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

Why the International System Is Still Worth Fighting For

By Richard Gowan
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The multilateral security system is stumbling around the world as it suffers from major structural weaknesses. Yet elements of it have worked surprisingly well in the current set of crises, from documenting atrocities in Syria to mediating in Ukraine. Despite setbacks, a mix of international officials and observers, soldiers and governments remain willing to stand up for the vulnerable and uphold that system. more

Diplomatic Fallout

U.S., Russia Duel Over Humanitarian Interventions in Iraq and Ukraine

By Richard Gowan
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There has been a lot of talk about humanitarian interventions over the past week. Russia has pressed for a “humanitarian mission” to the war zone in eastern Ukraine. While telling Russia to back off, the Obama administration has launched air strikes in Iraq against the forces of the Islamic State. The humanitarian case for American action is clear. It may nonetheless also have unwelcome consequences. more

Diplomatic Fallout

Lacking Primetime Partners, U.S. Remains ‘Indispensable’ Crisis Manager

By Richard Gowan
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s ill-fated attempts to staunch conflict after conflict seem to confirm that Washington’s global influence is shriveling, even as the argument that the U.S. has little choice but to keep fighting diplomatic fires implies it is unable to choose where and when to expend its diplomatic energy. Does the U.S. have to be trapped in this pattern of obligations and setbacks? more

Diplomatic Fallout

Lacking Security Strategy, EU Counts on Nearby Crises to Absorb Threats

By Richard Gowan
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The EU’s security may actually benefit from ongoing crises in cases such as Ukraine, Mali and even Syria. The longer these conflicts absorb the efforts of potential foes, the less likely they are to menace the EU directly. EU members have no appetite to get involved in these wars, leading critics to grumble that it refuses to fight for its interests. But it may be in its interests to let others keep fighting. more

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