits für die gute Vernetzung der ÖMZ. Andererseits wirft es aber dann eben doch die zu Beginn gestellte Frage auf, ob Expertise in Österreich womöglich nicht in ausreichendem Maß vorhanden ist. Die hohe Qualität der österreichischen Vortragenden zeugt jedoch von einem großen Potenzial, das in unserem Heer verborgen scheint: jenes der Wissensgenerierung. Dies ist besonders erwähnenswert aufgrund der geringen Bedeutung und Attraktivität, die dem österreichischen Heer oft zugeschrieben wird. Manche sprechen dem Heer ob der österreichischen Neutralität gar die Existenzberechtigung ab. Der Fokus auf Wissensgenerierung sowie im Besonderen das Ziel, militärische strategische Erkenntnisse für andere Bereiche dienlich zu machen, eröffnet dem Bundesheer aber eine weitere Aufgabe, die auch in einem neutralen Staat äußerst nützlich erscheint, und zudem dem Bundesheer in der internationalen Zusammenarbeit eine wichtige Rolle zukommen lassen kann.


Webseite der ÖMZ

„Stratgie neu denken“ Konferenzprogramm

European Military Press Association (EMPA)

Youtube-Channel der ÖMZ, hier können die Vorträge der Konferenz angesehen werden.

Beitragsbildquelle: ÖMZ-Konferenzwebsite (https://www.oemz-online.at/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=11142000 [08.08.2016.])

Russia China Relations: From Strategic Partnership to Regional Rivalry? (Part 3)

Scenario II: Sinification and Russia’s Far East

 The Chinese-Russian border has long been an area for concern between the two countries. The Cold War has witnessed border conflicts between China and the Soviet Union, including military build-up alongside the border and multiple frontier incidents (Hsu and Soong, 2014, p.72). But in 2008 a big effort was made to reduce future tensions by signing a joint agreement on the demarcation of their common border, ending the long-standing disputes (Hsu and Soong, 2014, p.77).

This agreement is exceptional not only because it eliminated the source for tensions which has strained the two countries’ relationship for a long time but also because it is uncommon for great powers. Furthermore, given the long list of unresolved border disputes China has with its neighbours and the still ongoing border conflict between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands, this agreement between China and Russia is even more noteworthy.

Nevertheless, there are still areas of concern regarding the common border and the bordering areas. Those concerns are based on the demographic and economic differences between Russia’s Far East on the one side and the Chinese province

of Heilongjiang on the other side. The Russian Far East is not densely populated, with only about seven million people living there, while the Chinese province of Heilongjiang has a population of 38 million. Additionally, while holding huge reserves of gas and oil, the Russian Far East is one of the poorest regions in Russia (Mankoff, 2009, p.223). The region has seen an increased influx of Chinese migrants and investment in recent years. While the region is underdeveloped and would need additional workers and capital, it also fuels xenophobic and nationalistic tendencies. Even though Russians view of China is in general positive (Bruce Stokes, August 5, 2015), Russian politicians and media voiced concerns and warned of a Sinification and a possible Chinese challenge to the Russia’s territorial integrity (Kathrin Hille, June 25, 2015). A poll from 2007 found that 62% of Russians believed that Chinese firms and workers in the Far East pose a danger to Russia (Mankoff, 2009, p.222). This view is shared not only by many ordinary people but also by Russian elites. To address these concerns a ministry for the development of the Far East was introduced in 2012 (Anatoly Medetsky, May 22, 2012).

Whether these fears of Sinification are justified is hard to predict, but an increased number of Chinese firms and workers involved in the region will nonetheless expand China’s „sphere of influence“. Even without directly challenging the Russian territorial integrity, China would have enough leverage in the region to exercise influence when its interests are at stake. In a worst case scenario, Russian authorities would fail to address the fears of its ethnic population appropriately, which could lead to increased repressions for Chinese firms, investors and workers. In the event that these xenophobic resentments would turn violent, China could be pressured by domestic nationalistic tendencies to protect ethnic Chinese people in Russia. China could also deliberately use this pretext to secure its interests in the Russian Far East, arguing that big parts of the Far East are historically part of China, that these parts where unlawfully incorporated by Russia after the „unequal treaties“ and that China has the right and the obligation to protect ethnic Chinese (Eder, 2014, p.31). Somewhat ironically, this argumentation would starkly resemble the Russian legitimation for the annexation of Crimea (President of Russia, March 18, 2014).

