Are you preparing to study International Relations with Varsity this summer? The world of IR is constantly developing, and while you’ll look at historical events and international relations theories during your course, whether it be with Varsity or at university, it’s also extremely important to know about current affairs. Here are some of the world’s biggest ongoing issues in state-to-state relations that you might want to learn more about before starting your IR classes. Read on for a short summary of each.
Although described as a civil war, the reality of the conflict in Syria is much more complicated. Involving a host of state and non state actors, the conflict has seen a plethora of rebel groups, supported diplomatically and to varying extents materially by the West and an alliance of Sunni Arab states, pitted against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and his allies in Russia, Iran, and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The conflict is further complicated by the presence of the transnational Islamic State terrorist group, a struggle for self determination by the Kurds, and a Turkish military intervention aimed at both groups.
This intractable conflict has seen bitter recriminations and deadlock in the UN Security Council and round after round of failed peace negotiations. Indeed, it has shaken the very foundations of the international system founded after the fall of the USSR in 1991 – America has seen its authority falter after former president Obama failed to back up his ‘red lines’ over chemical weapons use with force, and Russia’s intervention has once again demonstrated its willingness to pursue its interests in the face of sanctions and western condemnation.
The paralysis at the UN and the flagrant abuses of human rights carried out in Syria ask fundamental questions about the effectiveness of international diplomacy and respect for international agreements like the Geneva Convention in the 21st century. The conflict is also a valuable case study for the role of non-state actors, and the tensions between the interests of individual states and that of their allies – particularly regarding Turkey as a member of NATO.
A territorial dispute has continued to develop in recent years between China and several Southeast Asian countries bordering the South China Sea. Although most of the sea is regarded as international waters by the United Nations, the US, and most other countries, China has long claimed almost the entirety of the body of water with its ‘9 dash line’, stretching for thousands of miles from its own coastline, as part of its sovereign territory. This includes areas designated as the Exclusive Economic Areas of Vietnam, The Philippines, and others.
Despite a ruling against China’s claim by an international tribunal in the Hague, China continues to ignore international diplomatic pressure, and has constructed artificial islands with military facilities on top of several rocky shoals in the previously uninhabited region. China has resisted attempts at negotiation in any multilateral framework, and has instead attempted to negotiate bilaterally with each party, using its economic and military strength to pressure the other countries, most of which are American allies, into accepting its territorial claims – scoring a noticeable success with The Philippines.
This dispute is a prime example of China’s growing power in Asia, and demonstrates its challenge to American hegemony, as well as showing the inability of international diplomatic frameworks to constrain powerful countries from pursuing their interests in violation of international law.
Since its birth as the European Coal and Steel Community, founded with six countries in 1951, the EU has developed out of a series of major international diplomatic, economic and legal agreements into a 28 state supranational body with wide-ranging powers and influence. Despite growing consistently during this period, in 2016 the British public voted in a referendum to become the first ever nation to leave the Union in its history.
This promises some of the most complex negotiations in modern history, as the UK attempts to reach a divorce settlement which will be accepted by the other 27 EU member states. The negotiations are due to last two years, after which, if no settlement is reached, Britain will find itself with no agreements with the EU, a so called ‘Hard Brexit’, where Britain will have to trade with Europe under WTO rules –on the same footing as countries in Asia and Africa.
Since the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled Kiev on February 22 2014, the country has been in crisis. A Russian military intervention in Crimea resulted in its annexation less than a month later, and two regions of eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia, have declared their independence and, with heavy Russian backing, are involved in an ongoing war with the Ukrainian government.
This conflict has roots in long-running geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West. Since the fall of the USSR, NATO has steadily expanded eastwards, bringing the borders of the US-led military alliance right to Russia’s frontiers, with former Soviet countries like Estonia joining the alliance. Russia has fought hard to keep what is left of its sphere of influence in the former USSR intact, even fighting a war with Georgia in 2008 to preserve the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The crisis erupted when the Ukrainian president signed an agreement which would align Ukraine more closely with Russia, angering some Ukrainians, particularly in Kiev and the west of the country. Street protests led the president to flee the city, and a new pro-Western government took power. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s response was drastic, aggressive, and novel, deploying Russian forces without insignia and initially denying involvement. In response to the Russian actions, the US and its allies enforced sanctions against Russia. Despite the prospect of a rapprochement between Russia and America following the election of President Trump, relations currently remain strained.
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