Secretary of State John Kerry’s powerful speech this afternoon makes it all too clear that the U.S. is progressing toward military strikes on Syria. There is dire humanitarian need, with the gassing of civilians being only the latest atrocity. Yet the Obama administration’s choice of tactics to meet that need are too limited; intervention by cruise missile will not sufficiently protect civilians and is therefore not ethically defensible. Writing for the Huffington Post today, Jeff McMahan lays out the ethical framework for assessing the potential U.S. strikes on Syria. Given the Syrian government’s attacks on its civilians, strikes intended “to […]

Prepping the international community for U.S. military strikes on Syria, the Obama administration, through Secretary of State John Kerry, invoked moral terms: “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.” The British government raised the argument a level further today, claiming that “the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention.” And yet all signs point to an intervention narrowly focused on the Syrian military’s ability to deliver chemical weapons attacks. Nicholas Kristof sums up the rationale succinctly: “It would reinforce the international norm against weapons […]

For more than a year, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Defense Forces (YPG) have exercised state-like power in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Supported by Iran with weapons and ammunition moved through central Iraq, the PYD—a Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—controls large parts of the border region between the Kurdish areas of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Activists criticizing or not cooperating with the PYD have been abducted, tortured and sometimes killed. The PYD imposes taxes on gasoline, collects border fees and has established a system of courts. Since summer 2012, the Syrian regime has […]

The most remarkable trait of Washington’s policy toward Egypt has been its lack of clarity. That’s part of the reason why each side in the battle over Egypt’s future blames America for supporting the other. Now President Barack Obama has to decide whether or not to continue providing more than $1.5 billion in aid annually. He will be tempted to make another hazy, ambiguous decision, one that allows him to stand on all sides of the issue. Instead, he should take the opportunity to clarify America’s position. According to some reports, the Obama administration has secretly suspended aid, which manages […]

American presidential elections often provide a forum to air differences on military strength between the opposing candidates and their parties. This was particularly true after Vietnam, when a clear distinction between the Republican and Democratic approaches to defense took shape. The GOP favored robust military spending, took a hard line toward the Soviet Union, was skeptical of international organizations and placed less stress on treaties to promote American security. Democrats, by contrast, emphasized international organizations, diplomacy and the promotion of collective and humanitarian interests. By the 1980s, the Republican notion clearly resonated more deeply with the American public: Ronald Reagan […]

Since the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the brutal military crackdown on the Islamic movement that has led to more than 1,000 deaths, regional actors in the Middle East have been positioning themselves behind the opposing sides. There has been a divide among U.S. allies, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait coming out in strong support of the military rule in Egypt, and Qatar remaining a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government. “Saudi Arabia has emerged very publicly,” Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East analyst who directs the New Internationalism Project at […]

British Prime Minister David Cameron has asked European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to gather evidence on whether the additional checks Spain has imposed on its border with Gibraltar are politically motivated. Cameron’s request is part of an escalating dispute between the United Kingdom and Spain over Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory surrounded by Spanish territory. Spain, which claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, a small peninsula off Spain’s southern coast, cited concerns over smuggling as the reason it was imposing additional checks at the border. In separate email interviews, Pawel Swidlicki, research analyst at Open Europe, and Alejandro Baron, a researcher […]

Next month, Sri Lanka’s northern province, which until four years ago was the site of a devastating war between the central government and ethnic Tamil separatists, will hold its first postwar provincial elections. In an email interview, Alan Keenan, senior analyst and Sri Lanka project director at International Crisis Group, discussed the trajectory of Sri Lanka’s politics and governance since the end of the civil war. WPR: How has the end of the war affected the political standing of Tamils in Sri Lanka? Alan Keenan: The political standing of Tamils has been weakened since the end of the war, despite […]

Revolutions are difficult to gauge in their early stages. They are born out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a growing feeling that deep change is needed. Most of the time such dissatisfaction ends with modest reform. But in rare instances, it can turn into true revolution and alter the course of history. Because revolutions are driven by thousands, even millions, of individual human decisions, predicting their outcome is difficult. Even the revolutionaries who start them are often surprised by the result. Today a revolution may be brewing in American security policy. More and more Americans are dissatisfied with […]

