Climate Adaptation as a Pathway to Conflict Mitigation

Climate change has the potential to increase violent conflict risk. This suggests the need for a specified subfield of peacebuilding research and practice to address this issue. Environmental peacebuilding is growing in prominence among scholars and practitioners, even though the debate as to how much climate change increases conflict risk is not yet settled. This… Read more »

Could Peace Talks in Afghanistan Fail Before They Really Begin?

Kabul. Photo: Sven Gunnar Simonsen / PRIO

Is the peace process in Afghanistan already in serious trouble? Talks continue in Doha between the US and the Taliban – which is good. The Loya Jirga – dedicated to peace and reconciliation – has concluded, but with a number of prominent politicians abstaining. In Moscow a significant group of prominent Afghan politicians met in February to start a dialogue with the Taliban negotiating team. But efforts to continue this dialogue failed, with Kabul presenting an unmanageable list of 250 representatives. Who was responsible for the failure is not for me to judge.

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SIPRI says that Russia keeps cutting its military spending, but the margin of error keeps widening

Moscow prepares for the parade.

Military force remains the instrument of choice in Russian policy-making, yet the expenditures on its building keeps going down. This paradoxical picture comes out of the recent estimate by our sister-institution Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which is eagerly picked up by the Russian media. SIPRI methodology is long-established and respected by experts, but the assessment that demotes Russia to the sixth position in the world behind France appears to be not just counter-intuitive but plain wrong. This impression may be partly shaped by the assertive political rhetoric amplified by official propaganda and reinforced by many demonstrations, like the military parade that is going to roll over the Red Square in Moscow on the Victory Day celebrated on May 9. There is, nevertheless, much material evidence to doubt the 3.5 per cent reduction of military spending in 2018.

SIPRI doesn’t take the official data uncritically, but the best research efforts can correct the deliberate distortions produced by the main statistical agency Rosstat only so far. Every year, more and more parameters of the defense budget are made secret and denied even to the State Duma in violation of basic legislation. It is also clear that a direct re-calculation of expenditures from rubles into US dollars using the current exchange rate produces serious errors because the pricing mechanism in the Russian defense-industrial complex is obscure, so that the Armed Forces get new weapons for a price very different from what the foreign customers pay. In macro-economic estimates, the indicator of “purchasing power parity” is increasingly used for international comparisons, and a very rough (because of secrecy) application of this method to defense expenditures increases Russia’s total figure approximately thrice.

President Vladimir Putin excels at praising Russia’s military might and bragging about new technologically advanced weapon systems, such as the nuclear-propelled underwater vehicle Poseidon. He used the occasion of launching the nuclear submarine Belgorod (in construction since 1992), which is supposed to be the carrier of Poseidons, for supervising the laying of keels of four other combat ships. This ceremony cannot quite camouflage the deep problems in Russian shipbuilding, which struggles with orders for constructing the series of Yasen-class nuclear submarines and for repairs of the only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and other Soviet-era cruisers.

Russian Navy has come out as a loser in the 2027 State Armament Program approved with delays only in early 2018 because the government insisted on cuts bitterly contested by various lobbies. Putin is wary about economic consequences and often claims that Russia will not repeat the Soviet blunder of channeling too much resources towards military needs and will pursue the arms race on the cheap. The economy is indeed stuck in a protracted recession and the discontent caused by the sustained decline of incomes and the increase of the retirement age is deepening. The growing public demand for social benefits brings greater political need to hide the real costs of militarization.

This “creative accounting” is particularly wide-spread in budgeting for the on-going “hybrid” applications of military force, which are often financed from special “money pools” filled by “voluntary” contributions from super-rich individuals. Costs of de-facto occupation of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine are certainly not included in the defense expenditures, and Putin took pains to explain that his decree on granting Russian citizenship to the population of this territories would not be that heavy for the Russian budget. The Syrian intervention is becoming increasingly unpopular, and state media only reluctantly informs about continuing attacks on Russian troops and bases. The deployment of Russian “advisers” and mercenaries in support of the Maduro regime in Venezuela is bluntly denied, and the state-owned Rosneft will probably have to cook its books for hiding the accumulating losses.

One feature in the complicated picture of money flows in the Russian military machine that is extremely difficult to calculate is corruption, which even in minimalistic official investigations reaches mind-boggling proportions. Scandals about hundreds of “dead souls” on the payrolls of military research institutes or fake research projects emerge from the veil of secrecy every month. Squabbles for shrinking funding are the main driver of these exposures, and the military structures are no different in this respect from other armed bureaucracies. Even in the all-powerful Federal Security Service (FSB), the head of the department supervising the financial sector was recently detained for bribery.

Financing of these structures is not included in the military expenditures, even if the Border Guard, subordinated to the FSB, is capable enough to capture three Ukrainian vessels in the international waters near the Kerch Straight last November. The main task of these forces is to ensure domestic security, and the brutal detention of liberal activists during the May 1 demonstration in St. Petersburg is supposed to demonstrate their readiness to protect the regime. Corruption goes hand in hand with this readiness, and the command of the heavily armed Rosgvardia wants to make the acquisitions secret, so that embezzlement would be better covered.

The sum total of money spent on strengthening, modernizing and corrupting various elements of Russian super-structure of militarism is probably not known even to Putin, who quite possibly doesn’t care to enquire. Some lobbies may suffer cuts, but the whole system appears perfectly sustainable, so that top generals keep building mansions in the Rublevka suburbia outside Moscow next to the dachas of “liberal” ministers. This waste of resources condemns Russia to degradation and losing ground in the global competition for redefining the world order, but these consequences are entirely acceptable for Putin’s court. Russia is not facing bankruptcy, and each new “wonder-weapon” appears to be affordable, but progressive militarization generates an interplay of external and domestic risks, which the Kremlin is ill-equipped to control.

