After two weeks of slaughter in South Sudan, UNMISS, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, faces three possible scenarios: fragile success, prolonged agony and decisive failure. In the first and best scenario, the mission will manage to hold together militarily long enough for more-or-less sincere political talks to end the violence. In the second, it might muddle through in the face of half-hearted negotiations and spasmodic but serious violence, trying to save as many lives as possible. The third, worst-case scenario would involve the fragmentation and rout of UNMISS after repeated attacks on its bases, personnel and convoys. […]

Last night the Senate passed the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 84 to 15. The bill passed the House by a vote of 350 to 69 last week. The NDAA sets spending priorities for the U.S. military and specifies various rules and reporting requirements. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it. Due to the limited time available, the Senate voted on a version of the bill that had been agreed between the House and Senate, and did not have the opportunity to offer additional amendments. NDAA supporters expressed relief at the outcome […]

Last Sunday night, a Lebanese soldier opened fire, killing a 31-year-old Israeli sergeant who was driving along the Israeli side of the border that separates the two countries. The initial reports of an exchange of fire in that area immediately brought to mind the events of 2006, which started with a cross-border raid and turned into an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah. That conflict started after Hezbollah’s Lebanese Shiite militias cut through the border fence, killing three Israelis and taking two others as hostages into Lebanon. The incident this week, as it quickly became apparent, was not a Hezbollah […]

Last week’s execution of Jang Song Thaek, who was widely seen as offering a modicum of adult supervision to North Korea’s impetuous young ruler, Kim Jong Un, was an ominous turn in a dangerous place. Kim Jong Un, already “the most dangerous man in the most precarious nuclear state in the world,” as Patrick Cronin put it, just became even more menacing. While purges are nothing new in North Korea, executions of someone as senior and well-connected as Jang are unusual. Married to Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Jang was often seen as the state’s second most powerful official. North Korea’s […]

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. Francis impressed even nonbelievers last month with a deeply felt attack on the rising “economy of exclusion and inequality.” Ban, who hopes to forge a new international deal to end extreme poverty by 2030, […]

The sacrifices of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have been widely reported, but the U.S. war effort has relied heavily on private firms to provide a variety of services, including armed security for convoys and installations. As NATO draws down in Afghanistan and struggles with budget constraints, the United States and others will almost certainly continue rely on these firms, which have attracted scrutiny and criticism over the years. “After the United States leaves Afghanistan, the private security industry will grow,” explains Sean McFate of the Atlantic Council in an email interview, given that “the United States and others […]

During his recent visit to South Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel focused on securing a formal agreement to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and an informal accord to continue drone strikes in Pakistan. These are both important topics, but U.S. policymakers need to devote more attention to other issues that could have an even greater impact on U.S. interests in the South Asian region in coming years. While in Kabul, Hagel did not even try to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been adding new conditions for a renewal of the Afghan-U.S. status of forces agreement […]

Is there a lonelier or more poorly understood warrior than Francois Hollande? Last week, as French troops prepared to intervene in the Central African Republic (CAR) to stem pervasive disorder, there was praise from abroad for the domestically unpopular French president. The Economist characterized Hollande as a “strident neocon” and “decisive war leader” whose willingness to send soldiers to Mali and the CAR this year has been in contrast to his “shaky” performance at home. Noting that France’s recent interventions have enjoyed widespread African support, the Guardian announced the emergence of a “Hollande doctrine” involving a “benign form of armed […]

The differing reactions in Israel and India to the recent six-power agreement with Iran highlight the only point of strategic divergence between the two long-time partners: the nature of engagement with a potentially nuclearizing Iran. While Israel has condemned the preliminary agreement and the potentially broader international rapprochement with Iran it signals, India has welcomed it with cautious optimism. More generally, while Israel perceives Iran’s nuclear posture as an existential threat, India sees it more as a geopolitical hindrance to increasing New Delhi’s strategic profile in Tehran. In recent years India and Israel seemingly agreed to compartmentalize these divergences, as […]

