Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti).

It is traditional to pen one’s last column of the calendar year as a retrospective of key events that have occurred over the last 12 months, along with predictions for the coming year. I would like to alter tradition to expand the scope of my inquiry—to compare expectations as they stood two years ago, on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and to contrast that with the situation we face today. U.S. foreign policy has undergone several tectonic shifts, in a seemingly haphazard and unplanned fashion. Yet the fallout will shape the global strategic environment and constrain […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the anti-submarine ship Vice Admiral Kulakov, Novorossiysk, Russia, Sept. 23, 2014 (photo from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office).

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a revised national military doctrine. The updated text aligns better with recent Russian government statements and policies than the previous version, issued in 2010. In particular, the new doctrine presents a lengthier list of threats while also recognizing Russia’s revived military capabilities. The Russian Security Council directed the writing of a new doctrine in July 2013, well before the current crisis in Ukraine. The Council approved the new text on Dec. 19 and Putin signed it one week later. The document was then posted on the Kremlin website. This iteration is the fourth […]

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel observes a training scenario at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 16, 2014  (DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt).

In a Nov. 15 speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the creation of a Pentagon initiative to develop new military technologies and operational concepts to counter growing threats to U.S. military supremacy. He noted that potential American adversaries are increasingly able to field advanced weaponry that rivals U.S. capabilities at a time when the Pentagon finds itself in a severely constrained fiscal environment. According to Hagel, the new initiative will seek to produce breakthrough innovations and eventually “develop into a game-changing third ‘offset’ strategy” that will allow the United States to […]

Yazidi fighters head to battle Islamic State militants, on the summit of Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, Dec. 21, 2014 (AP photo by Dalton Bennett).

After months of military gains by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, there is some hope that the tide is turning. Backed by American air strikes, Kurdish fighters broke IS’s four-month siege of Mount Sinjar, freeing thousands of Yazidis who weathered the extremist assault. Meanwhile Iraqi government troops are moving to recapture the Tal Afar military airport, which IS seized last June. As Winston Churchill famously said in November 1942 as Nazi forces in North Africa surrendered, this may not be the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. During World War II, the […]

A South Korean army soldier walks near a TV screen showing an advertisement for Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

When they set out to make “The Interview,” a comedic movie about assassinating the leader of North Korea, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco likely did not realize they would spark a massive cyber attack, lead the White House to dub those attacks a national security problem or inadvertently trigger a First Amendment crisis in the United States. When Sony and theater owners bowed to hacker demands that they cancel the movie’s Christmas Day release, followed shortly by Paramount’s refusal to allow movie theaters to run “Team America: World Police”—another comedy made at North Korea’s expense—in its place, they highlighted […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he gestures towards Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

This year has seen a remarkable strengthening of Russian-Chinese ties, building on a relationship that even before 2014 was at its historical best. Their growing closeness is evident in their security policies, economic ties and ideological alignment. U.S. policies presume that Russia and China can be successfully managed through a combination of firmness and patience, but there needs to be greater recognition of how these countries jointly present a more challenging environment for U.S. foreign policy. In an underappreciated interview with The Economist this August that focused mostly on Africa and the U.S. economy, U.S. President Barack Obama made revealing […]

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff cries during a speech at the launching ceremony of the National Truth Commission Report in Brasilia, Dec. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

In a Buenos Aires courtroom, three judges listen to Chileans, Uruguayans and Paraguayans testify about how their friends and family were kidnapped and disappeared as part of an international military conspiracy. The case, known as Operation Condor, accuses 25 Argentine military officers, along with one Uruguayan extradited from Brazil, of forced disappearances, kidnappings, torture and murder spanning half a dozen countries during the 1970s and early 1980s. Over 200 witnesses will testify, and the trial is entering its second year. It’s just one of dozens of trials taking place in national courts in Chile and Argentina, which are finally confronting […]

Dozens of immigrants who arrived on a cargo ship from Turkey line up for meals in a basketball arena where they have been given temporary shelter, Ierapetra, Crete, Nov. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

European decision-makers are accustomed to appearing weak. Their collective economic, political and military weight has plummeted in recent years. But they like to think that they retain moral authority. Europe’s governments claim to be virtuous on a wide range of issues. The United Kingdom and the Nordic countries are committed to international aid. Germany is standing up for personal privacy in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. France has shrugged off accusations of neocolonialism to intervene in benighted ex-colonies such as the Central African Republic (CAR). Europe may not be a great power, but it wants to do the […]

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard march during an annual military parade just outside Tehran, Iran, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent remarks about the prevalence of corruption in some powerful Iranian institutions suggest that his relations with the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are entering a new and potentially tense phase. On Dec. 7, addressing a conference on bureaucratic efficiency and anti-corruption policies, Rouhani argued that when a single public organization possesses guns, newspapers, websites and power, it is unlikely to remain free of corruption. While he did not name any specific organization, many observers have interpreted his comments as an implicit reference to and criticism of the IRGC. Conservative media outlets affiliated with the Revolutionary […]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2014 (AP photo by Mark Wilson).

