Richard Gowan

Richard Gowan is an associate director at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, and a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Articles written by Richard Gowan

Diplomatic Fallout

West Needs New Rules to Contain Proxy Wars With Russia

By Richard Gowan
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The events of the past week in Ukraine have confirmed three painful facts about the state of international affairs. The first is that the West is trapped in a cycle of proxy wars with Russia, running from Libya through Syria to Ukraine. The second is that there is no real rulebook for managing these conflicts. The third is that these confrontations are liable to escalate with unnerving frequency. more

Diplomatic Fallout

Despite Risk of Escalation, West and Russia Keep Ukraine Crisis Limited

By Richard Gowan
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Ukraine a model for the management of future international crises? At first glance, it looks like nothing of the sort. Kiev is in the middle of a bloody military campaign against pro-Russian rebels in the east, with more and more civilians caught in the crossfire. There is still a danger that this conflict could escalate further. Yet the most striking feature of the crisis is just how limited it remains. more

Diplomatic Fallout

Syria’s Chemical Arms Destroyed, but Aid Effort Unravels

By Richard Gowan
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Although no end to the war in Syria is in sight, remnants of international cooperation have survived. The U.S. and Russia have dismantled Syria’s chemical arms stockpile, and the U.N. is, in theory, committed to getting humanitarian aid into the country. This ugly modus vivendi is arguably a potential model for big-power cooperation in managing future conflicts. But is even this minimal consensus sustainable? more

Diplomatic Fallout

For U.N. in Iraq, ISIS Irrelevance Worse Than 2003 Impotence

By Richard Gowan
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The 2003 Iraq war split the Security Council, but the U.N. ultimately sustained only limited long-term damage from the incident. In the 11 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the council has passed over 600 resolutions on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to African conflicts. Now the U.N. faces another war in Iraq, at a time when its overall credibility may be in greater danger than it was in 2003. more

Diplomatic Fallout

Race to Succeed Ban at U.N. Heats Up

By Richard Gowan
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The race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general of the United Nations is heating up. More or less open candidates are emerging with growing frequency. This may seem premature: Ban will not leave office until the end of 2016, and he has a lot of unfinished business to attend to. But if Ban seems intent on going out with a bang, U.N. officials and diplomats are already speculating about his successor. more

Seizure of OSCE Monitors Raises Questions About Ukraine Mission

By Richard Gowan
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It was no surprise when pro-Russian forces seized eight European military monitors in eastern Ukraine last week. A growing number of international observers have deployed to Ukraine over the past two months, and it was inevitable that some would be snatched. But the episode also raises strategic questions about the goals of international monitors in Ukraine. Does their presence calm or complicate the conflict? more

Diplomatic Fallout: Why the Ukraine Crisis Is Good for Obama

By Richard Gowan
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Will Vladimir Putin or Barack Obama ultimately benefit most from the crisis in Ukraine? Most pundits are betting on the former. The Russian president has pulled off a bravura display of ruthless guile in seizing control of the Crimea, while his American counterpart has looked limited. Obama’s critics have naturally attributed Putin’s aggression to U.S. weakness. But Obama may emerge as the final winner. more

Diplomatic Fallout: U.N. and OSCE May Offer Least-Bad Options in Ukraine

By Richard Gowan
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The Ukrainian crisis has aroused an ugly array of thugs, from the snipers who fired on protesters in Kiev to pro-Russian biker gangs. But numerous multilateral organizations have been implicated too, from the EU, G-8 and U.N. to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A political settlement will involve a messy mix of these organizations. That may at least be preferable to victory for the thugs. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Putin’s Failure in Ukraine Could Worsen Syria Crisis

By Richard Gowan
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The Ukrainian revolution and Syrian rebellion appear to be on different trajectories. President Bashar Assad maintains a brutally tenacious hold on power, while his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from the capital, Kiev, last week. Assad may view Yanukovych’s humiliation as proof of the need for utter ruthlessness against his opponents. But the two men’s fates remain intertwined. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Why Nuland, U.S. Prefer U.N. to EU in Ukraine

By Richard Gowan
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Foreign affairs specialists snickered last week after an unknown source released a recording of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland saying, “F**k the EU.” Judging by the recording, it was merely the sort of bad language that diplomats use every day in private. The truly striking aspect of the leaked tape is not Nuland’s dismissal of the EU but her apparent enthusiasm for working with the U.N. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Crisis in CAR Continues to Divide Western Powers

