Last week, at least 32 people were killed amid violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar, according to the state news media. It took several days for the military to restore calm. Jason Paul Abbott, Aung San Suu Kyi endowed chair and director at the University of Louisville’s Center for Asian Democracy, told Trend Lines that the events, in particular the military’s lack of haste in intervening to halt the violence, are indicative of the country’s broader power struggle over the ongoing reform process. Myanmar is currently undergoing a transition to civilian government after […]

On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that his government would resign because of a dispute with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that dominates the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah had opposed extending the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who heads the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and is, like Mikati, a Sunni Muslim. But Elias Muhanna, assistant professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Brown University and author of the Qifa Nabki blog about Lebanon, told Trend Lines that Mikati also had other reasons to resign. “There is a lot of polarization in this cabinet, which is typical for […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

Over the weekend, the Séléka rebel alliance seized Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). This most recent offensive was the latest development in a rebellion that commenced in December 2012 over President François Bozizé’s failure to implement the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement (.pdf) and the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement (.pdf). In those deals, Bozizé’s government had agreed to provide amnesty for former combatants; to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the rebel forces; to provide compensation for those demobilized and the integration of some former rebels into the official armed forces of the Central African […]

Last week, a ceremony was held at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to mark the mission’s 35th birthday. The operation began in March 1978 to patrol southern Lebanon after Israel mounted an offensive against Palestinian fighters in the area. Since then, UNIFIL’s history has been punctuated by crises. In 1982 and 2006, the peacekeepers were sidelined during further Israeli incursions into southern Lebanon. The mission was heavily reinforced in August 2006 after the inconclusive war between Israel and Hezbollah, and it still totals roughly 11,000 blue helmets. But UNIFIL is currently facing potentially more-serious […]

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has called for a truce with Turkey, with which the Kurdish rebel group has fought for 30 years. In a letter that was read earlier today to crowds gathered for the Kurdish New Year celebrations in southern Turkey, the PKK chief called for a cease-fire and for the removal of PKK fighters from the country. While past truces have been called and then abandoned, the announcement is being greeted with optimism in some quarters. “This is the first time in a long time that there is a serious […]

Strategic retrenchment is all the rage among America’s national security experts. There is increasing agreement that the global strategy of the past two decades is politically and economically unsustainable, so Washington must cut its security commitments and scale down engagement around the world, particularly when it involves the U.S. military. This is not a new idea. After World War II, some political leaders and opinion shapers encouraged President Harry Truman to follow American tradition and disengage from Europe and Asia. That pressure ended only when the extent of the Soviet threat became clear and North Korea invaded South Korea. After […]

On March 11, North Korea declared that it would withdraw from the 1953 armistice that stopped the war on the Korean Peninsula. In an email interview, Balbina Y. Hwang, a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a former adviser at the U.S. State Department who has written extensively on the Koreas, discussed the significance of the move and its likely impacts. WPR: Technically, what does the armistice control? Balbina Y. Hwang: The Korean Armistice, signed on July 27, 1953, established the parameters of a cease-fire between the official warring parties of the Korean conflict: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea […]

Two years after the end of Côte d’Ivoire’s post-election crisis, which saw more than 3,000 people killed, much uncertainty remains over the direction the country will take. The crisis, triggered by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to leave office after losing the November 2010 presidential election to current President Alassane Ouattara, was itself the last chapter of a decade-long conflict that had profoundly divided the country and its people. Though some steps toward normalization have been taken, they have not led to a broader national reconciliation. On one hand, Ouattara has already achieved a great deal, restarting the Ivorian economy […]

Last week, European leaders did one of the things they do best: look hesitant over how to handle a pressing foreign policy question. As the European Union’s leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande declared the bloc should end its arms embargo on Syria, enabling them to send weapons to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. But their counterparts appeared convinced that this would only exacerbate the conflict. German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed especially unfavorable toward the proposal, observing that “the fact that two have changed their minds” didn’t oblige […]

The month-long crisis in Sabah, which has seen an incursion of rebel fighters from the Philippine island of Sulu into Malaysia’s northern-most state on the island of Borneo, is a stark reminder that Southeast Asia remains engulfed in unresolved territorial disputes and conflicts. Malaysia has been deeply involved in several of these conflicts as both a stakeholder and a mediator. The Sabah crisis now presents Malaysia with a thorny domestic security challenge that also has implications for its regional role. As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia has so far subscribed actively to the ASEAN […]

Perhaps it is time to start taking Hamid Karzai at his word. Every time the Afghan president criticizes the United States or constrains the operations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials deploy the gamut of explanations to downplay his behavior. These have ranged from the tactical (he’s trying to build up his nationalist credentials among the populace), to the pharmacological (he’s “off his meds”). Karzai’s latest bombshell, delivered during Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Afghanistan as the new U.S. secretary of defense, was to suggest that the United States is colluding with the Taliban in attacks throughout the country […]

Strategic Horizons: Thinking the Unthinkable on a Second Korean War

Today, North Korea is the most dangerous country on earth and the greatest threat to U.S. security. For years, the bizarre regime in Pyongyang has issued an unending stream of claims that a U.S. and South Korean invasion is imminent, while declaring that it will defeat this offensive just as — according to official propaganda — it overcame the unprovoked American attack in 1950. Often the press releases from the official North Korean news agency are absurdly funny, and American policymakers tend to ignore them as a result. Continuing to do so, though, could be dangerous as events and rhetoric […]

A key component of Iran’s Middle East policy is the deployment of unconventional actors to achieve political ends. Tehran has seen successes in this regard: Its client Hezbollah has become a major political party and militia in Lebanon, and, through the use of other such groups, Iran managed to increase its influence in Baghdad while diminishing that of the United States during the American war in Iraq. But Iran has now taken on considerable risk by intervening in a similar fashion in the Syrian conflict, where its mission is fundamentally different than it was in Lebanon or Iraq. In Syria, […]

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on the outlook for Mali after the initial phase of the military intervention. Part I looked at the military challenges ahead. Part II examines the political and economic challenges ahead. Much of the domestic and international attention on Mali is focused on the fierce fighting going on in the north between French and Chadian troops and elements of the Islamist militant groups the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. But both the Malian government and the international community would do well to […]

Kidnapping of Peacekeepers Unprecedented for Golan Heights Force

On Wednesday, Syrian rebels seized 21 Filipino members of a United Nations peacekeeping mission from a disputed demilitarized buffer zone between Israel and Syria that has been monitored by U.N. forces since 1974. The border zone in the Golan Heights had been largely unaffected by Syria’s uprising until now, and the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has not experienced a similar incident in the decades since it was formed. The group claiming responsibility for the kidnapping said the peacekeepers would not be released until the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad withdrew from a nearby village where clashes occurred over […]

Last week French President Francois Hollande announced that Operation Serval in Mali has entered its final phase and hinted that the withdrawal of French troops from the country would begin within a matter of weeks. The French government has always maintained that it does not intend to keep its forces in the region for the long haul, and wants to hand over operations to an African-led force as soon as the situation in Mali is stable. Emphasis will now gradually move to diplomatic discussions at the U.N. for a resolution mandating a peacekeeping force, and the level of media attention […]

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