How to best explain Vladimir Putin’s zigzags on Ukraine? Over the past few months, spokesmen and leading officials have confidently made statements about Russian policy only to have the Russian leader suddenly change course. It can be quite confusing for analysts and commentators to assess Russia’s true intentions—and makes Putin look dangerously unpredictable. Putin’s long-term goals are clear: to prevent Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic world; to preserve some semblance of Ukraine’s former position as a neutral intermediary and buffer between Russia and the West; and to retain Russia’s special relationship with the country, particularly its southern and eastern […]

Rising tensions in Asia, as highlighted at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, have brought to the surface fault lines between Australia’s foreign affairs and defense strategies. With a foreign affairs focus on “economic diplomacy,” Australia has struggled to reassure its largest trading partner, China, that the deeper military ties it forged with Japan and the U.S. this week in no way represent a threat. The Shangri-La Dialogue was notable this year for heated exchanges between China, Japan and the United States. The 28-nation Asia Security Summit, hosted annually in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is usually carefully scripted […]

Turkey, Iran Compartmentalize Ties to Sidestep Differences

After months of sharp disagreement about the conflict in Syria, Turkey is eager to compartmentalize its relationship with Iran and focus on areas where the two countries can cooperate. Yet, despite the attempts to brand the recent meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a “turning point” for the two countries’ relationship, the two sides continue to have serious disagreements about the price of natural gas, the Syrian civil war and the future of the region. Nevertheless, there are areas in which the two sides can work together to deepen trade and political […]

International trade in agricultural commodities is a relatively small component of total trade in goods and services, but it accounts for a disproportionate share of time and effort in trade negotiations and is the topic of many of the most contentious trade disputes. The reasons for this imbalance are many, but they fall into three broad categories: the sensitivity of governments to issues that impinge on their ability to secure food supplies for their populations; the significance of agricultural exports for rural development and economic progress more generally; and the growing trade in food products associated with the rapid globalization […]

Fostering agricultural growth is commonly seen as a core strategy for overall development in Africa, particularly for reducing poverty, because the majority of Africa’s poor are largely dependent on farming. Therefore, different African governments have embarked on developing and implementing agriculture-led development strategies. Yet agricultural productivity and growth lags behind overall economic performance in Africa, and the continent’s volatile agricultural performance has fallen further behind the agricultural performance of other developing regions of the world. A little over a decade ago, in July 2003, at the African Union (AU) summit held in Maputo, Mozambique, African heads of state reaffirmed the […]

The introduction of sedentary farming was a cornerstone in the establishment of human civilizations. However, farming in its essence is a major modification of the natural landscape. Establishment of farming requires leveling lands, damming rivers, eradicating wildlife and clear-cutting forests. Over time, human knowledge has expanded, and modification of nature for agricultural purposes has become more effective and efficient—the horse-drawn plow has been replaced with the tractor, and natural fertilizers with chemicals. Yet, there is growing realization that some of the human modification of natural systems might have been excessive, which has led to environmental awareness and legislation that aims […]

Tensions have been running high between China and Vietnam over China’s installation of an oil rig in disputed waters, with anti-China riots erupting in Vietnam in May. In an email interview, Carlyle Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, explained how the maritime dispute threatens the otherwise booming China-Vietnam relationship. WPR: What is the extent and recent trajectory of Vietnam-China trade and investment ties, and what are the major sectors involved? Carlyle Thayer: Since Vietnam and China normalized relations in late 1991, bilateral trade has grown significantly. China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, with two-way turnover […]