ISDS Viewpoints

Policy papers and opinion pieces on current security and defence policy issues in Hungarian and in English.

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Tamás Kisvári: What we can expect at the 20th Party Congressof the Communist Party of China

China is a country that is difficult to understand because of the interconnectedness of the Communist Party and the state. The rules are very flexible, especially in party affairs, so it is not easy to make predictions. In addition, the Party Congress in 2017 counteracted all well-established anticipations concerning gene­ra­tion change due to the expulsion of Sun Zheng­cai as a consequence of his corruption case. When analysing some of the last Party Congres­ses concerning the personnel changes, one can observe that the main rule that applies is the ’retirement age’ rule. There are some other rules that influence the decision-making process, however, there are also exceptions to these rules.

The personnel changes during 20th Party Congress will be decisive in answering the question of whether the Communist Party of China would turn to the path of individual leadership or would continue with the commission-based decision-making system established by Deng Xioaping in the 1970s. My expectation is the latter one, namely that two successors will be elected to the top echelons and Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will stay in the number one and number two position of the party until 2027. The future leaders of China will probably be Hu Chunhua and Ding Xuexiang. Hu Chunhua will become vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission during the 20th Party Congress (or later).

The two current vice-chairmen of the CMC will retire during the Congress. General Wei Fenghe has a good chance to be promoted to one of the vice-chairman positions. The other vice-chairman could be Li Zuocheng, the current chief of the Joint Staff Department or Miao Hua, the head of the Political Work Department. The heads of the Logistic Support Department and the Equipment Development Department could become members of the CMC again. Yi Xiaoguang, the former commander of the Central Theatre Command could join the CMC as the representative of the PLA Air Force in a position of one of the departments.

Full article: 2022/3. pdf


Błażej Popławski: How to assess states’ vulnerability and the emergence of terrorism in Africa? A comparative analysis of the Fragile States Index and the Composite Index of National Capability

The aim of this analysis is to identify ways to assess states’ vulnerability and the correlation of certain vulnerabilities and the emergence of terrorism in Africa. Recent studies have undertaken some empirical tests on the relationship between poverty, globalization and state failure as predictors of terrorism. The hypothesis of this article assumes that there is correlation between the degrees of disintegration and dysfunctionality of the state and the activity of terrorist organizations in the given country, subject to our analysis.

Full article: 2019/7. pdf


Luca Puddu: China’s Development Assistance in sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

China’s development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa has attracted large attention from scholars and the media as well. Beijing’s principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of recipient countries is particularly appreciated by African governments, but is also a matter of concern for Western donors and human rights activists who support the democratization of the African continent. One of the main shortfalls of the contemporary debate on China’s development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa lay in the fact that Chinese aid is often analysed interchangeably with other flows of financial assistance at commercial terms, thereby hindering a proper understanding of the rationale behind the foreign aid policy of the new Asian superpower. It is not clear whether Chinese foreign aid is driven by political logics or by the more mundane objective of opening new markets for Chinese firms overseas. Nevertheless, existing evidence suggests that Bejing’s development assistance is similar to Western development assistance in so far as it is aimed at raising diplomatic consensus in favour of China’s national interest at international fora. Concerning the impact of Chinese aid on African countries, it has been argued that the lack of conditionality fosters corruption and authoritarian rule. At the same time, however, it should not be underestimated that the rise of China as a donor superpower has positive consequences on the degree of African sovereignty vis-s-vis financial institutions and commercial banks. The challenge posed by the rise of China as a major donor of sub-Saharan Africa has shaped the behaviour of traditional Western donors, which are increasingly inclined to apply strict conditionality on their lending programs towards the African continent.

Full article: 2018/7. 


Antonio M. Morone: International Migration and Containment Policies: Lessons from Libya

Libya has often been seen as a transit country, despite the objective fact that most migrants remained in Libya to work. Italian–Libyan bilateral relations were characterized by the restrictions Libya imposed over the migration flows, which Italy requited with its commitment to support the end of the international embargo on Libya and the country’s readmission to the international community. After the fall of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 2011, Italy and Europe have continued to exert a series of direct and indirect pressures on the new Libyan authorities with the aim of reaffirming the policies of migratory containment. Constant political instability and the persistence of conflict in Libya compromised the effectiveness of international containment policies and urged further extension of these policies to other African countries to the South of Libya. What containment policies have given rise to, as effectively as contradictorily, has been the flow of irregular migration.

