NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. President Joe Biden pose with other leaders for a group photo during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 29, 2022 (AP photo by Bernat Armangue).

NATO leaders gathered this week at a summit in Madrid to adopt a New Strategic Concept, a framework that sets out the alliance’s core priorities for the next decade. But the Madrid gathering was in other ways historic, ushering in further expansion of the alliance after Turkey lifted its veto of Sweden’s and Finland’s membership bids. The U.S. also pledged to deploy more troops, warplanes and naval vessels as part of the alliance’s largest military buildup since the Cold War, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ramifications of the summit will be most obvious on NATO’s eastern flank, with […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Burhan Ozbilici).

Many optimists in the Middle East as well as in Washington have argued for some time that governments in the region will find new ways to embrace diplomacy and cooperate among themselves if foreign powers like the United States take a backseat and reduce their footprint in the region. In recent years, the region has seen a sustained round of diplomacy as well as conflict—two major themes that have been a frequent subject of this newsletter. The causes of conflict come from both within and outside the region. Unlike in other parts of the world where the great powers reduced […]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy receives a questionnaire to begin the process for his country’s application for EU membership from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Kyiv, Ukraine, April 8, 2022 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

The European Union’s 27 leaders have formally approved candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova to join the union, marking the first step toward full EU membership for the two countries. The move has renewed a contentious debate within the EU over expansion, given the longstanding assumption that there would be no movement toward any EU enlargement until at least 2024. “Even a month or so ago the idea that Ukraine might get candidate status seemed quite far-fetched to many,” noted one EU diplomat. EU members from the bloc’s east have pushed for Ukraine’s candidate status to be expedited since Russian […]

Members of the Ethiopian military parade with national flags attached to their rifles at a rally to show support for the Ethiopian National Defense Force, in Meskel square in downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 7, 2021 (AP photo).

During an African Union summit on humanitarian work in late May, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed affirmed his government’s “commitment to ensuring assistance reaches those afflicted by natural and manmade disasters,” and called on international partners to “scale up their support for humanitarian services across the continent.” The statement drew the ire of some commentators, who regarded it as an empty promise at a time when Ethiopia itself is enduring a dire humanitarian crisis, particularly in the war-ravaged northern region of Tigray and the neighboring regions, Amhara and Afar, to which forces under Abiy’s command have contributed. Nevertheless, Abiy’s statement […]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a press conference at the Mariyinsky palace, Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16, 2022 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

French President Emmanuel Macron came under heavy criticism recently for suggesting that Europe must find a way to broker a settlement to the war in Ukraine that avoids “humiliating” Russia. Macron subsequently clarified that he staunchly supports Ukraine’s war efforts, which France has been actively assisting, including by providing weapons shipments. But Macron’s comments, which draw on bad historical analogies to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and its treatment of Germany following World War I, still raised concerns. And the fact that it is not the first time he has had to clarify his remarks on the conflict revived questions […]

King Philippe of Belgium greets 100-year-old Albert Kunyuku, the last surviving Congolese veteran of World War II, during a ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, June 8, 2022 (AP photo by Samy Ntumba Shambuyi).

King Philippe of Belgium completed a “landmark” six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday that was characterized by Brussels as an attempt to grapple with its brutal colonial past in Congo. The “historic” trip, which marks Philippe’s first visit to Congo since he took the throne in 2013, came two years after the Belgian king wrote a letter to Tshisekedi to express his “deep regret” for the “wounds of the past” on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Congo’s independence from Belgium. In doing so, Philippe became the first Belgian royal to express remorse for the Belgian […]

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum for a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Feb. 16, 2022.

Back in February, when French President Emmanuel Macron announced that troops from France’s Barkhane mission as well as the European Union’s Takuba task force  would be withdrawn from Mali, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum raised eyebrows by declaring that Niger would welcome the French and European troops on its territory. Since then, legislators in Niger passed a bill that authorizes the government to host more European troops in the country as part of the French-led regional counterterrorism operations. But the move has drawn considerable opposition from a wide array of Nigeriens, including figures from the political opposition, civil society groups and […]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support, March 16, 2022.

