Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens as President Barack Obama talks about Hagel’s resignation during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel apparently drew the short straw and emerged as the first sacrificial victim dispatched by President Barack Obama in response to his party’s dismal midterm election results, which will cost the Democrats control of the Senate. Beyond that, however, it is clear that the focus of U.S. national security has shifted dramatically over the past two years. Hagel was selected to preside over the American disengagement from the Middle East, to usher through a series of lean budgetary years for the Pentagon and to lay the foundations for the eventual rebalance of American strategic priorities […]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu listens during a security conference in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2014 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

On Nov. 20, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu visited Islamabad along with dozens of other Russian officials and signed an unprecedented Russian-Pakistan defense cooperation agreement. While in Islamabad, Shoigu also engaged in wide-ranging discussions with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, on Afghanistan, regional security, arms sales and other issues. In so doing, Shoigu became the first Russian defense minister to visit Pakistan since 1969, when the Soviet government made an unsuccessful effort to mediate tensions between Pakistan and India. Since then, relations between Moscow and Islamabad have been atrocious, in part due to the close and enduring defense […]

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

This week, military planners from more than 30 countries are gathered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to plot their approach against the so-called Islamic State (IS). On the other side of the world, IS is probably mulling its strategy as well. It is easy to imagine how different the two sessions must be, yet the two groups do have one thing in common: Both know that if their strategies are to work, they must first try to get inside the mind of their enemy. Anticipating what the enemy will do—what security experts call “red teaming”—is never easy, […]

FARC Commander Pastor Alape talks to the press in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 18, 2014 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Instead of resuming occasionally promising peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos abruptly called them off after the rebels kidnapped an army general, along with a soldier and a government attorney. According to Colombian media, it was the first time in half a century of fighting that the guerrillas had taken an army general captive. FARC rebels later agreed to release Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, but the status of the two-year negotiations between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebels remains uncertain. Intermittent fighting has flared amid […]

Vietnam People’s Navy honor guard at the ASEAN defense ministers meeting, Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct. 12, 2010 (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison).

As China attempts to assert maritime claims against neighboring Vietnam, Vietnam in turn has been expanding its navy and courting new allies, such as India. In an email interview, Abhijit Singh, a research fellow at India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, discusses the capabilities of the Vietnamese navy, known as the Vietnam People’s Navy. WPR: What is Vietnam’s naval capacity, and how operationally prepared is its navy? Abhijit Singh: Vietnam’s navy has modernized from a small coastal patrol force with limited capacity in the 1980s into a seagoing, fairly competent, combat-worthy navy. Equipped with old Soviet-era hardware and an […]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced a pair of important initiatives, one to restore the Defense Department’s troubled nuclear enterprise to health and another to spur innovation within the department. The two initiatives are necessary, if incomplete, but achieving both goals will difficult. Hagel’s proposed overhaul of the Defense Department’s management of its nuclear weapons enterprise is long overdue. The U.S. nuclear command’s core components, besides the actual warheads, include the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines as well as the supporting infrastructure for the entire system. It also […]

Egyptian security forces inspect the site of a suicide car bombing by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis in the Sinai town of el-Tor, Egypt, Oct. 7, 2013 (AP file photo by Mostafa Darwish).

Last week, the Egyptian militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), which operates primarily in the Sinai Peninsula, pledged its loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (IS). In an email interview, Zack Gold, a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, discussed the implications for Egypt. WPR: What are the major armed groups operating in Sinai, to what degree do they coordinate activities and do they have any foreign support? Zack Gold: Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been a base of armed activity, both militancy and smuggling, for many years. Following the uprising of 2011, however, the […]

Houthi Shiite rebels ride in a military truck while patrolling a street in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 27, 2014 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

One look at a map of the Middle East shows why Yemen, a small country bereft of wealth or natural resources, has the potential to create serious problems not just for its neighbors but also for the global economy. Tiny, impoverished and turbulent, Yemen has escaped the spotlight mostly because the troubles in other parts of the region look more acute and more urgent. That, however, is likely to change. Over the past couple of months, the ground in that arid strip on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula has shifted. In domestic terms, what has unfolded is a sudden […]

A Chadian soldier patrols the streets of Gao, northern Mali, Jan. 29, 2013 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

In recent years, Chad has begun to emerge as a regional leader in Africa, playing a role in the 2012-2013 Mali conflict, contributing to the overthrow of President Francois Bozize in the Central African Republic and forming a significant military partnership with France in 2014. However, these signs of power mask an ongoing political stagnation in Chad and the failure of the government to make any serious improvements in living conditions for the vast majority of the population. Frustrations with how oil money has failed to deliver economic development, along with power struggles at the heart of the Chadian government, […]

President Barack Obama with House Speaker John Boehner at the  White House in Washington, Nov. 7, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

In the aftermath of the U.S. midterm congressional elections, the Obama administration’s ability to work with the new Republican-majority Congress has become a central question. One area where such cooperation will be crucial is in reforming export controls on defense equipment and technology. The Obama administration has made this a priority issue since assuming office in 2009, and this year some of its export control reform initiative has finally begun to achieve visible gains. But the administration’s ability to advance reforms alone is limited. Now Congress, newly united under the control of a single party, must step in and augment […]

A demonstration to support Pakistan’s army in Karachi, Pakistan, April 26, 2014 (AP photo by Fareed Khan).