This week, the Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram carried out a large-scale attack on a military air base in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in which 24 attackers were killed, two air force personnel wounded and several military aircraft damaged. In an email interview, Jennifer Giroux, a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich who specializes in conflict in energy-producing and transit regions, explained Nigeria’s counterterrorism approach and Boko Haram’s resilience. WPR: Does Boko Haram’s attack on the Maiduguri air base indicate an evolution in the group’s military capabilities? Jennifer Giroux: This attack is not so […]

World Citizen: Iran Deal Already Shifting Regional Balance of Power

It took just a few days after the agreement between Iran and world powers was announced in Geneva before evidence started to emerge of a significant strengthening of Iran’s position against its rivals. The interim agreement has not gone into effect yet, but the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is already changing. The so-called Joint Plan of Action, signed on Nov. 24, is meant as a temporary measure, ostensibly freezing conditions in place for six months while negotiators hammer out a permanent deal over Iran’s nuclear program. And yet, the very fact that Iran […]

U.S. Defense Industry Adjusts to New Fiscal Environment

The United States has long sustained levels of defense spending that dwarf those of other nations, especially over the past decade. This has allowed the Defense Department and the military services to purchase vast amounts of weapons, vehicles and other gear—as well as services—from private defense firms. But in an era when the U.S. is scaling back its offshore military footprint and struggling to get its fiscal house in order, the amount of money available to sustain the defense industry is in decline. Defense is also subject to approximately half of the current sequestration cuts, which amount to approximately $50 […]

Strategic Horizons: For U.S. in Afghanistan, Zero Option Not So Bad After All

Hamid Karzai is playing a dangerous game with the security of both Afghanistan and the United States. With NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ending soon, the Afghan president negotiated a bilateral security agreement with Washington to leave a small U.S. counterterrorism and advisory force in his country. But after convening a national assembly of elders known as the Loya Jirga and gaining their endorsement, Karzai announced that he would not sign the agreement, leaving that to the winner of April’s presidential election. When U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice explained to Karzai that the United States needs the agreement in […]

This year has been one of fluctuating fortunes for South Africa as it seeks to shape Africa’s emerging security architecture and to cement its position as the leading player in continental peace operations. In March, South African troops were withdrawn from the Central African Republic (CAR) after rebel forces overran the capital and ousted the regime of Francois Bozize, which South Africa was defending. The spectacle of South Africa’s humiliating withdrawal, and the deaths of 13 South African troops, jarred with the rather self-congratulatory notions of South African leadership and of South African exceptionalism that had previously informed debates on […]

The Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum culminated last month with the release of a reform-minded document outlining significant changes in 60 key areas of the Chinese economy. In targeting government monopolies in industry, as well as controls on the flow of capital, goods and people, while calling for upgrading the quality of governance, the document successfully identifies many of the major bottlenecks to continued rapid socio-economic development. Coupled with recent events in the political sphere, the agenda represents the emergence of President Xi Jinping as a leader and the benchmarks by which he will be judged between now and the […]

The European Union is notorious for producing reams of official documents. Does it need to churn out another one on the state of the world? In last week’s column, drawing on a new paper published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), 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 this month, remains a pithy analysis of the problems the bloc faced in 2003. But its age shows: It contains just two extremely brief references […]

Last month, Uganda sought compensation from the U.N. for three Ugandan helicopters that crashed while in transit to the African Union Mission in Somalia, killing seven crew members. In an email interview, Scott Sheeran, a senior lecturer in international human rights, humanitarian law and U.N. law at the School of Law at University of Essex, explained the rules governing U.N. compensation to states contributing to peacekeeping missions. WPR: What rules govern responsibility for damage to U.N. equipment and harm to personnel during peacekeeping operations? Scott Sheeran: The rules for reimbursement to states providing equipment, personnel or support services to a […]