Yemenis condemning airstrikes by the the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Keeping weapons out of the wrong hands is good policy. In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, heightened attention has been paid to the illegal black-market networks that often arm terror groups and stoke conflict around the world. But the international community is not helpless to prevent this uncontrolled arms trade. A year ago on Christmas Eve, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) entered into force, with 130 countries signing on and, at the time, 61 of them ratifying it. One year later, 76 states are party to the treaty. The ATT is the only global, legally binding […]

Tribal fighters prepare to take their positions during fighting with the Houthis, Taiz, Yemen, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Abdulnasser Alseddik).

Five days of peace talks in Switzerland between Yemen’s warring parties wrapped up Sunday with no breakthroughs, making it increasingly clear that the Arab world’s poorest country is teetering on the brink of semi-permanent chaos. With the deeply polarizing civil war rumbling on, the local branches of both al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State are gaining territory and influence. The war has seen the country fragment, with divisive sectarian rhetoric, hitherto minimal in Yemen, playing an increasingly prominent role. As the Houthis—Zaydi Shiites from the northwest—have advanced in the south and east of the country, areas where the population is […]

Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries' delegates at the Heart of Asia conference, Islamabad, Pakistan, Dec. 9, 2015 (Pool photo via AP by Aamir Quresh).

Over two days last week, senior diplomatic officials gathered in Islamabad to participate in the Heart of Asia conference, a forum of Afghanistan’s neighbors and major international supporters that has been held annually since 2011. Despite domestic criticism over his outreach to Pakistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attended the meeting, where participants, including Pakistan, China and the United States, voiced their support for the resumption of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Also in attendance was India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, marking the highest-level visit by an Indian diplomatic official to Pakistan since Indian Prime Minister Narendra […]

Nigerien peacekeepers from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Menaka, Mali, Dec. 3, 2015 (U.N. photo by Marco Dormino).

People who write about international politics inevitably make a lot of incorrect predictions. It is sometimes useful to look back and ask why our prognostications were wrong. At the start of this year, I asked, “Where will international stabilization forces intervene in 2015?” My best guesses were Ukraine, Nigeria, Libya and Syria. There has been much talk about deploying peacekeepers to these war zones over the ensuing 12 months, but markedly less action. In retrospect, it seems clear that governments and international organizations have taken a cautious approach to mounting new missions in high-risk environments in 2015. But there are […]

Iraqi security forces at the front line with Islamic State militants, Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP photo by Osama Sami).

All wars are tragedies, often victimizing most the people who had least to do with starting them and no ability to stop them. But beyond this common feature, each war is usually very different. This can make it difficult to draw generalizations and prepare for tomorrow’s conflict. Nonetheless it is important to look for the signposts of future war in current ones and prepare as much as possible. This is particularly true for the United States as it continues to try and build or manage global stability. Among today’s violent conflicts, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine seem to […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during a ceremony, Doha, Qatar, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP/Presidential Press Service photo by Yasin Bulbul).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Qatar two weeks ago was his second to the tiny oil- and gas-rich Arab state since he was elected Turkey’s president last year. The visit was significant because it inaugurated the first High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting between the two countries, a mechanism created last year to deepen bilateral cooperation in strategic sectors. During Erdogan’s visit, 16 separate agreements were signed for everything from education and maritime affairs to travel and energy. Some of the agreements—such as cooperation on archives, credential recognition in the maritime industry and public finance management—were technical in nature. Others, such […]

Afghan soldiers during a ceremony to mark the security transition from U.S. and NATO forces to Afghanistan's, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Abdul Khaliq).

The New York Times reported Sunday that, in the face of significant Taliban gains in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the United States is once again committing troops and air power to the fight. According to the Times, “the extent of the American role has been kept largely secret, with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation.” Pentagon officials are allegedly concerned that the ramped-up U.S. involvement “may suggest” that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, which was supposed to have ended, is going far beyond the “train, advise and […]

An Emirati soldier watches for enemy fire from the rear of a UAE Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen, Sept. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—The encouraging news that a seven-day cease-fire took effect in Yemen today as peace talks to end the country’s civil war got underway in Switzerland will bring relief to Yemenis, but also to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the country’s president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, has had mixed results at best. And a prolonged military engagement there would not enhance regional security, while making it harder to coordinate policies on Syria. But the Gulf states hold diverse views about how to move forward on the other acute problems in the […]

French military personnel after liberating the city of Timbuktu from Islamist militants, Mali, Jan. 31, 2013 (AP Photo by Harouna Traore).

