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Russia’s Arctic Ambitions  

Robert Orttung

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the Arctic a priority since taking power in 2000. He sees developing Arctic oil and natural gas resources as a key driver of Russia’s economy, the Northern Sea Route as shaping Russia’s geostrategic future, and an increased military presence as an indicator of Russia’s great-power status. Considering whether Russia will be able to realize these ambitions opens up a wide range of research questions that continue to be hotly debated more than a year after Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia’s authoritarian government has quashed independent movements among all parts of its population, and the Arctic’s Indigenous population is no exception. How these various groups can express their interests within a closed political system and what Indigeneity means in the Russian Arctic context animate work in this area. Energy is also a central theme for Russia because the country depends heavily on fossil fuel exports to power its economy and maintain standards of living. How will Russia adapt as the world moves slowly, but inexorably, away from its current reliance on fossil fuels and seeks greener forms of energy? Will Russia’s Arctic have a role to play in the new economy, or will it simply rely on state subsidies and an expanded military presence? As the global economy continues to shift, climate change and outside forces will have a growing impact on the Russian north. The Kremlin sees the Northern Sea Route as a vital link for East–West trade, but political, economic, and environmental uncertainties suggest there is little hope that the route will ever come near serving as a replacement for the Suez Canal. Similarly, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the escalating violence in both countries has ratcheted up the ongoing militarization of the Arctic and split the region into two competing blocs: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) versus Russia. In these conditions, what is the future for international diplomacy, the Arctic’s record for cooperation, and regional institutions like the Arctic Council? Having lost access to some Western technology and markets because of sanctions, the Russian north no longer benefits from its ability to balance between East and West, and it is growing more reliant on China. To what extent do the interests of these two countries coincide? While China may appreciate having Russia as a partner in countering the West, it has its own global ambitions, and cleaving too close to a chaotic and faltering Russia could limit what it can achieve. Overall, as the Putinist state looks increasingly distracted by the war effort, and as the global context around the Russian Arctic transforms, the future of Russia’s north is uncertain at best.

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Civil-Military Relations in Asia: Between Democratization and Autocratization  

Aurel Croissant

The civil-military relations of many Asian countries are subjectto important changes. In authoritarian, democratized, and autocratizing countries in South, Southeast and Northeast Asia, praetorianism—once prevalent in the region—has been in decline since the late 1980s, though it is still relevant in a number of countries. The erosion of praetorianism is mainly a consequence of the Asian-Pacific wave of democratization from the mid-1980s to the early 2000s. Democratic liberalization and transition had a positive impact on political control, military effectiveness and civilian supremacy in many transitional democracies. Since the late 2000s, however, the region has experienced a pronounced trend in autocratization or democratic backsliding. While endogenous modes of democratic weakening and termination , especially incumbent-driven executive aggrandizement,are dominant in post–Cold War Asia-Pacific, open-ended and promissory military coups are also very important. In many countries, soldiers either supported civilian efforts at democratic backsliding and autocratic consolidation. In other cases, they stood by while autocratization played out. Three key variables, combined, can account for the different roles of militaries in episodes of autocratization. The first one is the existence of a strong political organization which can be used by the incumbent executive to organize and mobilize political support and which can counterweight the political power of the military organization and its elites. The second factor concerns the existence of perceived threats to the organizational interests of a military. The third factor concerns strong praetorian legacies. The role that military officers and their organizations play in such episodes of democratic backsliding and autocratic hardening are important for the future trajectories of democracy, autocracy and civil-military relations. .