By Richard Gowan
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Few would deny that the Central African Republic has endured a hellish breakdown of basic order. But is this a humanitarian disaster to be stopped through rapid military action? Or is it a case of a failed state that demands a long-term effort to rebuild state capacity? Or could it morph into the next front in the war with radical Islamists? The crisis is becoming a Rorschach test for international policymakers. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Africa Still Matters to EU Defense Cooperation

By Richard Gowan
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Last week, the EU approved plans to send up to 1,000 troops to the Central African Republic, with Estonia the first EU member to make a firm pledge of ground forces to the mission. Other eastern EU members including Poland and the Czech Republic are also reportedly considering participating. This diplomatic maneuvering says more about the state of European defense cooperation than African affairs. more

Diplomatic Fallout: International Crisis Diplomacy on the Defensive, Part II

By Richard Gowan
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Optimists argue that the international community is better at dealing with mass atrocities than it was two decades ago during the Rwandan genocide. Yet recently the consensus in favor of international engagement has delivered underwhelming results. International actors have developed numerous tools to deter such violence since 1994. They are increasingly frustrated by the failure of these tools to work. more

Diplomatic Fallout: International Crisis Diplomacy on the Defensive, Part I

By Richard Gowan
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Since the conflict in South Sudan escalated in December, well-meaning governments and U.N. officials have repeatedly argued that only a political solution can end the fighting. But from Sri Lanka to Darfur and Syria, Western powers and the U.N. appear willing—or obliged—to put aside bargaining with leaders who have ignored this advice, tragically affirming the continued political value of brute force. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Syria and South Sudan Simultaneously Test U.N.—and U.S.

By Richard Gowan
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It is certain that 2014 will be a turbulent year for the United Nations. The organization is struggling with crises ranging from the chaos in the Central African Republic to the plight of Syrian refugees. There is little hope that these challenges will dissipate soon. Yet two sets of peace talks this month could decide whether the U.N. faces a truly dreadful year ahead, or just a very difficult one. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Can the U.N. Rebuild its Force in South Sudan?

By Richard Gowan
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After two weeks of slaughter in South Sudan, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country faces three possible scenarios: fragile success, prolonged agony and decisive failure. The best of these could see UNMISS hold together through successful peace talks, while the worst could see it routed. However it unfolds, the mission’s fate could reshape debates about the U.N.’s capabilities and limits. more

No Peace to Keep: U.N. Peacekeeping's Year of Living Dangerously

By Richard Gowan
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For traditionalists at the U.N., efforts in 2013 to launch a peacekeeping mission for Syria seemed indicative of a new willingness to take risks with peacekeepers’ lives. These critics fear that trends toward aggressive "peacekeeping" have already shaped U.N. planning for current missions in Africa. The resulting debate over the risks and rules of peacekeeping has ground on throughout the year. What if anything has the U.N. learned? And is there still a chance that U.N. peacekeepers could be called upon to return to Syria? more

Diplomatic Fallout: For U.N. and Ban, Morality Is a Double-Edged Sword

By Richard Gowan
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Does Ban Ki-moon fall prey to the sin of envy when he thinks of Pope Francis? The two men are arguably the leaders of the two most significant global institutions, and idealists have dubbed the secretary-general of the United Nations a “secular pope.” Ban does not subscribe to this grandiloquent self-description. But he may wish he could communicate moral themes as effectively as the new pontiff. more

Diplomatic Fallout: For France’s Hollande, African Interventions a Strategic Failure

By Richard Gowan
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Is there a lonelier or more poorly understood warrior than French President Francois Hollande? Last week, as French troops prepared to intervene in the Central African Republic, there were plaudits from abroad for the domestically unpopular president. It would be wrong to begrudge Hollande his dose of praise. But it is wrong to suggest that he has been decisive or visionary in handling African crises. more

Diplomatic Fallout: Europe’s Struggle for Strategic Competitiveness, Part II

By Richard Gowan
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Does the EU, notorious for producing reams of official documents, need to churn out another one? In last week’s column, I argued that the EU needs an overarching strategy to respond to escalating challenges both on its periphery and at the global level. The existing European Security Strategy, completed 10 years ago, remains a pithy analysis of the problems the bloc faced in 2003. But its age shows. more