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Who’s attacking me now? How cyber capabilities are changing the global balance of power

Original posted on our partner's website Project Firefly
By Harald Edinger


Cyber capabilities carry an inherent contradiction: the development of digital infrastructure, while inescapable in today’s “wired” world, also results in greater vulnerability to offensive cyber attacks. The United States, one of the most digitalized countries on the planet, has been somewhat reluctant to engage in acts of offensive cyber warfare, or even to make a genuine attempt at spelling out its cyber policy. As a consequence, the balance of power in the cyber realm seems to have been tilting in favor of China and Russia.



(Source: Flickr)


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The Faraway Tsar

by Morgan Herrell

In today’s Russia, dominated by one man, those of us on the outside must look to President Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia in order to anticipate the future of that state and our relationship with it. Worryingly, though, there may be no vision at all—and no space for anyone other than Mr. Putin to create one.  


(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the past year, Russia has careened to a point nearer to open conflict with the West than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. In the eyes of the Russian public and of other nations, responsibility for the trajectory and nature of the Russian political system over the last 15 years can only fall to one person, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both Russians and foreigners alike must guess at his vision of Russia to try to anticipate the country’s next step. Essentially, we must decide if there is any true guiding ideology, a “Putinism,” and if so, what exactly it means for Russians and foreigners alike.

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Illuminating the Lack of Women in Government Through Data

by Benjamin Dills

This article originally appeared on the Woodrow Wilson Center's Women in Public Service Project blog. 


Parliamentarians at the "Spring Forward for Women" Conference (Image: UN Women/Flickr)

Twenty years after the 1995 United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, only 27% of countries in the world have legislatures that meet the goal of women holding 30% of decision-making positions.  Parliamentarians meeting at the UN on August 31st agreed that more work clearly needs to be done, but many avoided speaking about concrete actions their countries could take to reach the goal in the next five years.

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The Enduring Relevance of NATO

by Kathleen Taylor

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 to contain Soviet aggression. Given that the Cold War ended over two decades ago, analysts frequently debate whether NATO is still relevant. The answer is a resounding yes: its mission and operational necessity in the 21st century will only grow more vital, and its operational capability more agile, versatile, and adaptable as the world faces new challenges.




The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 as a “bulwark against Soviet aggression” allowing the United States, Canada, and their European allies to contain the threat of the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Throughout the Cold War, NATO concentrated almost solely on the European continent, along with the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, and gave little attention to events occurring outside its immediate area. NATO was the cornerstone of transatlantic security in the 20th century; yet once the Cold War came to an end, the future of the trans-Atlantic alliance came into question. Although its initial purpose is no longer relevant, NATO has adapted to meet the needs of the 21st century, proving that it remains an essential tool for maintaining global security and stability. 

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Will China’s Monetary Policy Efforts Save It From a Hard Landing?

by Michael LoGalbo

Seemingly timid at first, the People’s Bank of China has stepped up its recent economic reforms. China’s central bankers have significantly loosened monetary policy in the hope of turning the country’s economic growth back toward their 7 percent target. Without further stimulus, it seems the world’s second largest economy could lead to financial contagion.  


Chinese yuan (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

All eyes are on China as the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) continues to implement stimulative monetary policies following the recent global market sell-off. After the liquidity crisis in 2013 brought on by the economic boom of China’s 2008 stimulus program and shadow banking issues that resulted, the PBOC began playing a much more active role in the direction of the Chinese economy. Understanding the decision-making of the PBOC can give international observers insight into whether China’s economy will continue to stumble or return to the growth realized over the past decade.