Full article: 2018/6.


Cyprian Aleksander Kozera: Climate Change and Violent Conflicts – Towards Establishing a Connection. Studies from Rapa Nui and East Africa

Rapa Nui, or Eastern Island, is an isolated tiny piece of land in the Pacific, known for its stone carved statues erected between 11th and 17th centuries, A.D. The remote island was inhabited by up to fifteen thousand people. The construction abruptly stopped, marking the end of cultural development of the island-dwellers, most probably due to deforestation, following soil erosion and conflicts over scarce resources. At the time of the European arrival to the island in 1722, the island counted less than three thousand people and lacked high-tree forests. The decline of the island culture and environment might have been anthropogenic (started by the deforestation) or climate-related (e.g. droughts brought by El Niño – Southern Oscillation), or both as demographic pressure on the environment (e.g. total eradication of the high woodland and plants necessary for producing ropes and canoes), might have made subsequent environmental degradation much easier. The case of Rapa Nui shows how vulnerable human societies are to the degrading environmental conditions and how environmental depletion may lead to conflicts due to the scarcity of resources.

According to IPCC forecasts, climate change causes significant changes in weather patterns with more extreme climate events, thus creating not only warmer but harsher and less predictable climate conditions, to which accommodation will be more difficult. If global temperatures rise by 3°C to 4°C from the pre-industrial level (by now the temperature has already increased by 0.8°C), extreme weather events will become over ten times more common than in 2010. We will face major species extinction, environment forced mass migration, and conflicts over resources. Tackling global warming now would cost between two to three percent of the world’s GDP, but by the middle of the century its costs would rise to twenty percent of the world’s GDP.

In Africa “[c]limate change and climate variability have the potential to exacerbate or multiply existing threats to human security including food, health, and economic insecurity” – IPCC report states. Consequently, climate change is considered an important exacerbating variable of armed conflicts. The ongoing genocidal conflict in Darfur (Sudan) has been dubbed ‘the first climate war’. Examining the East African cases, we can observe an indirect, yet continuous and contiguous, relation between climate change and violence. Climate change and variability worsen livelihood conditions, what may increase migration and change pastoral mobility patterns, increase armed group recruitment, and increase risk of violent resource competition, leading to the outbreak of violence.

Our environment is significantly changing, and the change is imminent. The anthropogenic climate-related environmental changes cause tensions among peoples and exacerbate violent conflicts. One of East Africa’s worst tragedies in recent history, the genocide in Darfur, illustrates how a conflict, driven by a degrading environment can drastically escalate when brutally and mercilessly exploited by political elites. With continued global warming and rising demographic pressure, the conditions on the African continent will become harsher, desertification and deforestation will progress, soil erosion will follow, agriculture crops diminish, and thus the conflict potential will increase.

Full article: 2018/5. 


Cyprian Aleksander Kozera – Błażej PopławskiBoko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Shabaab – Similarities and Differences. Analysis of the Genesis, Evolution, and Strategies of the Islamist Violent Extremist Groups in Africa

Modern-day radical Islamists lay their ideological foundations on Salafism, a fundamental Islamic ideology. Salafism took roots in post-colonial Algeria among harsh economic conditions and general socio-political disappointment. The success of Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan and return of numerous veterans from Central Asia was a catalyst for armed struggle in Algeria.

The civil war that erupted in Algeria in 1991, gave birth to many radical Islamist organisations, including GIA, later known as GSPC, the forefather of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). After the end of the Algerian civil war in 2002, AQIM spread beyond Algerian borders, encompassing with its illicit and criminal activities most of the Western Sahel, including e.g. Northern Mali. The beginning of 21st century, and especially the Malian conflict of 2012, exemplified deeper cooperation between various terrorist groups such as AQIM, MUJAO, Ansar Dine and possibly even Nigerian Boko Haram. Boko Haram was established as a radical but nonviolent religious sect in Northern Nigeria’s economically neglected state of Borno. Primarily, the group had a religious attire supported by a micro-lending system; Boko Haram was opposing Westernisation and aiming at implementing the Sharia law. After clashes with the police and the death of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, the group further radicalised and started a campaign of violence under new leadership of Abubakar Shekau. The group’s wide-ranging criminal and insurgency-like activities, resulting in 20,000 deaths and more than 2 million displaced, has caused a deep crisis in Nigeria and neighbouring states.