Fu Ying (2016) argues that the progress in Chinese-Russian relations experienced over the last two decades is going to continue. While she acknowledges that there still exist some differences between the two countries, she contends that those differences have a good chance to be managed without producing any fallout. This article did not seek to dismiss this possibility but rather to demonstrate that there exist other possibilities of how the Chinese-Russian relationship could develop in the decades to come. The argument presented in this article was based on the realist school of International Relations theory’s notion that states balance against power (and threat). Hence, the first part of this article sought to determine the distribution of power between China and Russia by analysing both countries’ latent and military capabilities.

The findings show that China has overtaken Russia both in terms of economic and demographic capabilities as well as with regard to military capabilities. The differences in power are most pronounced when it comes to economic indicators; however, the gap in military capabilities is going to increase as well. After comparing both countries’ capabilities, this article proceeded with identifying areas of potential tensions and introduced possible conflict scenarios. The first scenario dealt with Central Asia, a region where both states are highly involved but have conflicting interests in the long-run. Developments in Central Asia, as depicted above, could trigger conflict between China and Russia.

Scenario two argued that the increase in Chinese firms and workers engaged in Russia’s Far East could lead to tensions if combined with xenophobic and nationalistic tendencies in Russia and China. Altogether, the short-term chances for conflict between China and Russia are low, but will increase. Even if Fu dismisses the notion that China and Russia will begin to drift apart, she acknowledges that earlier attempts to form a partnership „proved short-lived, as each amounted to nothing more than an expediency be-tween countries of unequal strength“ (Fu Ying, 2016, p.97). Nevertheless, she fails to realize that the current relationship between China and Russia is not so different from previous attempts: a pragmatic rapprochement on the basis of overlapping security and economic interests, with the biggest difference being that China now is the stronger part of this expediency between countries of unequal strength.

Title picture source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vladimir_Putin_and_Xi_Jinping,_BRICS_summit_2015_01.jpg



Alexander Gabuev (August 6, 2015), ‘Post-Soviet States Jostle For Role in One Belt One Road Initiative’, Carnegie Moscow Center.
URL: http://carnegie.ru/2015/08/06/post-soviet-states-jos tle-for-role-in-one-belt-one-road-initiative/

Anatoly Medetsky (May 22, 2012), ‘New Cabinet Has Familiar Cast of Characters’, The Moscow Times.
URL: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/new-cabinet-has-familiar-cast-of-characters/458907.html

Bellacqua, J., ed. (2010), The Future of China-Russia Relations, Asia in the new millennium, University Press of Kentucky.

Bruce Stokes (August 5, 2015), ‘Russia, Putin Held in Low Regard around the World’.
URL: http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/08/05/russia-putin-held-in-low-regard-around-the-world/

Eder, T. S. (2014), China-Russia Relations in Central Asia, Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden.

Edwina Gibbs and Michael Perry (March 9, 2014), ‘China’s Xi urges political solution to Ukraine crisis’.
URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-china-idUSBREA2905220140310

Fu Ying (2016), ‘How China Sees Russia: Beijing and Moscow Are Close, but Not Allies’, Foreign Affairs 95(1), 96–105.

Hsu, J.-Y. and Soong, J.-J. (2014), ‘Development of China-Russia Relations (1949-2011)’, Chinese Economy 47(3), 70–87.

International Crisis Group (2002), ‘ICG Asia Report Nr.33: CENTRAL ASIA: BORDER DISPUTES AND CONFLICT POTENTIAL’.
URL: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/central-asia/033-central-asia-border-disputes-and-conflict-potenti al.aspx

Kathrin Hille (June 25, 2015), ‘Outcry in Russia over China land lease’, Financial Times.
URL: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/700a9450-1b26-11e 5-8201-cbdb03d71480.html

Li, C., Wang, J. and Whalley, J. (2014), China’s Regional and Bilateral Trade Agree-ments, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.

