East & Southeast Asia

The Geopolitics of Energy: Powder Keg in the Eastern Mediterranean

The Russian oil boycott has not only shaken the global economy, but also exposes how overdue the world is for a transition to cleaner energy. Three scholars report on impacts of the boycott and emphasize the need for multilateral solutions that don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Worker in a section of pipe along the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline

By Michelle Nicholasen

Third in a series of interviews on the impact of the Russian oil boycott on countries around the world.... Read more about The Geopolitics of Energy: Powder Keg in the Eastern Mediterranean

The Geopolitics of Energy: China’s Coal Regime

The Russian oil boycott has not only shaken the global economy, but also exposes how overdue the world is for a transition to cleaner energy. Three scholars report on impacts of the boycott and emphasize the need for multilateral solutions that don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Back of coal miner in gear walking down a dark tunnel

By Michelle Nicholasen

Second in a series of interviews on the impact of the Russian oil boycott on countries around the world.... Read more about The Geopolitics of Energy: China’s Coal Regime

The Geopolitics of Energy: The 1970s Oil Crisis

The Russian oil boycott has not only shaken the global economy, but also exposes how overdue the world is for a transition to cleaner energy. Three scholars report on impacts of the boycott and emphasize the need for multilateral solutions that don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

Back of a man in the 1970s standing to cars and holding a gas can

By Michelle Nicholasen

First in a series of interviews on the impact of the Russian oil boycott on countries around the world.... Read more about The Geopolitics of Energy: The 1970s Oil Crisis

History's Hatred: China’s War on Drugs and the Power of Past Violence

Once part and parcel of Asia’s political economy during the age of imperialism, the opium trade wreaked social havoc in China and provoked an international movement toward drug control that endures to the present day. 

Drawing of woman and child turning away from opium smoker

By Steffen Rimner

For more than one hundred years, China has been waging a War on Drugs. For most of that century, its commitment to fight drug distribution and consumption was ironclad. 

The same is true today; China’s most recent public diplomacy has left little doubt that its anti-drug zeal has not abated. In spring 2009, the National Narcotics Commission of China joined hands with the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to host seventeen member states of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).1 Combining public fanfare with diplomatic finesse, the centennial highlighted the International Opium Commission (wanguo jinyan hui) of 1909 in Shanghai as the first-ever anti-drug summit in human history. The one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of global drug control, supported equally by Beijing and the international community, offered ready material for an intrinsically global politics of history, almost like a bait to fish.2
    
By 2019, only the centennial itself has been relegated to history. The screens announcing an “existing spirit of shared responsibilities and mutual trust”3 have disappeared. So has the carefully choreographed exhibit featuring global drug control as China’s brainchild. Likewise, the Shanghai Declaration, proclaiming Chinese and international cooperation in global drug control, is now gathering dust, devolved into a historical document.4 Most dramatically, even the luster of high office in Chinese drug control did not shield officials from sudden state scrutiny. At the commemoration of 2009, Meng Hongwei gave one of the major speeches as acting vice minister of public security. In 2018, he resigned as chief of Interpol after being arrested by his own government on charges of corruption.... Read more about History's Hatred: China’s War on Drugs and the Power of Past Violence

Trump’s Impact on the World: Timothy J. Colton on Russia

Harvard Professor of Government and Russian Studies Timothy Colton discusses the fraught relationship between the US and Russia under the Trump administration.

Image of Tim Colton and Melani Cammett at the orientation panel

This is the third blog post in a series of edited transcripts from a panel on Trump's presidency held during our orientation in August 28, 2018. Our three panelists were Christina L. Davis, Melani Cammett, and Timothy Colton. 

Since the panel took place, the following events have occurred. The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has intensified, with more indictments and sentences handed down to President Trump’s associates, bringing the total number of indictments and guilty pleas in the investigation to thirty-three.

In October, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against several Russian operatives, accusing them of conducting “information warfare” during the US midterm elections. In a constitutionally questionable move the day after the midterms, President Trump replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, who is serving as acting attorney general overseeing the investigation until an official replacement is confirmed.

Further, Trump’s abrupt announcement in December that he would be withdrawing American troops from Syria prompted the sudden resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The troop withdrawal was praised by Vladimir Putin, who analysts say can now work more strategically with Assad to form a dominant power alliance in the region.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk delivered by Timothy Colton:

So let's talk about Trump and Russia. 

This is a tangled tale. I sat down last night to try and update my sense of this. I've written a few op-ed pieces, but I think it's very hard to do scholarly work that comes to the point of publishing really scholarly papers, let alone books, on this subject because it changes almost from week to week. 

Once we have some distance in time, we may be able to make better sense of it than we can just for the moment. It is a tangled tale, and it also has been rendered. You [Melani Cammett] mentioned cable television. So cable television, of course, is on this story, but often in a rather simple-minded way, it seems to me. And it would be nice to improve on the media interpretation, but it's hard to come up with an alternative one that's more grounded in normal scholarly frames.... Read more about Trump’s Impact on the World: Timothy J. Colton on Russia

Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

Harvard historian Odd Arne Westad contends that the Cold War lasted 100 years—and affected many more countries than originally thought.

Image of Arne Westad

As an international historian, Faculty Associate Odd Arne Westad may be best known for bringing a fresh interpretation to the Cold War in which he argues that the era began much earlier and extended much farther than popularly thought.

Those and other themes are explored in detail in a comprehensive new history of the Cold War written by Westad, the S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations at Harvard Kennedy School. In The Cold War: A World History, Westad traces the broad history of the era, including what he sees as its origins and its far-flung effects.

The Harvard Gazette spoke to Westad about his perspective on the Cold War, including the forces that brought about and sustained the epic confrontation, and how it continues to reverberate decades after ending.

Q: What inspired your fascination with the Cold War?
 

A: Growing up in Norway would be a part of it. Norway in the 1960s and early 1970s when I grew up was very much a kind of border region with regard to the East-West conflict. It very much felt like that when I was a child. Then when I was just out of college I was doing a lot of work with different kinds of volunteer organizations. I went to southern Africa to work there for a while with a relief organization dealing with refugees. I did some work in Pakistan a little bit later in the mid-1980s. And that certainly also inspired me in terms of thinking about these issues, because then you got to see the impact of the Cold War in a very different kind of way. Many of the problems these people were coping with had actually been created by the Cold War in a much more direct sense than anything I had experienced where I grew up.... Read more about The Cold War’s Endless Ripples

The Upside of Nationalism: Politics for the Common Good in India

In her new book, political scientist Prerna Singh considers why some states develop more inclusive welfare policies and deliver better social outcomes.

Map of India

“The quality of life that a person leads,” writes Prerna Singh, “depends critically on where she leads it.” How Solidarity Works for Welfare: Subnationalism and Social Development in India is at its core an unpacking of that sentence and its implications for international development. Why do some states in India deliver better schools and health care systems than others?

... Read more about The Upside of Nationalism: Politics for the Common Good in India

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