HASAKAH GOVERNORATE, Syria — The little Kurdish fighting position looks far more professional than what is usually seen in Syria. Instead of just a pile of sand for protection, it has proper fighting and communications trenches, sandbags and even a small tower at the far end for the machine gunner. Discipline is what distinguishes the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the mainly Arab rebel groups the Kurdish militia is fighting in northeastern Syria. Traveling across Syria’s Kurdish-majority northeast, one is struck by the difference between the areas controlled by the YPG and its political master, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), […]

Diplomats at the United Nations experienced something approaching euphoria at the end of last week. The annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly, in most years an exhausting and tedious exercise, had turned into a nail-biting drama. International and official commentators were gripped by two questions. Would the Security Council make a deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons? Could the U.S. and Iran move toward rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear goals? Neither outcome was guaranteed, but the week culminated with a pair of diplomatic coups. On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama reported that he had made […]

A group of Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, whose rebellion against the central government sparked a coup and eventually a French intervention, announced yesterday that they were backing out of a June 2013 peace agreement with the Malian government. The move is a step backward for the efforts to stitch Mali back together again. But as Kamissa Camara wrote in WPR earlier this month, the agreement put on hold yesterday was problematic to begin with: Mali’s central government has signed a series of peace agreements with Tuareg rebels over the years, but they have only served short-term purposes. The latest […]

In the weeks since British Prime Minister David Cameron lost a parliamentary vote that would have authorized the use of force in Syria, commentators have breathlessly debated whether the crisis over the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons has heralded a significant shift in Western security relationships. Some have been moved to claim that, as a consequence of the vote, Paris is gradually replacing London as Washington’s European security partner of choice. While certainly providing food for thought in both the U.K. and France, such claims are profoundly misleading. Insofar as the United States chooses to work with its European […]

As the U.S. military struggles with severe budget cuts driven by political posturing rather than a strategic vision, the Army is facing a deep identity crisis. As defense expert Nadia Schadlow explained, “After 10 years of fighting two major wars and suffering the brunt of America’s military casualties, the most experienced and powerful ground force in the world now has to justify its value and relevance.” The historical American preference was to keep only a small army during peacetime, creating one only when war came and demobilizing afterward. That would not work during the Cold War, however, so, for the […]

A state of emergency in place, curfews that begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays, army tanks in the streets, Islamists either dead or in prison, Egypt’s aging former dictator Hosni Mubarak out of jail, a rise in Islamist militant attacks against security targets and the intimidation of journalists and human rights workers: These are some of the developments since June 30 that have left some wondering whether, two and a half years after the uprising that brought Mubarak down, Egypt is in fact going through a counterrevolution. On July 3, three days after millions took to the streets calling for […]

Iran’s new president, Hasan Rouhani, is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday and plans to use the occasion to reach out to world leaders about restarting talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program. As U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration consider how they should react to the friendlier diplomatic face put forward by Rouhani and his team, they will need to contend with five popular myths about U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. 1. It’s Iraq all over again. No. For anti-war activists, simply invoking the Iraq War is an easy way to avoid making a fresh judgment […]

Only a diehard optimist would argue that there will be a sustainable cease-fire in Syria by the end of this year. While Russia and the Western powers are still bickering over the precise terms for the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, brutal fighting persists on the ground. The army and rebels continued to clash last week, and the rebels have also been battling one another, with radical Islamist and more-moderate factions struggling over the northern town of Azaz. This sort of fratricidal combat reinforces the fear, previously voiced by United Nations officials, that Syria could fragment into another […]

The terrorist assault on Nairobi’s Westgate mall comes amid a lengthy military campaign by Kenyan forces to root out the militant group al-Shabab from southeastern Somalia. That intervention has proved more difficult than Kenyan officials initially predicted and sparked fears—now apparently realized—of terrorist blowback within Kenya. This background note reviews WPR’s extensive coverage of the Kenyan intervention and Somalia’s state of governance and security. Al-Shabab’s Looming Threat in Kenya After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within, by Charles Wachira, Dec. 12, 2012: In the wake of its intervention into Somalia, Kenya has feared a backlash at home. Kenya Gets Pro-Active […]

Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO, at the same time that the Nordic countries, among them NATO members Norway and Denmark, are seeking greater defense cooperation among themselves. In an email interview, Magnus Nordenman, deputy director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, explained what’s driving the calls for deeper Nordic defense cooperation. WPR: What is driving the calls for deeper defense cooperation among the Nordic countries? Magnus Nordenman: There are several reasons. One is that modern military forces with expeditionary capabilities are very expensive to field and maintain. While the Nordic countries are some of the wealthiest […]

An exchange of gunfire and rockets over the Central African Republic’s northwestern border with Cameroon has heightened fears that the troubled African nation could fall back into full-blown conflict. In recent days, fighting between the Seleka rebel alliance and militias loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize have put towns and rural settlements in northwestern Ouham prefecture under siege. More than 100 civilians have been killed in the clashes; whole villages have been burned to the ground; and thousands have been displaced from their homes by the fighting. At the epicenter of the violence are the river towns of Bossangoa and […]

In 2011, Algeria had serious misgivings about international intervention in Libya, which Algiers feared would result in many unintended consequences, few of them good for Algeria or the region. Those misgivings have since proven correct. Libya itself has collapsed into violent chaos, while weapons flows out of Libya in 2011 and 2012 fueled a Salafi jihadi insurgency in northern Mali that eventually resulted in Bamako losing control of the entire northern half of the country. And in Tunisia, a new Salafi jihadi threat has emerged on Algeria’s borders. Although Algeria initially stuck fast to its long-standing principle of noninterference, its […]

Despite India’s graduation from outlier to tepidly accepted member of the global nuclear order, one area of New Delhi’s nuclear activities continues to raise alarm: its undersea nuclear deterrent. India unveiled its first nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, in July 2009. Though the ship was largely indigenous, Russia helped in designing the miniaturized nuclear reactor. Just last month, the nuclear reactor in INS Arihant went critical, clearing the way for its final operational trials in the Bay of Bengal. India has designs to produce four to five nuclear submarines by the end of this decade. When integrated with nuclear-tipped sea-launched […]

As the United States, Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria engage in a complicated diplomatic dance, Washington remains fixated on Syrian chemical weapons, leaving what may be a more important issue—America’s relationship with the Syrian rebels—muddled. The U.S. supports one rebel faction but not enough to allow it to win outright, fearing that doing so will inadvertently help extremists affiliated with al-Qaida or taint the United States with the misdeeds of its rebel allies. This is simply the latest example of the confusion and uncertainly that has long characterized America’s dealings with militias. Although the U.S. military itself grew […]

Venezuela was historically a reliable U.S. ally in Latin America, if always aspiring to more autonomy and a larger role in the region. This relationship was based on oil commerce and the fact that Venezuela was democratic during a period in which most other Latin American democracies broke down. During the 14 years of the Hugo Chavez government, of course, this changed. After assuming the presidency in 1999, Chavez developed an antagonistic relationship with Washington and sought to develop alternative regional relationships and leadership, all while maintaining robust commercial exchange with the U.S. During the government of Chavez’s successor, Nicolas […]

“Colombia and the United States agree on so many different parts of our agenda today,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during an Aug. 12 visit to Bogota. “And we have built a very, very strong relationship on shared values and on common interests.” Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah have expressed similar thoughts during recent visits to Colombia. Beyond the rhetoric, though, and at a time when Colombia could be on the verge of transitioning from civil war to peace, the diplomatic relationship is on autopilot. High-level diplomatic dialogues between […]

The U.S.-Russian negotiations over Syria’s chemical weapons, now underway in Geneva, will determine whether President Barack Obama can walk back his threat to launch punitive strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But they will also impact the paradigm for addressing WMD elsewhere, particularly Iran. Depending on the outcome of the talks over Syria, the U.S. could find itself with new options for negotiating a deal to resolve the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program—or find the door to a peaceful outcome firmly shut. U.S. officials have characterized the Russian plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons as “doable but […]

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