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won the presidential election against Soumaila Cisse in Mali, the West African country that made headlines in the past year and a half for its military coup and an international intervention to oust Islamist rebels. But while Cisse conceded Monday night in a peaceful conclusion to an election that some feared was coming too soon, many barriers remain in the way of the fulfillment of Keita’s campaign promise of unifying the country. Andrew Lebovich, Sahel consultant with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and an expert on Mali, said Keita, who was prime minister from […]

As the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) shifts to a training and advisory role in Afghanistan in preparation for the planned end of its mission in 2014, the Afghan air force has had difficulty replacing the air support capabilities previously supplied by international forces. In an email interview, Gary Owen, the pen name of an analyst and development worker in Afghanistan who has written on the readiness of the Afghan air force, explained the force’s history and current capabilities. WPR: When was the last time Afghanistan had a functioning air force? Gary Owen: The history of the Afghan air force […]

Signifying Nothing: Why Terrorist Blacklists Don’t Work

In July, the EU caved to pressure from the U.S. and Israel and added Hezbollah’s “military wing” to its blacklist of terrorist entities subject to financial sanctions. The U.S. and Israel applauded the move; Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah shrugged it off as meaningless. Nasrallah is right: It is meaningless. The first reason it’s meaningless, as noted elsewhere, is that Hezbollah is a fully integrated political and military organization, and there is no real way to enforce sanctions against the “military wing” by itself. The second and more important reason is that, as a policy tool, terrorist blacklists in general are […]

Turkey’s Erdogan Exercises Enhanced Civilian Control over Military

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved to rein in the Turkish military last week by blocking the promotion of a high-profile commander, Gen. Bekir Kalyoncu, and instead forcing the general’s retirement. Turkish media described the move as being tied to what is called the Ergenekon case, in which military officials are accused of trying to overthrow the government. Kalyoncu’s forced retirement, combined with the life sentence handed to former military chief Gen. Ilker Basbug in the Ergenekon case, underscored the shifting state of civil-military relations in Turkey, which is marked by a […]

Five years ago, Georgian forces crossed into the Moscow-backed separatist territory of South Ossetia, seeking to clamp down on attacks against ethnic Georgian villages along the de facto boundaries and re-establish authority over the breakaway region. Russia’s response was swift: Its troops poured into South Ossetia, pushing out Georgia’s overmatched military. When the guns were finally silenced after the short but fierce war, hundreds had been killed or wounded and tens of thousands of civilians were displaced. Although the global community refused to follow Moscow’s lead in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s other separatist province, the […]

Last month, India agreed to help Myanmar build offshore patrol vessels in an effort to improve ties. In an email interview, Abhijit Singh, a research fellow at New Delhi’s National Maritime Foundation tracking political and strategic developments in West and South Asia, explained India’s strategic relationships in Southeast Asia. WPR: Who are India’s main security partners in Southeast Asia and how expansive are these ties? Abhijit Singh: India’s principal security partners in Southeast Asia are Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Security cooperation with these countries is mostly limited to defense dialogues, low-level military exchanges, modest military aid and training, and […]

Last week, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi visited the White House for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama regarding counterterrorism and Yemen’s democratic transition. In an email interview, Danya Greenfield, deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and head of the Yemen Policy Initiative at the Atlantic Council, explained the recent history and current state of the U.S.-Yemen relationship. WPR: How does the U.S. relationship with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi compare with its relationship with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh? Danya Greenfield: The United States’ working relationship with Hadi is far more positive, transparent […]

This is the second in a two-part series on the U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship. Part I examined the state of economic ties. Part II examines the state of political ties. U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to South Africa was positive in tone and strong in symbolism, but there was a tangible sense that both sides were going through the motions. If the trip was a rather subdued affair in terms of policy outcomes, it is in part because the U.S.-South Africa political relationship is actually quite fractious, and even the traditional trappings of summitry could not conceal a range […]