Russia China Relations: From Strategic Partnership to Regional Rivalry? (Part 2)

Part 2

Scenarios of Deteriorating Relations

The Chinese-Russian relationship has been stable over the last two decades and continues to improve. Even the Russian interventions in Ukraine and in Syria did not lead to deteriorating relations, a scenario some western analysts predicted (Fu Ying, 2016). However, the Chinese response to the crisis in Ukraine gives an insight into the limits of their relation. China was very cautious not to get involved too deeply into the conflict, neither taking a pro-western nor a pro-Russian stance and instead called for both sides to take steps toward a political solution to the ongoing conflict (Edwina Gibbs and Michael Perry, March 9, 2014). This reflects China’s pragmatic approach to the relationship. The same logic applies to Russia. The partnership is built on overlapping security concerns and a mutually beneficial economic partnership. Therefore, the possibility remains that if security interests diverge, the partnership will devolve into rivalry. Hence, it is important to identify possible circumstances which could trigger the deterioration of the partnership. This does not mean that China and Russia will ultimately end up being rivals. Nevertheless, given the rather unusual nature of the relationship with regard to balance of power and balance of threat theory and the long history of conflict between the two countries, it would not come as a surprise if the two countries became rivals. Furthermore, given Russia’s own great power aspirations it can be questioned whether Russia would be willing to act as the „junior partner“ in the relation. This could lead to tensions if Russia feels that its interests are not respected appropriately. Additionally, the recent actions of Russia in Ukraine and Syria show Russia’s willingness to go to great length when it sees vital interests at stake. In both cases Russia was and is willing to defend its interests by force.

Scenario I: The Quest for Central Asia

The developments in Central Asia could become the single most important factor influencing the development of the Chinese-Russian relationship. At the moment both countries’ interests in the region align. Both China and Russia want a stable region. First, because they fear that destabilized Central Asian states would harm their economic interests. Central Asian states play an important role for Russia as transit countries for critical oil and gas pipelines. For China the Central Asian states are important energy exporters and China has heavily invested in the energy sector in the region. Second, both countries fear that if the region becomes unstable, this would spill over into China and Russia. China especially tries to avoid this scenario, because one of its most vulnerable regions, the region of Xinjiang, is directly bordering Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan among others. China’s Xinjiang province has a long history of conflict between state authorities and parts of the ethnic Uighur minority.

Apart from their interest in a stable Central Asia, both countries want to keep the United States’ involvement in the region at a minimum. China and Russia would both prefer no involvement of the United States and especially do not want any American military bases in the region. This is to prevent a kind of encirclement by the United States.

Nonetheless, there are two possible scenarios which could lead to worsened relations between China and Russia. First, it is possible that one of the two over-lapping security interests could disappear. This could be triggered by a withdrawal of troops out of Afghanistan by the United States, which would dissolve the „anti-American stimulus“ (Eder, 2014, p.128) or by diverging interests in the event of renewed conflict between Central Asian states, for example provoked by border disputes (International Crisis Group, 2002). Second, Russia views Central Asia as one of its „spheres of influence“ and the growing influence of China in the region (Mankoff, 2009, p.81), especially in the energy sector, could lead to declining Russian leverage in the region. Eder (2014, p.128) argues that in the Central Asian energy sector Chinese and Russian interests collide which in the long-term will lead to open conflict between these two states.

With the growing power gap between China and Russia, China will be able to take a more assertive stance securing its interests in the region. Additionally, Central Asian states welcome China in the region as a counterbalance to Russia, they see China as a way to diversify their exports and reduce their own dependence on Russia (Eder, 2014, p.39). The combination of these two circumstances could build up tensions between China and Russia. In the worst case, one of the Central Asian states would try to increase its independence by playing off China against Russia. Under these circumstances it would be possible that Russia reacts in a similar fashion as in Georgia in 2008, which would threaten Chinese interests in the region and would trigger a response by China.

