Houthi rebels hold up their weapons as they chant slogans at the residence of a military commander of the Houthi militant group destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike, Sanaa, Yemen, April 28, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Since the first Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen in late March, aimed at dislodging the Zaydi Shiite Houthi movement from the towns and cities they hold across the country, a number of competing and contradictory narratives have emerged. Who, exactly, is fighting whom? What are their aims? And who is winning on the ground? Thanks to sporadic coverage of the ongoing military offensive and a lack of substantive reporting from the ground, these questions have remained largely unanswered. Yet several things have become clearer. First, the bombing campaign alone will not allow the Saudis to meet their strategic goals in Yemen […]

U.S. soldiers participate in a training mission with Iraqi army soldiers outside Baghdad, Iraq, May 27, 2015 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

As the conflict with the so-called Islamic State (IS) swings back and forth, one thing is increasingly clear: Even if Iraq survives the fight intact, there is no chance it will ever return to the pre-war status quo where the government in Baghdad controls the entire nation. Neither the Kurds nor Sunni Arabs will trust the Shiite-dominated central government to protect them. The newly empowered Shiite militia leaders also will cling to their autonomy from Baghdad. If Iraq holds together at all, it will have a titular national government in the capital while regional potentates actually run the place. Local […]

Israeli soldiers march during training in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, March 9, 2015 (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

Israel and Syria have never been friends, but the two countries settled on a tense but mostly peaceful modus vivendi since their last face-to-face confrontation in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Despite their continuing enmity, the Israeli-Syrian border became one of relatively predictable calm. That has been true for decades, even if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad actively sided with Israel’s most committed foes, helping the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. In the past few years, however, the region’s strategic landscape has changed drastically, particularly with regard to Syria’s ongoing civil war. For Israel, that has introduced an extremely complicated security dilemma. […]

U.S. Army soldiers stroll past two bronze busts of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the Green Zone in Baghdad, March 20, 2009 (AP photo by Hadi Mizban).

More than 12 years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, it seems we’re no closer to learning the lessons of what may be the most ill-conceived war in American history. Case in point: the current debate playing out on the U.S. presidential campaign trail over whether it was a good idea for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003. Recently, U.S. politicians—primarily Republicans—have been twisting themselves into knots trying to rationalize then-President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war. “Based on what we know now” about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction, they argue, […]

French President Francois Hollande with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council before the opening of its summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 5, 2015 (AP photo by Christophe Ena).

French President Francois Hollande made a triumphal visit to the oil- and gas-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf earlier this month, touching down in Qatar to oversee the signing of a contract for the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets, then continuing on to Saudi Arabia to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit as the guest of honor, a first for a Western head of state. Hollande’s Gulf tour was in part the product of shrewd French diplomacy, which took advantage of Arab displeasure at current U.S. policies in the region, most of all a framework agreement with Iran on […]

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China is in negotiations with Djibouti to open a military base in the country, adding to its current roster of French, U.S., Japanese and EU military facilities. In an email interview, David Styan, lecturer in politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and author of the report “Djibouti: Changing Influence in the Horn’s Strategic Hub,” discussed Djibouti’s foreign relations. WPR: Who are Djibouti’s main regional partners? David Styan: The dominant regional partner is Ethiopia. Djibouti’s small economy is essentially a gateway; the vast majority of Addis Ababa’s fast-growing trade flows transit through Djibouti’s new container and oil terminals. China’s reconstruction […]

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain welcomes Ashton Carter, President Barack Obama’s choice to be defense secretary, before the panel to consider his nomination, Washington, Feb. 4, 2015 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Barack Obama to resolve that year’s debt-ceiling crisis, instituted spending caps on the federal discretionary budget, including on defense, a traditional Republican priority. As an incentive for compromise, the legislation also established a lower set of caps that would come into force should Congress fail to reach an agreement on further spending reductions. Failure to respect these limits in any year’s budget appropriations would trigger automatic across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, against which the initial BCA caps would pale in comparison. Defense sequestration, in […]

Chinese People’s Liberation Army cadets take part in a bayonet drills at the PLA’s Armored Forces Engineering Academy Base, Beijing, China, July 22, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

The latest edition of the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report on Chinese military power has once again put the spotlight on China’s massive military modernization program. In addition to upgrading its conventional forces, developing anti-access strategies and increasing its cyber and space warfare capabilities, China is modernizing its nuclear forces. Indeed, China is the only one of the five legally recognized nuclear weapons states whose nuclear arsenal is growing in both size and sophistication. These new developments call into question long-standing assumptions about China’s nuclear posture, with implications for regional and global security. Beijing has long kept the number of […]

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depot on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, May 19, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Last week’s cease-fire in Yemen proved as shaky as many expected, and after it promptly expired Sunday evening, Saudi airstrikes resumed across the country, targeting Houthi rebels as well as forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The five-day “humanitarian pause” in fighting coincided with the visit to the United States by the architects of Saudi Arabia’s war on Houthi rebels in Yemen—the recently elevated Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. Both were at Camp David last week for a summit with fellow Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama. The […]

A soldier places simulated explosives in the hand of a Talon explosive ordinance disposal robot, Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Feb. 20, 2013 (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards).

