Conflict, China, and conspiracy theories

Find out about the 13 articles in the May issue of International Affairs

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The last few months have been busy for the International Affairs team, with events and conferences resuming after the long COVID-19 break. In the background, conflict continues to be a constant in the news cycle, with focus generally on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rather than the ongoing civil wars in Syria, Ethiopia and elsewhere.

COVID-19 has, to a degree, received less focus, although China’s lockdown of Shanghai reminds us of the severe impact of the virus. The articles in our May issue provide insight into these newsworthy issues, such as how states manage COVID-19, Russo-Ukrainian relations and global conflicts, as well as bringing to the fore issues that have received less attention but are equally as important.


Russia’s threats against NATO, warnings to Sweden and Finland, and the suspension of gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria remind us of the importance of international law and the role of treaties.

In the Editor’s Choice article, J Luis Rodriguez and Elizabeth Mendenhall look at ‘Nuclear Weapons Free Zones and the issue of maritime transit in Latin America’. They highlight the debate over the laws of the sea and a state’s right to limit access to waters off its coast.

We do not believe that a pandemic treaty will deliver what is being extolled by its proponents.

- Clare Wenham, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Mark Eccleston-Turner, Senior Lecturer at Kings College London, Maike Voss, Founding Director of the German Alliance on Climate Change and Health

Clare Wenham, Mark Eccleston-Turner and Maike Voss argue that a pandemic treaty will not resolve the ongoing tension between a globalized response and state rights. 

War and conflict

War and conflict remain constants in international relations. Yaniv Voller reviews the Syrian civil war to examine the relationship between weak central governments and armed groups. He looks at how in ‘militiatocracies’, pro-government militias and central governments develop symbiotic relations, which on the one hand, help the government to survive an insurgency, but on the other, allow militia leaders to secure an increasing presence in politics.

Jason Stearns’ article uses the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo to consider why some conflicts appear to never end. He argues that the perpetuation of conflict is in the interest of some groups.

Jessica Anania explores the question of why sexual exploitation and abuse by intervenors, such as humanitarian workers, is largely left out of transitional justice mechanisms.

Diplomacy and statecraft

Dong Jin Kim and Andrew Ikkyun Kim examine global health diplomacy through North Korea’s response to COVID-19. They highlight the tension between state leaders wanting to maintain control of the situation and protect the regime, and the expectations of the international community in terms of access and information sharing.

The time is ripe during the COVID-19 era to end the separation of humanitarianism from international politics. 

- Dong Jin Kim, Senior Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin and Andrew Ikhyun Kim, White House Fellow

Isabel Bramsen provides a fascinating example of diplomacy in action at the Philippine peace talks. She investigates how diplomatic face-to-face interaction can generate social bonds. Ultimately, the article questions the transformative potential of peace talks, if leaders and hardliners are not present.

Christian Downie considers the question of how informal international organizations that invariably lack a secretariat or permanent structure, such as the G20, can govern.

Politics and nationalism

Michael Gentile and Martin Kragh’s article is particularly pertinent given the role of media disinformation in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. They show that, given the right conditions, an event in one country——such as the controversial 2020 Belarusian presidential election——can rapidly influence existing patterns of conspiracy belief in a neighbouring one—— including narratives pushed by the Russian media in Ukraine.

Adam B. Lerner continues discussions started to our January special edition on Race and imperialism, by excavating the intellectual history of nationalism in IR theory. He identifies how pessimistic, racist and sexist ideas about mass politics have lingered in mainstream IR and aims to nuance discussions about the rise of nationalism in the twenty-first century.

Engaging China

Yuka Kobayashi and Josephine King consider the use of hedging by Myanmar, a common strategy adopted by small states in an asymmetric relationship. The authors find that state fragmentation and capability to hedge are inversely proportional.

Giulio Pugliese, Francesca Ghiretti and Aurelio Insisa examine the supposed rupture of Italy’s populist government from the country’s traditional Euro-Atlantic focus in foreign policy, most evident in its decision to embrace China’s Belt and Road Initiative but, in fact, they find hidden policy continuity.

Few episodes of China’s recent history fit Beijing’s present goals better than the memory of the Second World War and of the united front that allowed the Chinese people to claim their just and inevitable victory.

– Vincent K. L. Chang, Lecturer at Leiden University

Vincent K. L. Chang builds on an ongoing debate about China’s use of history by examining how the Second World War is being portrayed by the Chinese government. While there are signs of China normalizing and globalizing its history, its official war memory reinforces an inwardly directed form of Chinese nationalism.

Overall, this issue includes a diverse and interesting collection of articles. They remind us of the need to embrace new perspectives while reflecting on how we have constructed our understanding of the discipline.

All articles cont.

All articles mentioned above are available to download in the May 2022 issue of International Affairs.

International Affairs was started at Chatham House in 1922 to communicate research to members who could not attend in person. Over the last 100 years it has transformed into a journal that publishes academically rigorous and policy relevant research. It is published for Chatham House by Oxford University Press. Read the latest issue.