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi celebrated the accomplishments of his few, tumultuous months in office. A recent oil-sharing deal between the central government and Iraq’s Kurds, along with purges of corrupt officers from an army routed by militants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) last summer, have brought Abadi some good press recently. Meanwhile, the fight against IS goes on, with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announcing yesterday that U.S.-led airstrikes had killed three senior IS leaders in Iraq in recent weeks. Abadi, who last […]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 2, 2014 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

Cold War-era fears are resurfacing in northeastern Europe. Over the past year, Russian aircraft have violated the air space of nearly all Nordic and Baltic countries at a worrying rate, while this past fall, Sweden hunted for a suspected Russian submarine thought to be lurking in the waters off Stockholm. Those Russian provocations, along with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, have recharged debates in Finland and Sweden over joining NATO. In Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb responded to a question in September about the possibility of his country joining NATO by saying, “We […]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the World Diamond Conference in New Delhi, India, Dec. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Saurabh Das).

On Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin became the latest suitor to court Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi on the latter’s home territory. He follows Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and precedes U.S. President Barack Obama, who will travel to India next month for the country’s Republic Day celebrations. Unlike some Indian leaders, Modi does not have any ideological attachment to Russia. However, while New Delhi has ended its Cold War-era alignment with Moscow, India and Russia still share many overlapping interests. India is counting on Moscow to help secure New Delhi’s full membership in […]

Peacekeepers from the Netherlands serving with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) keep watch in Gao, Mali, Feb. 26, 2014 (U.N. photo by Marco Dormino).

International crisis management does not evolve in a linear or rational fashion. It develops in fits and starts, almost always in response to specific shocks. Just as the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica massacre reshaped United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s, forcing the U.N. to professionalize its management systems and start thinking systematically about protecting civilians, 9/11 led NATO to shift from regional stabilization in the Balkans to long-range expeditionary warfare in Afghanistan. Had U.N. or NATO officials known at the time that, by adapting to these events, they were heading for the quagmires of Darfur and Helmand respectively, they might […]

An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 5, 2014  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Spc. Shauna C. Sowersby).

Canada may scale back its purchase of F-35 fighter jets, citing rising costs, according to a government report released last week. In an email interview, David Axe, editor of War is Boring, discusses the current status of the F-35 program. WPR: What is the current status of F-35 production, and how do current purchase orders compare to initial commitments? David Axe: Production is around 40 planes annually—and has been for a few years now. Most are for the U.S. military, but allied air forces have also begun to acquire a few copies. That’s a much, much lower production rate than […]

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

GAZIANTEP, Turkey—Since June, hundreds of airstrikes by the United States and its Arab allies have killed thousands of fighters in Syria belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS. But the strikes have also played into the group’s recruitment strategy, drawing thousands of new militants from other Syrian rebel groups, along with ideologues from around the world. If the U.S. and its allies would like to effectively combat IS, they will need to go beyond just airstrikes and work toward a decisive political solution in Syria while countering the group’s narrative about global jihad. When the coalition […]

Firefighters and emergency workers examine the burned market pavilions in downtown Grozny, Russia, Dec. 4, 2014 (AP photo by Musa Sadulayev).

On Dec. 4, a major gun battle broke out in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, leaving 14 police and 11 militants dead. It was the worst violence in several years for the semi-autonomous Russian republic, which suffered through two bloody, failed wars for independence from 1994-1996 and from 1999-2009. The Chechen government has responded by demolishing the homes of the families of suspected militants, prompting condemnations by multiple human rights groups this week. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, some analysts suggested that the militants might have been affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS). As many as 800 […]

View of the Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers’ meeting in Doha, Qatar, Dec. 9, 2014 (AP photo by Osama Faisal).

In March 2011, Peninsula Shield, the joint emergency military force of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), crossed the causeway from Saudi Arabia into Bahrain to help the ruling al-Khalifa family crush a popular revolt. Two GCC members, Oman and Kuwait, refused to participate in what was effectively a Saudi-led intervention to prop up a fellow monarch. But earlier this week, at the annual GCC summit in Doha, Qatar, the bloc agreed to expand security cooperation—and this time, there were no abstentions. The Doha summit capped a year of reconciliation among the oil and gas-rich Arab Gulf kingdoms, mainly involving Qatar […]

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