The U.S. military faces shrinking budgets, but its global commitments remain expansive. One response to this ends-means gap has been a growing interest in robotics, with the hope that this technology can be a force multiplier that allows military units to perform missions with fewer humans. And the United States is not alone: At least 43 countries have active programs to explore military robotics. Military robots are already performing repetitive tasks like moving supplies and loading cargo, as well as particularly dangerous missions like evacuating casualties under fire, disabling explosive devices and collecting information in hostile environments. All experts agree […]

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth conducts routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the South China Sea territorial disputes and the various claimant countries’ approaches to addressing them. Last week, it was reported that the U.S. is considering sending Navy ships and aircraft to waters surrounding islands claimed by China in the South China Sea to demonstrate freedom of navigation. The reports follow a month-long media campaign calling attention to China’s expansion of the islands to accommodate airstrips and military facilities. China’s reclamation activity around the Spratly Islands also dominated conversations at last month’s ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur, with the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Washington, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

Among the many challenges facing President Barack Obama and U.S. officials meeting with Gulf Arab leaders this week, one has abruptly climbed to near the top of the agenda: taking the measure of the rising star of the Saudi firmament, King Salman’s son Prince Mohammed bin Salman. When the delegates from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman—gather at the presidential retreat of Camp David for the already troubled summit, U.S. officials will channel a significant portion of their energy toward Prince Mohammed. They will be hoping to develop ties […]

Senegalese soldiers practice live fire maneuvers during a training exercise in support of Exercise Western Accord 14, June 19, 2014 (U.S. Army Africa photo by Staff Sgt. Donna Davis).

Earlier this month, Senegal’s foreign minister announced that the country was sending 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia to participate in the coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. In an email interview, Alex Thurston, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University, discussed Senegal-Saudi ties. WPR: How extensive are bilateral ties between Senegal and Saudi Arabia, and what has been their trajectory in recent years? Alex Thurston: Senegal and Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations in 1961, following Senegal’s independence the previous year. The bilateral relationship has been strong. Senegal joined the Saudi-backed Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969, the year of […]

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Japan’s postwar constitution, promulgated in 1947 under U.S. occupation, has shaped the country’s international role ever since. But now that may be changing. Since assuming office for the second time in December 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has implemented a rapid succession of security policy reforms. Abe’s efforts to refocus Japan’s attention on its defense needs and adopt policies that have long been seen as taboo have drawn global attention. Japan’s immediate neighbors have decried these reforms, citing their still sensitive World War II-era memories of a very different Japanese military. South Korea has been especially critical of Abe’s […]

An Indian air force Hercules C-130J prepares to land at the Juhu strip on the Arabian Sea coast as part of a terror preparedness exercise, Mumbai, India, March 24, 2015 (AP photo by Rajanish Kakade).

Last month, India announced plans to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France, though a final deal has yet to be signed. In an email interview, Iskander Rehman, a nonresident fellow in the South Asia Program at the Atlantic Council, discussed India’s air force. WPR: What are the current size, capabilities and combat readiness of the Indian air force? Iskander Rehman: On paper, the Indian air force is a large, well-balanced and modern service, whose fighter pilots are considered to be some of the most-capable and well-trained in the world. Recently, however, concerns have grown over the air force’s continued […]

Army researchers evaluate a prototype undersuit designed to reduce injuries and fatigue, developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Oct. 28, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Tom Faulkner).

Today none of America’s adversaries is close to matching the U.S. military’s capabilities, but U.S. defense leaders, both uniformed and civilian, worry that others are using advances in force-multiplying technologies to catch up. Should these opponents ever come to believe they’ve forged ahead in this race for cutting-edge capabilities, they might be tempted to resort to armed aggression, unleashing a war that would otherwise have been deterred. After all, strategic superiority is not simply a matter of who has the most troops and weapons, who spends the most on defense and who has today’s most advanced technologies. It is also […]

British Prime Minister David Cameron walks by French President Francois Hollande during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, March 19, 2015 (AP photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert).

Would you rather follow David Cameron or Francois Hollande into battle? The British prime minister and the French president have both had to navigate a steady stream of small wars, and both face criticism for their responses. Cameron was an early advocate for the international intervention in Libya in 2011, but stands accused of mishandling its chaotic aftermath. Hollande won praise for sending troops to stem the conflicts in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013, but France has struggled to extract itself from either of its turbulent former colonies. The two leaders’ decisions have been under particular […]

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