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Interconnected Asian History and “Open” World Orders  

Manjeet S. Pardesi

Historical Asia was an interconnected system of “open” world orders. This is a crucial theoretical takeaway for International Relations (IR) theory from historical Asia. In other words, there has never been one single order covering all of Asia or any of its subregions. There were multiple, unevenly overlapping orders in historical Asia. This perspective, which is rooted in the global historical approach to IR, challenges the Eurocentric notion of the “containerized” version of Asian regional worlds and world orders that only came into meaningful contact with each other because of the early modern European expansion. At the same time, this global and historical perspective also challenges all essentialist views of the East Asian past that characterize that part of the world as living in splendid Sinocentric isolation for thousands of years until China and East Asia were “opened up” by the West. Two crucial periods and processes of Asian history show the deep and transformative impact of the entanglements between South Asia and East Asia for Asian world orders: the Indic-Buddhist impact on China in the 1st millennium (and into the early centuries of the 2nd millennium), and the role of India in the so-called opening up of China by the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. These processes provide two crucial insights. First, historical East Asia was not a China-centered system for 2,000 years. The Buddhist impact on China had a profound impact on both the Chinese worldview and the world order(s) that existed in (East) Asia. More specifically, the Buddhist interconnections across Asia demonstrate that the “international” (or the global) was larger than East Asia, and that China and its eastern neighbors knew that too. Second, and relatedly, pre-European East Asia was not a “closed” system. While the expansion of Europe may have “opened up” China and East Asia in the 19th century, this represented the “opening up” of that part of the world for the West, and not because East Asia lived in Sinocentric isolation from the rest of Asia. Furthermore, Indian resources played a fundamental role in that Sino-Western encounter, thereby demonstrating the interconnectedness of the world orders of South and East Asia. Asia and its subregions defy singular and all-encompassing orders, and Asian history points toward a plurality of open and overlapping orders. Notably, the emerging regional orders in Asia are also pointing toward such a configuration. Asia is not one, but Asia is not disconnected either.

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The North Korean Nuclear Crisis: A Non-Compensatory Explanation  

Uk Heo and Cassidy Welch

Since the North Korean nuclear crisis began in the early 1990s, various efforts have been made to induce North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Both engagement approaches as well as pressure tactics have been employed, yet nothing has worked, and North Korea is essentially a nuclear power considering that it has conducted six nuclear tests. Why do North Korea want nuclear weapons, and why have previous denuclearization efforts failed? It could be argued that the reason for the failures of previous efforts is that these strategies did not address the underlying basis for North Korea’s nuclear pursuit, regime security. Utilizing the poliheuristic theory, the motive of North Korea’s nuclear development and why previous policies have failed may be theoretically and empirically explained.

Article

Islam and Politics in Asia  

Robert W. Hefner

Muslim politics everywhere takes varied forms, but it is especially diverse across the geographic expanse that constitutes East, South, and Southeast Asia. Although in a few areas of South Asia Muslim polities were established during the first wave of Islamic expansion in the 7th century, Islam across most of this region arrived centuries later and through channels other than military conquest. From the late 19th century onward, the spread of capitalist modes of production, the rise of nationalist movements, and the development of new social media and new traditions of learning compounded the diversity of Muslim politics. Although some varieties of Islamic reform have sought to contain or eliminate this diversity, Muslim politics across the Asian region remains highly varied. The diversity has been compounded by Muslims’ engagements with the nation-state, capitalist development, and new practices of religious learning, association, and communications.

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The Politics of Prosecuting Genocide and War Crimes in Asia  

John Ciorciari

Delivering justice for genocide, war crimes, and other mass atrocities inevitably presents steep political challenges. That has certainly been true in Asia, where relatively few such international crimes have been prosecuted. Many Japanese were tried for war crimes following the Second World War, but for decades thereafter, the region saw only a few ill-fated efforts to advance justice for mass crimes. Some political space for accountability opened after the Cold War, enabling the creation of tribunals in Timor-Leste, Cambodia, and Bangladesh to address some of the many instances of impunity in Asia. Some observers have welcomed these trials as important efforts to advance accountability in a region rife with impunity. Still, the design and performance of these tribunals have reflected the difficulty of subjecting politically empowered or protected actors to justice. In each instance, trials have focused on suspects defeated at the ballot box or on the battlefield, prompting charges of victor’s justice. In other cases, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, even mounting an accountability process has proven a formidable challenge. In a region where Westphalian sovereignty and the norm of noninterference are strong, the will of incumbent domestic authorities remains the political linchpin for accountability efforts. In Asia as elsewhere, prosecuting international crimes requires exploiting windows of political possibility, although typically at the cost of accepting highly selective justice.

