A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces walks inside a prison built by Islamic State fighters, Raqqa, Syria, Oct. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Asmaa Waguih).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series on the Islamic State after the fall of Raqqa and the outlook for Syria and its neighbors. What does the future of the Islamic State look like in the wake of its battlefield setbacks in Iraq and Syria, from the fall of Mosul last summer to Raqqa last month? Will it revert to a low-level insurgency, or lash out with the kinds of terrorist attacks more associated with its predecessors, like al-Qaida? Can it sustain itself as a movement drawing in sympathizers and recruits from around the world? Writing for […]

French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, and Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, center left, wave during a visit to a school in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Nov. 28 , 2017 (AP photo by Ahmed Yempabou Ouoba).

After a first six months spent focused on matters domestic and European, French President Emmanuel Macron has begun to travel farther afield. He is in West Africa this week, having arrived yesterday in Burkina Faso and continuing on to Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Earlier this month he traveled to the Persian Gulf for a planned visit to the United Arab Emirates, making an unplanned stopover in Saudi Arabia on his way back to Paris. In West Africa, Macron will try, as all new French presidents must, to reset a relationship burdened by the historical legacy of colonial exploitation and postcolonial […]

Canisters containing missiles are displayed in Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea, April 12, 2017 (AP photo by Wong Maye-E).

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series about the production and trade of arms around the world. Earlier this year, a ship from North Korea laden with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades was seized off the coast of Egypt. The United Nations called it the “largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” In an email interview, Andrew C. Winner, chair of the Strategic and Operational Research Department and a professor of strategic studies at the Naval War College, discusses the nature of North Korea’s arms industry and efforts to curb […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledges his supporters during an appearance in parliament, Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 21, 2017 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series on the Islamic State after the fall of Raqqa and the outlook for Syria and its neighbors. The Syrian civil war is drawing to a close, at least in the way that the traditional conflict dynamics have been understood since 2011. The rebel opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in disarray and confined to relatively small patches of disconnected territory across the country, while the self-proclaimed Islamic State is on its last breath, pushed out of its base in the city of Raqqa and squeezed in eastern Syria. Only […]

Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov raises his hand to vote against a resolution condemning Syria’s use of chemical weapons, U.N. headquarters, New York, April 12, 2017 (AP photo by Bebeto Matthews).

It is Cold War time at the United Nations again. Last week, Russia caused diplomatic uproar by vetoing not one, but two Security Council resolutions extending a U.N. investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Moscow is angry with the investigators for accusing the Syrian regime of using sarin gas and chlorine bombs. Russia has now used its veto 11 times to block resolutions over the Syrian war since 2011, four of them this year. Every veto sparks a ritualistic bout of outrage in the Security Council. All sides seemed especially tetchy last week. Nikki Haley, the U.S. […]

A robot in Parliament Square as part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, London, April 23, 2013 (Press Association via AP Images).

Autonomous weapons are on the agenda in Geneva this week. The Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, which has members and observers drawn from national governments, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, is holding its first meeting since it was established last year under the auspices of the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, or CCW. On the table for discussion are the technical, legal, military and ethical dimensions of machines capable of making battlefield decisions without human oversight. The stakes are high. Autonomous weapons have, in recent years, catapulted into the defense and security strategies of the […]

A U.S. Marine major walks past a line of soldiers from the Uganda People’s Defense Force as they engage in weapons training at the Singo facility in Kakola, Uganda, April 30, 2012 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

The United States has always been a reluctant superpower. While most political leaders and observers have believed that promoting security around the world benefits the United States, the public has to be sold on the idea of global activism. Among other things, this makes it important to control the costs of involvement in distant places without direct ties to the United States, particularly U.S. military casualties. This has been done in two ways: by relying on security partners to bear the brunt of deterring and fighting adversaries, and by sustaining an advanced U.S. military to overmatch enemies when it does […]

A Russian military policeman, left, rests in the lobby of a hospital in the city of Deir el-Zour, Syria, Sept. 15, 2017 (AP photo).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series on the Islamic State after the fall of Raqqa and the outlook for Syria and its neighbors. In Syria, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, was always treated as a problem with an essentially military solution. At least for the U.S.-led international coalition, there was no positive end state or program of political change that could be joined to the military campaign against the jihadi group. The general repulsiveness of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad meant that, unlike in neighboring Iraq, Washington and its allies could not simply invest […]

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping after attending a business event at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China, Nov. 9, 2017 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

I suspect I speak for many close observers of international affairs when I express my frustration with the sheer repetitiveness of trying to decipher signal from noise amid the chaos and uncertainty that surrounds U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump’s lengthy jaunt through Asia is the latest case in point. On the one hand, he managed to reassure many observers by staying “on-script” through much of the trip, although defining success as avoiding any public displays of pique—rather than securing any concrete deliverables—is a sign of how low the bar has now been set for Trump. On the other, he did […]

An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 15, 2017 (AP photo).