While China’s primary focus in the region is to use the Central Asian states to diversify its energy import routes it also views it as a „sphere of influence“ (Mankoff, 2009, p.81). Even though China has been cautious not to alienate Russia by taking steps to reduce Russian influence, the growing economic engagement in Central Asian states is already reducing Russian influence. This trend is going to continue with even more trade and more foreign direct investment on part of China in the region (Bellacqua, 2010, p.252f). With more economic involvement China will also seek to secure its interests by using its influence in the region. Hence, tensions between China and Russia could emerge when their interests collide.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) which includes China, Russia and the Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and the acceding states India and Pakistan has the potential both to reduce chances of conflict and to produce tensions. On the one hand, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation can serve as a platform to resolve differences, strengthen trust and increase areas of cooperation between its members. On the other hand, China and Russia do have different views about the role the SCO should play (Mankoff, 2009, p.218). China sees the SCO as a tool to increase economic cooperation, to increase its influence and to tackle common security threats like terrorism. For Russia, the SCO is a vehicle to preserve its influence in Central Asia and a channel to engage with China (Mankoff, 2009). Therefore, the SCO could be another forum where the growing gap in power could lead to tensions.

Title picture source: By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40087092




Bellacqua, J., ed. (2010), The Future of China-Russia Relations, Asia in the new millennium, University Press of Kentucky.

Eder, T. S. (2014), China-Russia Relations in Central Asia, Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden.

Edwina Gibbs and Michael Perry (March 9, 2014), ‘China’s Xi urges political solution to Ukraine crisis’.
URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-china-idUSBREA2905220140310

Fu Ying (2016), ‘How China Sees Russia: Beijing and Moscow Are Close, but Not Allies’, Foreign Affairs 95(1), 96–105.

International Crisis Group (2002), ‘ICG Asia Report Nr.33:  CENTRAL ASIA: BORDER DISPUTES AND CONFLICT POTENTIAL’.
URL: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/central-asia/033-central-asia-border-disputes-and-conflict-potenti al.aspx

Mankoff, J. (2009), Russian foreign policy: The return of great power politics, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md.


Russia China Relations: From Strategic Partnership to Regional Rivalry? (Part 1)

Part 1

Ties between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation currently are rather friendly, especially if compared to the conflict-ridden years during the Cold War (Fu Ying, 2016). The first step to better relations was laid down in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev paid an official visit to China, marking the normalization of their relations. The relationship subsequently improved, leading to a „strategic partnership“ announced by Yeltsin in 1996 (Mankoff, 2009, p.201) and increased economic cooperation. Such close and warm ties between two big countries sharing a border are somewhat unusual.

However, the relationship so far has been stable, even if China is not unconditionally backing all of Russia’s foreign policy decisions, and vice versa. Russia for example has long taken a reserved stance on China’s „One-Belt One-Road“ initiative (Alexander Gabuev, August 6, 2015). Meanwhile, China is not backing Russia’s Ukraine policy, calling all sides to resolve the crisis politically, diplomatically and in accordance with international law (Edwina Gibbs and Michael Perry, March 9, 2014). These two cases exemplify the limits to the Chinese-Russian partnership and highlight the pragmatic logic underlying their relationship. China-Russia relations have improved as a result of overlapping security interests[1], having similar concepts in regard to a 21st century world order[2] and because of an economic situation where China and Russia are complementing each other[3].

Another reason why the relationship between those two states has been stable over the last years is due to the fact that China is currently preoccupied with complex challenges in the South China Sea and lacks the capabilities to truly project power on a global scale. This reduces the amount of potential areas of conflict between the two countries. However, the situation could change over time, with China’s economic growth and steady expansion of its military capacities, Russia’s power might decline compared to China, while a stronger China could have the capabilities to take a more assertive stance in the region.