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Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore Revisited: Ideologically-Bounded Democracies?  

Kai Ostwald

Malaysia and Singapore were long seen as quintessential hybrid regimes that combined elements of electoral democracy and autocracy to achieve remarkable political stability: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) dominated Malaysia’s politics for over six decades before its unexpected defeat in 2018, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) has led Singapore since the country’s independence and remains in power today. Both parties attained dominance through similar channels. UMNO and the PAP accrued significant legitimacy by overseeing decades of rapid socioeconomic development that transformed the citizenry’s lives. Embedding ideological frameworks—based on empowerment of the Indigenous Malay majority in Malaysia and overcoming systemic vulnerability in Singapore—throughout the state and the electorate provided electoral advantages and further bolstered legitimacy. This was supplemented by regularly reshaping institutions to strengthen incumbency advantages, as well as occasional usage of coercion to limit inroads by opposition challengers. Both regimes have evolved in key ways since the turn of the 21st century. UMNO saw its dominance gradually erode in the decade before its 2018 defeat. It mounted a brief comeback in 2020, but its decisive loss in the 2022 election marked a clear end to its hegemonic rule. While the PAP remains in power, it faces stiffer opposition and a “politically awakened” electorate, also marking a departure from earlier phases of uncontested dominance. While there is disagreement on how extensively these developments change the nature of the underlying regimes, several points are clear. Even if party dominance has declined, the ideological frameworks that both parties established remain intact and fundamentally shape political competition, which is free and relatively fair within the ideological bounds imposed by those frameworks. Moreover, the strength of the ideological bounds is such that no political actor has the agency to unilaterally remove them, which may preclude democratization as it is typically understood. On the opposition side, strong inroads, made in part by conforming to the ideological frameworks, have allowed opposition parties to accrue legitimacy of their own. This has made coercion more costly and has diminished its role in maintaining power. In short, elements of the regimes in Malaysia and Singapore remain resilient. But they are fundamentally different than during the peak of UMNO and PAP dominance: the opposition has accrued legitimacy, the role of coercion has diminished, and political competition now occurs relatively freely within the bounds imposed by the respective ideological frameworks. This puts the current regimes in tension with the assumptions underpinning their earlier “hybrid” classifications, and raises a question: rather than assessing how every political twist and turn moves the needle on a two-dimensional autocracy–democracy spectrum, could it be more practical to think of Malaysia and Singapore as having evolved into relatively stable vernacular democracies that, albeit not fully democratic by conventional standards, are as democratic as the ideological constraints left behind by their founding and long-dominant parties credibly allow?

Article

Legal Repression in Russia  

Katerina Tertytchnaya and Madeleine Tiratsoo

Contemporary authoritarian regimes use the law in order to stifle their rivals’ ability and willingness to challenge the state. Research has investigated the conditions that make legal repression more likely in electoral autocracies and advanced our understanding of the ways in which legislation may be used for repressive ends in these settings. To a lesser extent, studies have also explored the consequences of legal repression in nondemocracies, focusing on its impact on dissent, opposition leaders, protesters, and civil society. This article discusses how, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the law has been used to exercise political power vis-à-vis the opposition. Since the early 2000s, the Russian authorities have used legislative channels to adopt and refine laws and regulations aimed at hindering protest and inhibiting the development of an independent civil society. The discussion of the Russian case contributes to comparative research on legal repression and authoritarian politics in various ways. First, it offers important insights into the direct and indirect consequences of legal repression on dissent, the development of civil society, and public opinion toward groups targeted by legal repression. Second, the study of Russia illustrates how institutional capture and power consolidation facilitate the adoption and implementation of repressive legislation. Finally, the Russian case advances our understanding of the dynamic nature of legal repression. Reforms to laws regulating protest and civil society in Russia showcase how domestic and external events may cause legal repression to escalate. The article concludes by identifying fruitful avenues for future research on legal repression.