Last week, Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar took over as head of Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In an email interview, Frederic Grare, senior associate and director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s South Asia program, discussed the evolution of ISI. WPR: How have ISI’s strategic priorities changed over the past decade as a result of the changing security and political realities in Afghanistan and India? Frederic Grare: This kind of question is difficult to answer for two reasons: The internal functions of intelligence systems around the world are opaque by necessity, and the ISI is no exception; and […]

Pro-Russian rebel military vehicle with Russian flag on top of it rolls towards Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, Nov. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Mstyslav Chernov).

There were signs of easing tensions in some parts of the international system last week, but warnings of deepening crises on other fronts. It emerged that U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a private letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging greater cooperation in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. China and Japan agreed to step back from confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu. But Ukraine accused Russia of new military incursions on its territory, increasing the chances that the parlous cease-fire in the east of the country will […]

Lt. Col. Isaac Yacouba Zida at a press briefing, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Nov. 3, 2014 (AP photo by Theo Renaut).

Last week, opponents of Blaise Compaore, the long-serving de facto dictator of Burkina Faso, launched a series of demonstrations that have quickly led to a new government headed by Lt. Col. Isaac Zida. While this was a somewhat softer military coup than old-fashioned ones where officers marched civilian leaders out and shot them, it was a coup nonetheless. Washington is now scrambling to make sense of it. While Compaore’s ouster might send a useful signal to other de facto dictators who have clung to power for decades, the way it happened did not bode well for Africa’s fragile grasp on […]

Demonstrators protest the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico City, Nov. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

Forty-three students are still missing in Mexico. That crisis has gripped the country since September, but it’s easy to forget that it followed another atrocity: the suspected killing of 22 gang members, execution-style, in late June by soldiers in a dingy warehouse outside San Pedro Limon, a small town south of Mexico City. The story of what happened in that warehouse shifted more than once, from a shootout to allegations of a massacre and the government’s promise of an investigation. Charges were filed; then Mexican authorities said they weren’t. But earlier this week, three Mexican soldiers were formally charged with […]

Iranian soldiers, center in white, are welcomed by local officials and armed forces at the border with Pakistan in Zahedan, Iran, April 6, 2014 (AP photo/Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA).

Tensions between Iran and Pakistan rose last month after Sunni militant insurgents that Iran claims are based in Pakistan conducted a series of attacks on Iranian government installations and personnel in the restive, impoverished border province of Sistan-Baluchistan. In response, Tehran threatened cross-border raids in Pakistan if Islamabad failed to act against militants targeting Iran, and then followed through, killing one Pakistani paramilitary officer on Oct. 17. Flare-ups along the Iran-Pakistan border, which spans the ethnic area of Baluchistan, are not new, and when they happen, both Tehran and Islamabad often work quickly to de-escalate. And so Iranian and Pakistani […]

A car burns outside the parliament building in Burkina Faso as people protest against their longtime President Blaise Compaore, who seeks another term in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Oct. 30, 2014 (AP photo by Theo Rena).

On Oct. 30, after several massive demonstrations against efforts by supporters of long-serving President Blaise Compaore to remove presidential term limits, protesters in Burkina Faso set fire to the country’s parliament to prevent a vote from taking place on the issue. The next day, Compaore resigned. After what appeared to be a power struggle within the military, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida emerged as the head of a transitional government, which faces continued pressure from protesters and opposition leaders to hand over power to civilians. The situation remains fluid. The protests that swept Campaore from power drew on longstanding grievances and […]

U.N. peacekeepers of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) patrol the Golan Heights, April 7, 2011 (U.N photo by Wolfgang Grebien).

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among American political analysts, that the struggle against violent Islamist extremism is back in play as an organizing principle in international affairs. The Obama administration may have hoped to wind down the “war on terror,” but it is now engaged in open-ended if limited military operations in Syria and Iraq against the so-called Islamic State (IS). This conflict will shape Washington’s relations with regional powers including Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, although it is still unclear that the U.S. can balance their competing interests. But this new phase in the fight against […]