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Europe’s Surprisingly Balanced Marriage

by Kathleen Taylor

Germany and France are the center of the European integration project. France was originally the most powerful; however, due to unparalleled economic growth, Germany is now the heavyweight of Europe. This shift in dynamics caused speculation that the relationship is on the verge of a breakdown. This speculation is incorrect as the Franco-German alliance is as strong as ever.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande Conversing

(Source: Flickr)

The Franco-Germany relationship is the engine of the European integration project. After centuries of war on the European continent, culminating in the devastation of World War II, European nations searched for a way to eliminate inter-continental fighting. Europe’s leaders argued that economic integration was the first step to avoid future conflict, and believed it would eventually pave the way for a politically integrated union of European states. France and Germany, historic rivals and often bitter enemies, were at the heart of this hoped-for union designed to preserve peace. In the decades since, it has remained clear that both Germany and France see integration as the key to continued peace and prosperity in Europe.

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EU Autumn of Discontent: What awaits the V4?

by Frank Markovic

As summer slowly winds down, European leaders – both in Brussels and national capitals – are going to be exposed to challenges which they had temporarily shelved aside to be solved at a later date. Some of these issues, notably the refugee crisis and the upcoming EU referendum in the UK, are of a particular relevance to the region of Central Europe, and more specifically to the so called Visegrad Group (V4) countries – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. This piece analyses how (if at all) the V4 can better coordinate their positions as a region at the EU level on the aforementioned issues. 

Refugee crisis: fear of the unknown

Italy and Greece have been struggling with the consequences of the massive inflow of refugees for months. Increasingly, the problem is spilling over to other parts of Europe as refugees migrate from the European southern shores to regions further north and west. The country that has been hit the most by the refugee crisis in the region is Hungary. The first half of 2015 alone has seen as many as 120,000 asylum seekers cross the country’s border with Serbia (a figure that is expected to rise to 300,000 by December). The substantial number of border crossings has prompted the government to construct a barbed-wire fence to prevent more people from coming through and to close down one of the country’s busiest train stations to refugees who might otherwise board the international trains en route to Vienna and beyond.

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Sharing European Skies: the Benelux Air Defence Pact

by Karlijn Jans

Diminishing defence budgets and shortfalls in European military capabilities are an uncomfortable reality in 2015. Not only is the threat of an aerial terrorist attack a possibility, NATO member aircraft were forced to conduct more than 500 scrambles over Europe in 2014, as was reported by The Guardian. Many defence experts have painted a bleak picture for European airpower; cooperation might be the only way out.


Signing of the agreement between Belgium, the Netherlands
and Luxembourg.
(Source: © FPS Chancellery of the Prime Minister)

On March 4th 2015 the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg (Benelux) jointly signed a Pact to protect each other’s airspace. From 2016, this will be yet another feather in the cap of European defence cooperation and stands out as the most integrated initiative between European air forces to date.

The Benelux Defence Pact includes the integration of surveillance and monitoring of the complete Benelux airspace against civil aircraft posing a potential terrorist threat and the option to intercept foreign or unidentified military aircraft (both Renegade and Quick Reaction Alert). With this Pact, Dutch officials have the authority to scramble Belgian aircraft into Dutch airspace and vice-versa. Luxembourg has no air force and will only open its air space to its neighbours’ aircraft (Belgium has been fulfilling the QRA-task so far), however excluding the use of deadly force in its airspace. The Benelux Air Defence Pact is an example of trilateral cooperation further enhancing the pooling and sharing of aerial assets, however, does it represent a step forward in European defence cooperation?

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Hong Kong Media and China’s “Invisible Black Hands”: A Wake-up Call for the World’s Democracies

by Elodie Sellier

Since its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong’s civil society has expressed growing concern over the state of its press freedoms. Local media constantly surrender their freedom of expression by practicing self-censorship for fear of sanctions from the Chinese government. As Beijing seeks to expand the scope of its influence beyond its borders and further promote its relations with the Western world, Hong Kong serves as a reminder that China remains an authoritarian state and closer political and economic ties must be combined with a firm and consistent stand on human rights. 