Therefore, this article will try to assess how the relative growth of Chinese power will affect the relationship between China and Russia and will develop a series of scenarios assessing the potential for deteriorating relations. I will argue that the shifts in balance of power in the region, triggered by the economic rise of China, will produce scenarios where the situation between these two countries will be prone to rivalry and conflict.

Growing Gap in the Balance of Power

The shift in the balance of power in Asia in favour of China is important for the relationship between China and Russia in three regards. First, relations between two major powers sharing a common border are often prone to conflict. China and Russia themselves are a good example, with various conflicts and failed attempts to enter into an alliance during the 19th and 20th centuries (Fu Ying, 2016, p.97).

Second, Walt’s „balance of threat“ theory argues that states balance against the biggest threat (Walt, 1987). States, according to Walt, evaluate the level of threat another state poses through four criteria: latent power, geographic proximity, offensive capabilities and perceived offensive intentions. As China already meets three of the four conditions, its latent power, huge population and economic performance, give it an advantage over Russia which is experiencing demographic and economic problems. Geographic proximity, as mentioned above, is also given, since the two countries share a 4200 kilometre long border. Regarding offensive capabilities, the Chinese defence budget is far higher than the Russian one. In addition China is modernizing its military on a very fast pace. Concerning offensive intentions, at the moment the relationship is stable and Russian views of China are mostly favourable (Bruce Stokes, August 5, 2015). Nonetheless, this could change over time and there are some possible scenarios which could trigger a shift in Russian perception. The specific scenarios will be discussed later in this article.

Finally, both states are not entirely content with their status in the international system. As a result of its growing power China wants increased influence in the international order. Russia on the other hand wants to be a great power again and feels left out and marginalized by the United States and other western powers (Mankoff, 2009, p.16). While China’s economic growth provides it with the legitimacy to become a greater stakeholder in international affairs which cannot be overlooked by other states, Russia’s poor economic performance offers a bad starting point for a renewed ascendancy to great power status. Nevertheless Russia is willing to go to great lengths when its core interests are at stake. Therefore, it is questionable whether Russia will be willing to cooperate with China in the future, taking the part of „junior partner“.

As shown above, it is important to assess the growing power gap for being able to examine the potential for deteriorating relations or even conflict. Power, according to Neorealism, has two dimensions, latent and military capabilities. The category of latent capabilities, a combination of economic and demographic factors, tries to assess a countries potential to build up military capabilities. Latent

capabilities are also important to maintain modern and ready military capabilities since defence budgets need continued funding to guarantee functioning military institutions. Demographic factors help to assess whether a country will be able to extract enough manpower from its population to fill the ranks of its military as well as if there are enough working age people to keep the country’s economy running. Military capabilities, on the other hand, focus on the raw power of a state: how much funding does the defence budget get, how many people are en-listed in the nation’s army, how many people are on reserve duty and what is the amount of military equipment. While it is true that the outcome of a military con-flict depends on far more factors, these indicators nevertheless help to assess and compare military power.

Latent Capabilities

 Figure 1: Economic Indicators

When comparing the two countries’ economic performance over the last two and a half decades, the growing difference in economic capabilities becomes evident. China’s economy has managed to grow at an enormous pace and is now the single biggest market economy with a GDP over five times as large as the GDP of the Russian Federation. Figure 1.1 clearly shows this deepening gap in economic capabilities. Even though Russia experienced high growth rates during Putin’s first presidential term, ranging between 10 and 5 percent, the Chinese economy still outpaced it (The World Bank, 2015). As Figure 1.2 shows the Chinese growth has slowed down in recent years reaching growth rates of 6 to 7 percent, com-pared to 14 percent in 2007. But since the Russian economy is struggling with the repercussions of the global financial crisis, the low oil prices and structural problems it does not seem as if Russia will be able to close this economic gap even a little bit in the years to come (The World Bank, 2015).

Figure 2: Demographic Indicators

Comparing China and Russia regarding demographics somehow seems obsolete, considering that China’s population is about 9 times bigger than the Russian one. Nevertheless, the demographic development of both countries holds important aspects for the relationship between the two states. While the Chinese population is constantly growing, even though at a slower pace than before, the Russian population has experienced decades of decline and has only just recently begun to increase again (Figure 2.1). The same trend can be seen regarding labor force as shown in Figure 2.2. Although a growing labor force can be problematic for employment rates, it nonetheless is a good indicator to assess the latent capabilities of a state.