In Somalia, due to the failure of state institutions in the 1990s, radical Islamist groups took over power in the country. Presently, al-Shabaab remains the most active and dangerous Islamist terrorist group in Somalia, seriously crippling the state’s power, and threating neighbouring countries (inter alia Kenya).

Analysis of these three groups shows that they sprang from – real or perceived – inequalities and negligence of state institutions. Where injustice, deprivation and desperation reigns, violent extremist groups present themselves as a challenge to the status quo and a form of escape. Religious ideologies serve as a tool for social mobilisation and a façade to cover groups’ political and economic motivations and aims.

Full article: 2018/3.


Krisztián Répási: Building a Brand Name: Franchises and Autonomous Cells of Militant Groups

One of the main characteristics of Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda (AQ) is that they have built a “brand name” by establishing a kind of franchise system. However, not only “jihadists” but also the radical environmentalist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Italian left-wing terrorist Informal Anarchist Federation (Federazione Anarchica Informale – FAI) have pursued to collect like-minded militants under a common banner, nevertheless, unlike “jihadists”, ELF and FAI have tried to reach their goal via developing the so-called “autonomous clandestine cell system”.This analysis investigates and compares the al-Qaeda and Islamic State franchises, also examining the structure of FAI and ELF, pointing out the similarities and differences between the two. The paper also analyzes the relationship of “jihadist” franchises and of autonomous clandestine ELF and FAI cells with their core organization. Finally, this study compares the franchise system with the autonomous clandestine cell system observing which one is the more effective, dangerous and viable modus operandi.Although throughout the paper the main foci are autonomous cells and local branches and not the central organizations, we also must deal with the core groups to some extent. Hence, on the one hand, it examines briefly the evolution of al-Qaeda’s ideology revealing parallels between the Islamic State’s strategy and the initial strategy of AQ. On the other hand, since FAI and ELF are little-known organizations with a less known ideological background, it is necessary to investigate their organization and functioning in detail. At the same time, while concentrating on cells, micro groups and larger organizations, the paper will not deal with single individuals (lone wolves).

Full article: 2016/10.


Sandra Kaziukonyte: The Baltics: Security environment and practical responses to the security challenges stemming from the crisis in Ukraine

The Russian aggression in Ukraine has caused anxiety among the former countries of the Soviet Union, especially in the Baltics, which share direct borders with Russia. However, the weakening sense of security of the Baltics is not inspired by a single factor but several events since 2007. The following study provides an overview of these factors while also introduces those counter-measures as well as military programs and reforms in the region which aimed to strengthen the Baltic States’ security after 2014. The final section of this paper presents those assurance measures which were implemented by foreign partners in order to bal-ance the threat posed by Russia.

Full article: 2016/7.pdf


Alex Etl: With the Image of Deterrence: Operation Atlantic Resolve

As the Obama-administration announced, addition-ally to assurance measures, deterrence will become a new pillar of Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR) and European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) from next year. For this reason, the administration seeks to increase the budget of OAR and ERI significantly to 3.4 billion USD for FY2017. This decision came into power after RAND Corporation pointed out that according to the currently foreseeable scenarios in case of a hypothetical armed aggression, Russian forces could reach the outskirts of Tallinn and Riga within 60 hours, leaving NATO with a limited number of risky options, including an escalatory nuclear strike. Thus ERI and OAR aim to increase U.S. non-nuclear deterrence capabilities in Europe in order to avoid a limited Russian attack on the East-ern Flank of NATO. In terms of structure, the first section of the study starts with a short overview of the concept of deterrence, while the second, drawing on the theoretical pillars, introduces the most important aspects of OAR and ERI. Through the introduction to deterrence theory and the subsequent empirical analysis of ERI and OAR, this study concludes that these steps create only the false image of deterrence, while the very essence of the increased U.S. presence in Europe is still about assurance. Nevertheless, and in contrast with the RAND study, we do not argue that this strategy of the Obama-administration would be fully inefficient. On the one hand, it helps to avoid the return of Cold War era uncertainty with its negative spirals and unintended consequences, while on the other hand it pushes European allies towards more nuanced defense politics, and does not disrupt the process of U.S. rebalancing either.

Full artcile: 2016/4