“Article 27 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution guarantees Hong Kong residents freedom of speech, of the press, and of publication.” Yet, the current situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is clearly one of declining press freedoms. The “one country, two systems” status, which legally defines Hong Kong as independent from China, has so far prevented Hong Kong’s media from being fully subject to China’s draconian censorship system, the so-called Great Firewall. Yet, in 2015, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 70th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, a sharp decline from its ranking of 18th in 2002.  The international community should be concerned as increasing press censorship violates not only internationally held norms but also hampers the ability of the Hong Kong press to provide an independent perspective on China to the world.

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What's Next for Afghanistan?

by Kathleen Taylor

After U.S. and NATO troops withdrew at the end of 2014, conditions in Afghanistan have worsened, threatening to tip the war-torn country into failed state status. Its stability can only be guaranteed if the international community focuses on developing Afghanistan’s economy and bolstering peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.



Afghanistan has many challenges disrupting its stability. Conditions have gradually worsened since U.S. troops and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) largely withdrew at the end of 2014. Only 13,000 troops currently remain, serving in advisory and training capacities, and as troop levels have decreased there has been a resurgence in violence by the Taliban. Economically, Afghanistan is still in a precarious situation, relying far too much on foreign aid to keep its economy afloat. Moreover, despite the brief optimism surrounding the successful formation of a unity government between the sparring presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (now the president) and Abdullah Abdullah (now chief executive, a position created after a tumultuous election), the political situation remains precarious.  It appears Afghanistan could be on the verge of becoming a failed state. To prevent this outcome, the international community must concentrate on assisting Afghanistan in revamping its economy and facilitating successful peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

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Turkey’s Misguided Targeting of the Kurds Will Only Help Islamic State

by Kathleen Taylor

After resisting for several years, Turkey reluctantly joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in July 2015, following new recognition in Ankara of the threat ISIS’s presence along the border poses to Turkish security. However, Turkey’s fear of Kurdish nationalism and the growing presence of Kurdish parties in the Turkish parliament has resulted in stronger air strikes against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)—up until now an ally in the battle against ISIS—instead of against ISIS. As ISIS poses the largest threat to Turkey’s security, the Turkish government must shift its focus from air strikes against Kurdish targets and begin targeting ISIS strongholds.



Throughout the United States’ year-long campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or the Islamic State), the U.S. government has sought to increase Turkey’s role in the conflict, believing the Turkish Republic is key to destroying the terrorist group. Turkey has been reluctant to become involved due to constant disagreement between Turkey and the United States over who should be the main target: Turkey contends that Syria, and its president Bashar al Assad, is most dangerous, whereas the United States maintains that ISIS poses the primary threat. In July, Turkey finally joined the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against ISIS in Syria, allowing the United States to launch military strikes from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. In late July, Turkey deepened its involvement with the U.S.-led coalition by staging its own airstrikes against ISIS. Unfortunately, Turkish air strikes also targeted Kurdish Worker Party (PKK) strongholds and are now targeting Kurdish insurgents more than ISIS. It has become clear that Turkey’s incentive for further participation in the U.S.-led fight does not center on defeating ISIS or restoring regional stability; rather, its main objective is nationalist and aimed at punishing the PKK. 

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A Sobering Reality: Venezuela’s Beer Shortage Highlights Economic Crisis

by Michelle Bovée 

Though the crisis happily has been averted, at least for the moment, Venezuela's beer woes are a manifestation of the larger and far more serious economic and social issues confronting the country.


 Venezuelans protest ongoing shortages (Image: María Alejandra Mora/Flickr)

Venezuela is running out of beer. The flow of raw ingredients—primarily hops, malted barley, and yeast, for those not involved in the homebrew movement—has dwindled, forcing Venezuelan breweries, including the well-known Polar, to shut down plants.  At its worst, analysts predicted that the situation could become quite dire for beer lovers: approximately 80 percent of Venezuela's beer supply was expected to be drained by August 3.  Happily, however, Venezuela’s Chamber for Beer Producers (CAVEFACE) announced on July 30 that brewers have been able to keep the taps open—at least temporarily.  Though the crisis has been averted, at least for the moment, these beer woes are a manifestation of the larger and far more serious economic and social issues confronting Venezuela. 

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