For both dimensions of latent capabilities, economic and demographic, we observe a widening gap between Russia and China. Therefore, it is important to assess if this shift in latent capabilities is translating into a shift in the balance of military capabilities.

Military Capabilities

The most basic indicator to assess a country’s military capabilities is to look at its defence spending. The Chinese defence budget amounted to 129 billion US$ in 2014, compared to 116 billion US$ in 2013 (The Military Balance, 2015, p.237). In comparison the Russian defence budget amounted to 66 billion US$ in 2013 and increased to 70 billion US$ in 2014 (The Military Balance, 2015, p.184). It has to be noted that, while the budgets of both states are increasing very fast, the question remains if Russia will be able to keep this pace in the face of a struggling economy. Additionally, the Chinese budget does not include all military expenditures. The Military Balance (2015, p.237) argues that the real military expenditure of China actually amounted to 162 billion US$ in 2013. This difference in defence spending shows how much the gap between the two countries is growing not only in economic terms but also regarding military power. Both countries are deeply committed to maintain, enhance and adapt their military capabilities. Figure 3 shows the military expenditure as a percentage of GDP and it reflects the Russian dedication to its armed forces even under economic pressure. The Chinese military spending relative to GDP has been pretty much constant over the last decades, taking advantage of the economic growth to enhance its military capabilities without having to limit other parts of public spending.


To get a more detailed account of the military capabilities of China and Russia one has to not only assess military spending but also take the state of the armed forces and its distribution into account. It is necessary to look at the personnel, its equipment and its allocation. This can help to understand the effectiveness and vigour of armed forces and makes it possible to compare the power of two states in more detail. But since these indicators cannot capture every component of an armed conflict, it must be noted that they serve rather as a tool to assess capabilities than to predict the outcome of a conflict.

Table 1 compares the two armed forces, finding that the Chinese military outpaces the Russian one in every category except attack helicopters and bomber aircraft. While Table 1 does not include all types of equipment and not all branches of the military, it is still able to demonstrate China’s offensive capabilities.


The reason some types of equipment have been left out of the analysis is twofold. First, China and Russia share a long border, making it likelier for a conflict to be fought on land rather than on sea. Therefore, focusing on infantry, tanks, artillery and air-craft seems acceptable. Second, Mearsheimer (2014, p.83) argues that land power is ultimately the dominant form of military power. The focus on land power in this analysis will become clearer in the next section of this article, where possible conflict scenarios will be introduced. Table 1 also clearly shows that China already has the offensive capabilities to threaten Russia.

This section sought to address the different dimensions regarding the growing power gap between China and Russia. The gap is probably most pronounced regarding latent capabilities. Even though China’s economy is now growing at a slower pace, it is still outperforming most of its neighbours and is clearly on a better track than the Russian economy, which is still struggling because of the reasons mentioned above. This trend also applies when it comes to military capabilities. China is going to spend far more on its military than Russia in the years to come and even if the Russian economy recovered, Russia would still not be able to easily close this gap in military capabilities. This section also showed in more detail that China is close to fulfil the conditions set out by Walt (1987) for being perceived as a threat by Russia. Therefore, the next section is going to address the question under which circumstances a shift from partnership to rivalry in the Chinese-Russian relationship could occur.


[1] Confronting the three evils of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism (Mankoff, 2009, p.218), keeping the United States out of „spheres of interest“, preserving a stable Korea and the Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (Bellacqua, 2010).

[2] Based on multipolarity and national sovereignty with the United Nations as the central conflict resolution organisation (Bellacqua, 2010, p.4f.).

[3] Russia is heavily dependent on gas and oil exports while China is seeking to diversify its energy imports. Also, China is importing a lot of Russian arms (Bellacqua, 2010, p.4)

Title picture source: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/49433




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