On the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, amid the cacophony of war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he heard the “sound of a new Iron Curtain” falling across Europe. That message resounded loudly in Washington and across Europe, where ever since the West has framed the war in ideological terms: Autocratic Russia, they explain, is waging a brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine, because the latter aspired to follow the Western model of liberal democracy. As such, the world must help Ukraine to defend itself—or risk imperiling the entire “free world.” This strategic narrative has been very effective in mobilizing the United […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attend a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 16, 2022.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his Mexican counterpart, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, don’t agree on much when it comes to foreign policy, even if they sometimes exhibit similar populist styles. Bolsonaro is a right-wing firebrand who rails against “socialism” and was a close regional ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump. As for AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is known, despite his fiscal and social conservatism domestically, he tends to lean left internationally. He is friends with Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and he provided asylum to former Bolivian President Evo Morales in 2019 when Morales fled […]

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace, in Tokyo, May 23, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

In an age of rapid news cycles, when controversies often emerge and fade away in hours, if not days, U.S. President Joe Biden’s declaration in late May that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked by China might seem like ancient history. But given the weightiness of the topic, recent calls for creating a “Pacific NATO” and the heightened focus in recent months on a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan similar to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the remarks, which caused quite a stir at the time, warrant a second look. At a joint press conference with Japanese […]

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The war in Ukraine has led to a fundamental shift in public perceptions of the military utility of drones. Until now, most people saw drones either as a more or less harmless toy with certain implications for privacy on one hand, and as a complex military system that roams the skies searching for terrorists on the other. The proliferation of drones and the accompanying high-resolution videos of their exploits in Ukraine has blurred these borders. Modified commercial drones easily available in most electronics store across the world are dropping grenades on tanks and dismounted troops, while acting as accurate spotters […]

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks as part of a visit of the Joint Operations Command of the German armed forces, in Schwielowsee near Berlin, Germany, March 4, 2022 (AP photo by Michael Sohn).

Last week, Germany’s lower legislative chamber, the Bundestag, held a historic vote to amend the country’s constitution to allow for a massive expansion of its military forces. The vote tally—567 to 96, with 20 abstentions—was one more sign that when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, he upended not only the architecture of global security, but also, in some cases, fundamental, long-established beliefs about national defense. In the case of Germany, one of the most significant effects of Russian aggression has been the blow it dealt to the notion of pacifism that has guided the country’s defense policies since World War […]

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Back in June 2011, when news began to filter out from Syria of the first signs of armed resistance against the Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad, few could have predicted the level of disruption to the global order that the conflict in Syria would go on to produce. After months of brutal violence against protesters inflicted by the Assad regime, local inhabitants around the town of Jisr al-Shughour in the northern province of Idlib seized a police station on June 4, triggering a major shift whose implications few observers fully understood. Two days later, armed resistance led by police […]

An officer on board a Vietnamese coast guard vessel films a Chinese coast guard vessel sailing in the waters claimed by both countries in the South China Sea, May 15, 2014 (AP photo by Hau Dinh).

Ukraine’s successes in resisting and even turning back an invasion by a numerically superior Russian force has raised expectations in East Asia that smaller nations in the region could conceivably fend off an attack from a large military like China’s. Taiwan, of course, has long struggled with executing such a defense strategy, but since its strategic considerations are in many ways unique, other countries nominally threatened by China may not be able to draw as many lessons from Taipei’s experience. Ukraine’s performance in its war against Russia, on the other hand, may look to them like a more relevant model—for […]

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While the war in Syria has receded from the international spotlight, residents in the country’s northeast are bracing for a new wave of armed conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for months threatened to launch a military invasion of the region to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters and create a buffer zone in the border area between the two countries. Turkish military deployments and diplomatic outreach to Russia suggest that a decision from Ankara to launch a military operation is likely and may even possibly be imminent. Turkey maintains its own enclave within Syrian territory, in Idlib province. But […]

Seized firearms that were destined for the Los Zetas drug trafficking organization in Mexico are seen at a news conference, Feb. 8, 2012, in San Antonio. (AP photo by Eric Gay).

The United States is the indisputable mass shooting capital of the world. But in the wake of the recent horrifying incidents in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa and over 230 other communities in 2022, it is worth recalling that the U.S. not only has the highest rate of gun deaths and gun possession among wealthy countries. It is also the world’s preeminent arms merchant. In fact, the U.S. is responsible for more than 40 percent of all reported arms exports globally over the past five years. About half of U.S. sales between 2017 and 2021 were directed to clients in the Middle East, with the rest scattered across more than 100 countries, including many with a record of serious human rights violations. The […]

Ukrainian refugees wait near the U.S. border, April 4, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico (AP photo by Gregory Bull).

The images from Poland earlier this year were inspiring: As refugees began to cross Ukraine’s western border, Polish citizens poured out of their homes to receive them. They set up soup kitchens at the border and established caravans to shuttle refugees to train stations. They opened their homes and beds to families passing through, and as the days went on, a stream of international grassroots volunteers showed up to support the relief effort. As the weeks passed, however, many Poles began asking, Where is the national government in all this? Some were angry that the Polish government took credit for their grassroots […]

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