Article

Russian Legal System and Use of Law  

Kathryn Hendley

The Russian legal system has a spotty reputation, both domestically and internationally. The distrust stems from well-publicized cases involving enemies of political or economic elites in which the outcome in favor of the elites is obviously predetermined. Coexisting with such cases are millions of mundane cases in which judges adhere scrupulously to the statutory law. This sort of legal dualism is not uncommon under authoritarianism. Russia’s constitution reflects this dualism. Its relevance to daily life and its capacity to constrain arbitrary state actions is questionable. Adopted in 1993, it proclaims Russia to be a state governed by the rule of law and includes a chapter with a comprehensive list of rights guaranteed to citizens which cannot be changed without convening a constitutional assembly. The constitutional court, which is a post-Soviet institutional innovation, is charged with ensuring compliance with the constitution. Amending the constitution requires consent from both the national legislature and two-thirds of the regional legislatures. The electoral dominance of the political party associated with Vladimir Putin has made this seemingly high threshold for amendments easily achievable. He has bent the constitution to his political will with multiple amendments, culminating in a set of over 100 amendments approved in 2020. The use of courts by Russian citizens and businesses has increased steadily during the post-Soviet period. As a rule, disputes are handled quickly and inexpensively. Even so, litigating is not the preferred option; Russians typically end up in court only when informal negotiations fail. As a rule, they go to court to solve practical problems rather than to advance issues of principle. The courts’ dockets are dominated by civil claims, such as family law disputes and various forms of debt collection. The straightforward nature of the procedural rules allows many litigants to represent themselves. In criminal cases, which are fewer, defendants are required to be represented by a licensed attorney (advokat). The state covers the cost of legal representation for the poor. Litigants who are dissatisfied with the outcomes of their cases can pursue appeals, culminating in the Russian Supreme Court. Citizens who believe that officials have violated their rights can pursue their claims in the stand-alone constitutional court, whose decisions serve as binding precedent. The post-Soviet era has witnessed wide ranging reforms to the legal system. Some were aimed at depoliticizing the courts. Judges are selected by a professional council dominated by judges that assesses candidates’ knowledge of law and appropriateness for the bench. They enjoy life tenure, subject to removal for cause—a process that is occasionally hijacked to remove judges who fail to toe the line in political cases. The reforms also sought to ease the heavy workload of judges by introducing a form of plea bargaining in criminal cases and opening the door to a type of summary judgment in civil cases in which defendants have conceded their culpability.

Article

Russian Populism  

Neil Robinson

Russia has a long history of populism. Russia’s 19th-century populist movement is often seen as one of the founding moments of modern populism, and the movement and its successors were among the main revolutionary forces against Tsarism. More recently, parties like the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation have been labeled populist, and President Vladimir Putin has been called a populist. This article looks at these different strands of Russian populism. It reviews the development of 19th-century populism—narodnichestvo—and how it developed ideas about the possibility of constructing a Russian socialism based on peasant communes. It examines how narodnichestvo veered between propaganda work and terrorist activity and how this set the pattern for the revolutionary activity of the first populists’ successors, the Social Revolutionary Party, which was formed in the early 20th century. The article then looks at the different forms that post-Soviet populizm (as populism is labeled in modern Russian) has taken. It looks at the ideas of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and then looks at why Putin has been called a populist, focusing on the ideas that he put forward from 2011 onward about Russia as a particular form of civilization and state. These ideas, it is argued, formed the core of an “official” populism that, while effective as a means of arguing for Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, is politically sterile.