A version of this text is published in Eurasia Daily Monitor.

What can we learn about the environment in conflict areas, without going there physically?

Remote sensing can provide valuable insights into the environmental dimensions of armed conflicts. Access to areas affected by armed conflicts is often limited, posing problems for research into environmental change. Because of this, remote sensing using satellite imagery is one of the tools that is increasingly used to monitor how armed conflicts interact with the… Read more »

Why Did ISIS Attack Sri Lanka?

St. Anthony’s Shrine was one of the targets of the Easter Sunday terror attack. Photo: AntanO via Wikimedia Commons

The terrorist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday have spawned many questions about the return of violence to Sri Lanka after a 10-year hiatus following the defeat of the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) terrorists in May 2009.

The first thing to understand is that the terror attacks have no bearing on the internal politics of Sri Lanka. Neither are these attacks tied to any inter-ethnic, nor inter-religious questions reflected in current political discourse on the island. During the civil war, terrorism in Sri Lanka went abroad; for example, the Tamil Tigers assassinated the Indian PM, Rajiv Gandhi. This time, the world (Middle East) seems to have come to Sri Lanka.

So why Sri Lanka? The answer is simply that Sri Lanka offered a soft target.

I am of the opinion that the relations between the religious groups will not be soured by these actions, but that the immediate days following the attacks have shown that people are unified, condemning terrorism rather than the religious faiths of others. There have been some incidents of vengeful violence against Muslims, which the police and security forces need to address and tamp down on quickly. But overall it seems that civil society in Sri Lanka has come a long way, unfortunately baptized by the fire of a 30-year civil war and decades of mass terrorism.

So why Sri Lanka? The answer is simply that Sri Lanka offered a soft target. Within that scenario, the churches, particularly Catholic ones, offered greater softness in terms of access and the number of targets. Five-star hotels in Sri Lanka today are also soft targets because after decades of civil war, when even ladies’ hand bags were searched before entering a hotel, none of this exists today. What explains this? Why the laxity in security?

This can be partly explained as a result of the “success” of the post-war peace in Sri Lanka — little studied and little understood. One might recall the bloody ending of the civil war in May 2009, when the government, with little regard for the international community´s misguided calls for the Sri Lankan forces to cease hostilities, utterly defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Immediately following the war, the government, without much help from an alienated international community, successfully reintegrated 15,000 former combatants and resettled several hundred thousand internally displaced, including 200,000 civilians that had been taken as a human shield.

Considering all this disruption, displacement, perhaps even built up hatreds, little to no interethnic violence and retaliation has been recorded in these past 10 years — so much for theories of ethnic conflict. Consider also that for a civil war that had thousands of suicide bombings and entire squads of suicide bombers that were trained by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, not one known attempt of a suicide bombing has been recorded in Sri Lanka — trains and busses travel freely between the South and North every day. In other words, there has been little to no violence between the so-called warring ethnic groups in 10 years. Hurrah for peace!

Of course, successful peace has now given way to security failure, but the hope is that lessons will be learnt to prevent the next one. Democracies do badly when fighting terrorism and insurrections, which leaves a lot for us studying civil violence to understand better.


Indra de Soysa is an external associate at PRIO and a professor at NTNU: Norwegian University of Science and Technology. His research interests include the field of political economy and questions relating to the causes of war and peace, governance, and development. He is originally from Sri Lanka.

Putin talks the Arctic talk and fingers the missile stick

The fifth Russia-sponsored international forum “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue” was staged last week in St. Petersburg, and President Vladimir Putin used the occasion to demonstrate his particular interest to the Arctic matters. He was joined on the panel by prime ministers of four North European states – Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden –… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan –Week 14

Due to changes in the personnel here at PRIO, This Week in South Sudan is put on hold after this week. We regret this temporary break in what has been a five-year continuous provision of updates, and plan to start again shortly.   Monday 1 April Amidst political chaos in Khartoum, Sudan’s president Omar Al… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan – Week 13

Monday 25 March Together with six other detainees, Peter Biar Ajak appeared in court and was charged with insurgency, but they denied the charges against them. Read more about the background for the detention of Ajak in the week 10, 2019, post. The UN appealed to the South Sudan authorities to release Ajak, and stated… Read more »

Israel and the UN – a Relationship on Israel’s Terms

It is claimed that the UN created Israel. This is only true subject to major reservations, and the relationship between the two is extremely complicated.

On 14 May 2018, Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary, and in May this year it will be 70 years since the country became a member of the United Nations.

These coinciding dates do not change the fact that throughout its existence Israel has had a very ambivalent relationship with the UN. The country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, often used the condescending phrase “Oom-shmoom” to refer to the international organization. The problematic relationship continues to this day.

On May 11, 1949 the UN General Assembly votes 37 to 12, with 9 abstentions, to admit Israel as a member state, making it the 59th member of the United Nations.

We see this clearly when Israel on the one hand claims that UN organs such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly are virulently anti-Israeli, while on the other hand benefiting from the virtually automatic American veto of resolutions criticizing Israel in the Security Council.

Another example is Israel’s attitude to UNESCO. On the one hand, Israel announced its withdrawal from UNESCO in 2017, but the country continues to benefit from having nine places on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

A third example is how Israel has benefited time and time again from the presence of UN peacekeeping forces on the other side of its border – in Gaza, Sinai, Lebanon and Syria – while at the same time consistently refusing to accept the stationing of UN forces in Israel.Read More