More than any other outside power, France is currently investing the most military and political resources to combat terrorist groups in West Africa and the wider Sahel. Driven by a perception of a clear and present danger, French security policy in the region has undergone a fundamental shift in recent years, but not in the direction that many policymakers in Paris had hoped at the beginning of the century. Instead of slowly decreasing its military presence and political involvement in its former colonies’ internal affairs, France has stepped up both amid new realities and interests. Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, Dec. 1, 2015 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

Critics no longer stop at questioning or attacking the Obama administration’s strategy in dealing with the so-called Islamic State. As Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, bluntly claimed last month, “We don’t have a strategy.” Even Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Tim Kane have joined in, saying, “I don’t think the administration has done a good job of laying out a clear strategy.” Yet President Barack Obama insists that his administration has an effective strategy based on four components: airstrikes against Islamic State targets; support to Iraqi security forces and Iraqi militias fighting the […]

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and Algerian Speaker of the Senate Abdelkader Bensalah, Algiers, Algeria, March 22, 2015 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

In recent years, Algeria has focused more of its foreign policy on its immediate neighborhood, both in North Africa and farther south in the Sahel. Its busy foreign minister, Ramtane Lamamra, has been active in mediation efforts in Mali, Libya and Tunisia, earning plaudits from Western partners. Some officials and observers have seized on this foreign policy outreach as a purported “awakening” of Algerian diplomacy in Africa, a revitalization of the country’s historically strong role in continental affairs. Lamamra himself highlighted Algeria’s important regional efforts in an interview in October with the French daily Le Monde. But has Algeria’s Africa […]

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz at a news conference, Washington, Dec. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Everyone it seems has a strategy for defeating the self-declared Islamic State. But the ones proposed by two of the Republican candidates for president truly stand out. Sen. Ted Cruz said last week that the United States should “carpet-bomb [the Islamic State] into oblivion.” He added, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” Donald Trump has a similar plan. Though he recently replied, when asked how he would deal with the group, that he would “leave [that] to your imagination,” he has talked previously about “bombing the [crap]” out of the […]

Members of the Abbas combat squad, a Shiite militia group, carry a picture of spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Basra, Iraq, Sept. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Nabil al-Jurani).

Over the course of its armed struggle with the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Iraq has devolved into a state captured by militias and foreign powers. The instability caused by a revived insurgency that took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in June 2014 has facilitated the emergence of new armed actors and deepened the influence of older ones. The level of security engagement Baghdad receives from the West, including cooperation with the 60-nation coalition against the Islamic State, has not strengthened Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s position. His government remains fragile and fragmented, unable to consolidate power and exercise authority over militias […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Oct. 20, 2015 (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP).

Back at the end of September, when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to intervene directly in the nearly five-year-old civil war in Syria, more than a few U.S. pundits and politicians bemoaned the negative impact of Russia’s intervention on U.S. interests in the region, while lauding the Russian leader’s willingness to use force to advance Moscow’s interests in the region. “A dramatic example of the diminution of . . . American influence in the region, particularly in Iraq,” said Sen. John McCain. “Putin is willing to back up his pursuit of his interests with force,” wrote Eliot Abrams, who seemed […]

An Israeli soldier walks next to an Iron Dome rocket defense battery near Sderot, Israel, Sept. 20, 2015 (AP photo by Tsafrir Abayov).

In October, it was revealed that Bahrain and perhaps other oil-rich Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were in talks with Israel over the purchase of its highly successful and relatively inexpensive Iron Dome air defense system. The news came in the wake of both the Iran nuclear deal and reports that Iran may have tested a more advanced, medium-range ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, violating U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929. While there are obvious correlations to be drawn with developments in Iran, the Iron Dome purchase is much more a reflection of shifting regional […]

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Manila, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

The military alliance with the United States has been a cornerstone of Australia’s strategic and defense policy since World War II. Recently, however, signs have emerged that Australia might more carefully weigh its options when it comes to dealing with China, the rising great power in Asia and Australia’s most important trading partner. Last month, only days after the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island near Subic Reef in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China, two Australian Anzac class frigates conducted a live-fire exercise with Chinese warships. Moreover, a […]

President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo at the Bataclan theater, Paris, Nov. 30, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

A somber weariness has settled in across Western democracies in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Defeating and destroying the so-called Islamic State with military force has won broader support. But most realize that the challenge will require a complex set of policy responses, far beyond aerial bombardments to liberate territory controlled by the group in Syria and Iraq. Although there is not yet any consensus about what such a long-term strategy should look like, some new ideas are emerging. To begin with, the old debate over how to distinguish between the threat posed by al-Qaida and the newer one […]

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