West African security, COVID-19 and human rights, China

The latest issue of International Affairs includes 16 papers providing fresh and diverse takes on classic international relations topics.

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A Baptist minister once said ‘if you take the text out of context you are left with a con’. Understanding the wider context of key international relations moments has been a consistent theme of the journal from its inception. Looking at the Middle East, Daniel Neep examines the Ottomans and importantly highlights that much of Middle Eastern international relations starts with the British, ignoring the longer historical context.

Joe Burton and George Christou provide a new lens on conflict in cyberspace, arguing cyberpeace can be achieved if the topic is approached with a human-centric approach. Louise Curran, Khalid Nadvi and Sangeeta Khorana ask why the EU-India trade negotiations have stalled and consider possible ways forward.

Conflict and security in West Africa

Isaac Olawale Albert provides an important new perspective on so-called ‘decapitation strategies’ in the Editor’s Choice article by considering the significance of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s death on Nigeria’s terrorist crisis. The journal has previously focused on the wider conflict in the Sahel and Bruno Charbonneau brings this up to date with his research on European interventions in the region.

Emeka Thaddues Njoku and Isaac Dery provide alarming insight into conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) against men as a form of spiritual security, reinforcing the message from the March 2020 special edition that religion has long been neglected within the study of international relations.

These findings challenge simplistic analyses of African states as victims of exploitative Great Powers

Elizabeth Cobbett, Lecturer, University of East Anglia; Ra Mason, Sasakawa Associate Professor in International Relations and Japanese Foreign Policy, University of East Anglia.

Two other papers look at how African states have responded to outside influences. Elizabeth Cobbett and Ra Mason demonstrate how the Djiboutian government is using foreign military bases as a mechanism to promote the state. Claire Elder looks at Somaliland’s increasing authoritarian turn that has resulted, in part, from the policies of the West.

COVID-19 and human rights

New research on COVID-19 shows its growing impact outside global health. Jamal Barnes and Samuel M Makinda evaluate government policies across Europe to show the pandemic is being used as a tool to undermine the rights of refugees.

At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, some voices hoped that it would serve as an opportunity for change in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict … These hopes were not fulfilled

Lior Lehrs, Research Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Lior Lehrs examines the pandemic’s influence on diplomacy between Israel and Palestine. While the crisis did result in both conflict and cooperation between the parties, Lehrs pinpoints three key factors to explain why relations have not really changed.

China’s role in the world

Yao Song, Guangyu Qiao-Franco and Tianyang Liu focus on China’s agenda in the Mekong region under Xi Jinping. While Chinese influence in the region is growing, not everyone accepts its presence or ideas – something often missed in the West. Further analysis of China’s international impact comes from May Farid and Hui Li, who examine the role of international NGOs as intermediaries in China’s ‘going out’ strategy.

Contrary to the widespread popular and scientific belief that the internet is an open technology, governments have proved to be quite capable of controlling content

Daniëlle Flonk, Research Associate and PhD Candidate, The Hertie School

Elsewhere Daniëlle Flonk assesses the role Russia and China are playing in establishing international – and illiberal – norms for internet governance, while Sebastian Biba evaluates how Germany has sought to manage its relations with China and the US – suggesting attempts by the US and UK to persuade NATO to acknowledge the ‘Chinese threat’ are not universally held.

International organizations

Leonard Schuette draws attention to the essential role played by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in helping keep NATO together during Donald Trump’s US presidency, while Gisela Hirschmann examines how international organizations respond to contestation from member states and proposes – as Schuette also does – the bureaucracy of the organizations plays a key role.

NATO is a resilient security organization with greater power than is traditionally attributed to it

Leonard August Schuette, Doctoral Researcher, Maastricht University; Visiting Doctoral Student, University of Oxford

All in all, this diverse and challenging collection of papers provide a fascinating and, at times, uncomfortable read but, as that saying goes, don’t be left with a con.

International organizations contd.

All articles mentioned above are available to download in the November 2021 issue of International Affairs.

2022 marks International Affairs’ centenary with plans for a number of new initiatives, additional content, and thought-provoking articles, as well as an aim to publish more content from scholars historically under-represented in the journal. As part of the centenary, our Early Career Diversity Initiative is being relaunched, primarily aimed at academics based in the Global South.