In what appeared to have all the makings of a coup, Zimbabwe’s military took control of the capital, Harare, early Wednesday and was said to be holding 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe in custody. The move comes one week after Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had previously been seen as a potential successor, in what was widely viewed as an attempt to ease the path to power for his wife, Grace. To help put the takeover in context, WPR has collected eight articles tracing the recent evolution of power dynamics in Zimbabwe. The following eight articles are free to […]

U.S. Intelligence Faces Challenges From Tech, Bad Actors—and the President

Three recent stories about U.S. intelligence offer insights into how the massive effort to collect and interpret data about threats to the United States has performed over the past few years, and how that effort must increasingly deal with challenges from technology, bad actors and even from political leaders. The first story is about the planned release of old U.S. intelligence documents, which are straightforward enough. The second is the publicly acknowledged damage done to American signals intelligence from hacking or leaking. The third, and perhaps most troubling, is President Donald Trump’s startling statement while overseas in Asia that he […]

United Nations peacekeepers from Niger patrol the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Jan. 10, 2011 (AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell).

United Nations peacekeepers have a branding problem. The blue helmets, once much-admired symbols of international cooperation, are now routinely associated with venality and incompetence. Regular allegations of sexual abuse have tarnished their reputation, and U.N. forces have struggled to manage surges of violence in trouble spots such as South Sudan. The U.N. has not yet properly come to terms with well-attested claims that Nepali peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti, killing thousands. As a result, media reports about peacekeepers now start from the presumption that U.N. personnel are a problem rather than a solution to major crises. U.N. officials wearily note […]

Iraqis from the Yazidi community rebuild temples destroyed by Islamic State fighters, Bashiqa, Iraq, Oct. 18, 2017 (AP photo Khalid Mohammed).

Late last month, in an unexpected political maneuver after Iraqi Kurdish officials went ahead with their controversial referendum on independence, Iraq’s central government restored its dominance over most of the so-called disputed territories in the north of the country. Even though they fall outside the jurisdiction of the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, these areas had effectively been controlled by the KRG for the past three years, amid the chaos created by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and the retreat of Iraqi forces. Iraqi forces swept through the key, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, as well as Sinjar and much of the Nineveh […]

U.S. President Donald Trump listens to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a joint news conference at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017 (AP photo Andrew Harnik).

North Korea looms large on U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda during his nearly two weeks in Asia. Compared to discussions on trade and economics, and Trump’s handling of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and a now-likely one with Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have the gravest consequence for regional and global security. With Trump, the North Korea crisis appears to be playing out on several, sometimes-contradictory levels. His national security officials hold out proposals for diplomatic contact, or military options short of full-scale war, while the president opts for brash messages to intimidate […]

Police officers stand guard near a court where former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was responding to corruption charges, Islamabad, Nov. 7, 2017 (AP photo by Anjum Naveed).

Since Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as prime minister in August, Pakistan has been abuzz with talk of strained civil-military relations. The situation materially worsened when Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army’s chief of staff, publicly lectured the government last month on expanding tax collection to improve the economy. A very public war of words between the government and military ensued, with the interior minister even suggesting on Facebook that Pakistan was on the cusp of another coup d’état, before walking back his comments. While ties between the elected civilian government and the armed forces have frayed recently, Sharif’s removal itself did […]

A picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry claims to show the launch of a Simorgh satellite-carrying rocket in an undisclosed location, Iran, July 27, 2017 (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP).

In mid-October, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that he would not recertify the Iran nuclear agreement, disavowing it but kicking to Congress the decision of whether the United States should reimpose sanctions on Iran and essentially scrap the deal. In doing so, Trump singled out Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles, and the deal’s near-total silence on Iran’s missile programs, as one of the agreement’s “flaws.” The wisdom of linking the nuclear deal to Iran’s ballistic missile program is debatable. But a series of recent tests and public unveilings indicate that Iran is indeed making significant progress toward meeting its […]

A drone model at a protest encampment near Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas, where people were demonstrating against remotely piloted armed drone missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, March 6, 2015 (AP photo by Steve Marcus).

America's wars will change as the enemies of tomorrow, whether extremist networks or hostile nations, acquire the ability to strike more directly at the United States. The way Americans think about armed conflict must evolve to incorporate this profound change to the nature of security. After the devastating Thirty Years War of the 17th century, the great powers of Europe narrowed their notion of what was acceptable in war. While seldom applying their new standards during often-brutal colonial conquests, the European powers—at least in wars among themselves—deemed it acceptable to kill enemy combatants but not civilians, to destroy enemy war […]

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