When Raul Castro became president of Cuba in his own right in 2008, he replaced most of his brother Fidel’s cabinet with ministers of his own choosing. In March 2009, he announced a sweeping reorganization of the government bureaucracy, replacing nine veteran ministers and firing Fidel’s proteges, Carlos Lage, the de facto prime minister, and Felipe Perez-Roque, the foreign minister. By 2012, across 26 ministries, only three of Fidel’s appointees were still in office. Raul’s new ministers came from the ranks of experienced professionals, a number of them from the armed forces. Today, eight ministries are led by career military […]

The fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), suddenly put Iraq back on the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Although stories of fleeing Iraqi troops and stolen U.S.-supplied Humvees got most of the attention in U.S. media, the hostage-taking of 49 Turkish citizens, including special forces, diplomats and children, from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, as well as 31 other Turks from elsewhere in northern Iraq, could limit U.S. options in responding to the growing chaos in Iraq. Turkey imposed […]

As extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria march on Baghdad and much of the Iraqi army runs away, there has been a torrent of writing from national security experts, journalists and pundits. This made it easy to miss an important story by Greg Jaffe and Kevin Mauer about American military veterans struggling to understand why the government and military that they worked so hard to create in Iraq has failed so miserably. This is more than simply soul searching: As Jaffe and Mauer noted, the outcome of this debate could have far reaching implications for the future […]

With insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) taking the country’s second biggest city, Mosul, and advancing on the capital, Baghdad, Iraq finds itself in the worst political and military crisis since the height of the civil war in 2006-2007; the very survival of Iraq as a state is in doubt. Its political and military institutions are discredited beyond repair, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s divisive, sectarian leadership is widely blamed for fueling the unrest that feeds the ISIS advance through the Sunni Arab-dominated provinces of central Iraq. Little surprise, then, that many observers in the West, […]

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. He hopes to seal deals on climate change and the future of international development next year. He also needs to contain the crises in South Sudan and Syria, both of which threaten to cast a profound shadow over his legacy. The pressure seems to have given Ban extra energy. He […]

When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched its blitzkrieg assault on Iraq, it suddenly put the entire country in play, threatening its very existence. The rapid territorial gains by the ultra-extremist Sunni militant group put enormous pressure on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But it is not only Maliki who faces difficult and urgent choices. The Iraqi crisis is also a pressing challenge for U.S. President Barack Obama. As Obama and his advisers survey the disastrous scene, examining the possible scenarios that could emerge from the crisis and weighing the options for Washington, all […]

For years Iraq has been a deeply troubled nation spiraling deeper and deeper into sectarian violence. The primary causes were Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s exclusion of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs from power and his politicization of the Iraqi military, which the United States expended so much money and effort to build. Then sparks from Syria’s civil war leapt back across the border to ignite Iraq’s political tinderbox. Yet even the most pessimistic observers did not foresee the events of the past two weeks, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—a jihadist movement so violent and extreme that al-Qaida disavowed […]

The United States has “a willing partner in the next Afghan president, whichever one it is,” said Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove last week. He said he was “extremely confident” that Afghanistan and the United States would be able to reach an agreement to keep in Afghanistan the 9,800 U.S. troops slated to remain there past the end of the year, when the NATO-led mission in the country officially ends. But the U.S. footprint in the country is shrinking, and if Breedlove’s confidence is misplaced, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could soon go to zero. The U.S. […]

The notion of disarming, then disbanding and rehabilitating former soldiers in the aftermath of conflict is as old as war itself. Tens of thousands of soldiers were voluntarily disarmed and returned to their villages after the Roman-Etruscan wars, and similar practices have followed virtually every conflict since. The expectation has always been that these activities can prevent a relapse of warfare, and potentially kick-start the long road to reconstruction. In recent times, the concept has assumed a kind of orthodoxy in the peace, security and development community. Bilateral and multilateral donors such as the United Nations (U.N.) and World Bank […]

A large part of ending civil wars and insurgencies is about finding new political solutions to old political conflicts. One such political solution and instrument has at times been to convert armed groups into political parties. Convincing former warring parties to enter formalized democratic politics is not an easy task however, and even when armed groups transform into political parties, the challenges for long-term democracy continue. Research related to the political integration or reintegration of armed groups has been quite extensive. But political integration of armed groups is only one facet of a larger question about political integration of various […]

In a revealing quirk of history, the crisis in Iraq caused by the sudden onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can help us better understand possible scenarios for Afghanistan moving forward. Despite their many differences, both countries are exposing the consequences of America’s decreased leverage combined with the rising but often mutually competing influence of other powers. Notwithstanding the desire of both Iraqi and U.S. leaders to keep U.S. forces in Iraq beyond 2011 in order to train and equip Iraq’s still developing security forces, domestic political opposition in both countries combined with flawed diplomatic negotiations […]

Two separate terrorist attacks rocked the international airport in Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi, last week, killing dozens. On Sunday, the Pakistani military launched a long-delayed ground assault into its tribal regions in an effort to root out the militants that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif now calls a threat to “the sovereignty of the motherland.” Pakistan has for years been locked in conflict with the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the TTP, a homegrown Pakistani group with links to the Afghan Taliban. But the Pakistani military’s initial statements on its operations in the tribal areas this week emphasized that among […]

Editor’s note: This is Heather Hurlburt’s final “Full-Spectrum Diplomacy” column at World Politics Review. We’d like to thank her for filling in for Richard Gowan, who will be returning next week, and look forward to featuring her work in WPR in the future. This is going to be a rough week for Americans, who like their politics simple and their geopolitics even simpler. Give us plucky honest underdogs for good guys, nasty corrupt villains for bad guys, open-field battles where everyone shoots straight, and we are the most generous people on Earth. Really. Though the U.S. ranked 19th in government […]

Rising tensions in Asia, as highlighted at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, have brought to the surface fault lines between Australia’s foreign affairs and defense strategies. With a foreign affairs focus on “economic diplomacy,” Australia has struggled to reassure its largest trading partner, China, that the deeper military ties it forged with Japan and the U.S. this week in no way represent a threat. The Shangri-La Dialogue was notable this year for heated exchanges between China, Japan and the United States. The 28-nation Asia Security Summit, hosted annually in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is usually carefully scripted […]

The election of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as president of Egypt will further inflame the jihadist insurgency that took off after the Egyptian military removed Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, from power in 2013. If history is any guide, el-Sisi, a former general, will hold tightly to power, justifying it as the only way to protect Egypt’s security, thus repeating a common pattern across Africa and the Middle East as elections lead to de facto dictatorships with a few trappings of democracy. Invariably this will further anger and radicalize the Islamist opposition, empowering the extremists who believe that the […]

One can read the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military power, released last Thursday, in many ways, but two interpretations come to mind most easily. On one hand, one sees clear continuities with previous versions of this congressionally mandated annual assessment. This year’s report does not highlight any radical changes or breakthroughs in Chinese military capabilities during the past year and does not foresee any revolutionary developments over the coming one. On the other hand, the document depicts a comprehensive and unrelenting Chinese military buildup whose sheer size and persistence should, if trends continue, propel China to superpower status in […]

When then-French Defense Minister Herve Morin was asked about the prospect of France selling Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia in a 2010 interview, he spoke of the need for a new kind of relationship with Russia. “We can’t go on calling for a strategic peace and security partnership” with Russia, he told the newspaper La Tribune, and “see the Russians simply as heirs of the Soviet Union.” Somewhat more practically, he also welcomed “the fact that we can hope to get a major contract for French industry.” Four years later, prospects are remote for the kind of Western rapprochement […]

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