The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility for an attack over the weekend that killed nine foreign mountain climbers and their local guide, calling it retribution for a U.S. drone strike last month that killed Waliur Rehman, the deputy head of the terrorist organization. Trend Lines spoke with three leading experts on Pakistani security about what the attack indicates about Pakistan’s fight against the Pakistani Taliban. “The militants killed the nine foreign tourists because they knew that this would make headlines in Pakistan and abroad, which would embarrass the government greatly,” Mansur Khan […]

This week, followers of a radical Sunni cleric fought for two days with Lebanese security forces in the southern city of Sidon, in clashes that reportedly killed 18 soldiers and up to 40 of the cleric’s followers. In an email interview, Oren Barak, associate professor of political science and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained the Lebanese armed forces’ position within Lebanese society and its efforts to maintain stability amid spillover from Syria’s civil war. WPR: What is the Lebanese army’s position within Lebanon’s factional society, and who does it answer to? Oren Barak: The Lebanese armed […]

After many months of false starts, Afghan peace talks may finally officially begin in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban opposition has established a quasi-official presence. But a newly published study (.pdf) by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) should again remind us that the likelihood of negotiating a sustained peace deal with the Taliban remains small. The report’s authors undertook a comprehensive study of almost three decades of negotiations with Afghan resistance movements, reviewing Soviet-era talks with the mujahedeen guerrillas as well as Western and Afghan government negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. Although generalizing lessons from history […]

When South Sudan formally declared its independence from the Republic of Sudan in July 2011, jubilant celebrations in the world’s newest country were almost equally matched by gloomy predictions about a failed state in the making. The past two years have done little to dispel the dire predictions that institutions in the South would not be able to cope with the enormous challenges of building a viable state. While not formally ranked in the 2012 Fund for Peace Failed States Index, the available data suggest that only three countries in the world score worse on indicators of state failure. This […]

Can regional powers replace the U.S. and Europe in policing perennial trouble spots such as the Middle East and West Africa? Or are their own weaknesses going to create new problems for the West? Recent events in Turkey and Nigeria have illustrated the dilemmas involved. Both countries have faced very different internal security challenges in recent months. Nigeria has tried to extirpate the Boko Haram Islamist rebel group with a major military offensive in the northeast of the country. Turkey has made a mess of handling widespread public protests stemming from arguments over a popular park in Istanbul. These episodes […]

Last week, Syria’s currency lost nearly a third of its value, the latest blow to an economy damaged by years of sanctions and war. In an email interview, Samer Abboud, an assistant professor at Arcadia University who has researched Syria’s political economy, explained the sanctions against Syria and the sectors most deeply affected by them. WPR: What is the state of the sanctions regime on Syria, in terms of measures existing before the war began and those enacted since? Samer Abboud: The U.S. sanctions prior to the conflict were mostly symbolic and had limited material impact on the economy. After […]

With small measures of tangible progress counterbalanced by intermittent stumbles, Georgia-Russia relations seem to have taken two steps forward and one step back since Georgia’s 2012 parliamentary elections swept the opposition Georgian Dream (GD) coalition to power. For all of Tbilisi’s best efforts, Moscow continues to view ties from a zero-sum perspective. While some degree of normalcy may be possible, divergent interests mean that the high-water mark of Georgia-Russia relations might already have been reached. After taking office in October, one of billionaire philanthropist-turned-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s first moves was to appoint a special envoy to Russia. Although the new […]

Can dialogue be effective in securing America’s strategic interests? This is the challenge extended to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who this past week received two opportunities to show that diplomacy rather than force can bring results in solving two long-standing quandaries. The first was the election of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani to the presidency. An establishment cleric known for his diplomatic finesse, Rowhani replaces the bombastic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric and outspoken commitment to the country’s nuclear program inflamed Western sensibilities and whose efforts to strengthen the position of the presidency put him on a […]

For more than 50 years, U.S. national security strategy has undergone cycles of strategic retrenchment and renewal. After World War II, the United States rapidly demobilized, giving the Soviet Union and its proxies like North Korea an opening for armed aggression. By the end of the Truman administration, America had begun an extensive military buildup and a significant expansion of its alliances and security commitments. Another round of retrenchment came after Vietnam; once again, renewal followed. Under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, defense spending increased, and the military fielded an array of new weapons systems and developed innovative doctrine […]

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently concluded his first trip in years to Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, without having made any tangible progress toward resolving the feud between the central Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, who are developing their own energy industry and exporting oil to Turkey. Discussing the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) amid regional turmoil, the experts who spoke with Trend Lines emphasized the Kurds’ interest in normalizing relations with Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. “By seeking a future with Turkey instead of Iraq, some Kurdish leaders may think they do […]

Since Mali’s current crisis began in 2012, West Africa’s terrorist movements have generated sustained and intense international concern. On June 3, the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program announced its “first reward offers for terrorists in West Africa.” Bounties ranged from $3 million to $5 million for commanders in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), and $7 million for Abubakar Shekau, the formal leader of the Nigerian Muslim sect Boko Haram. Rewards for Justice, its website explains, exists to incentivize the release of information that helps prevent “international […]

Will the Syrian government and its opponents ever sit down for negotiations in Geneva? It has been more than a month since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced plans for a peace conference in the Swiss city. There were suggestions that the meeting could happen in May or June. But it has been pushed back repeatedly, while Russia and the U.S. appear to be edging closer to a full-scale proxy war in Syria. The promise of talks in Geneva may even have made the conflict worse. When Kerry met Lavrov in Moscow in […]

The Obama administration yesterday announced that it would provide military assistance to Syrian rebels, after having concluded that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against opposition fighters in the ongoing civil war. The move comes after months of criticism of the administration, from both left and right, for its apparent fecklessness with regard to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Washington ought to have been doing more to protect the Syrian populace from the repressions of the Baathist dictatorship, cry the liberal interventionists. The president’s “inaction” has strengthened America’s foes and disheartens its allies, argue […]

There was heavy fighting last week between the Malian army and separatists belonging to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group fighting for autonomy in northern Mali from a stronghold in the city of Kidal. This week, a Malian government delegation reached an agreement with the Tuareg rebels. The cease-fire deal “in principle” would allow the elections scheduled for July 28 to take place in the disputed region. But the experts who spoke with Trend Lines do not expect that any lasting solutions to the demands of the Tuaregs, rebels who have refused to […]

Collective defense is a coordinated response to a common security problem by two or more countries. The core of collective defense is political: a commitment by different nations to come to each other’s aid if attacked. Existing collective security arrangements for the U.S. and its allies were designed for one kind of threat. Now they must deal with others, including new threats, if they are to remain relevant to national security. In particular, the U.S. and its allies agree that it would be useful to extend collective defense arrangements against potential cyberattacks, but implementation has proven difficult because of the […]

National security policy can resemble the fashion industry. A defense strategy that is in vogue in one era can fall out of fashion, only to come back into style, perhaps in slightly different form, at a later date. So it is with deterrence. This strategy was central during the Cold War, but 9/11 convinced many people that deterrence was no longer useful. In the years after, however, interest in deterrence revived as scholars and government officials sought ways to adapt it to meet contemporary threats. This deterrence revival is a mixed blessing. Just as it was during the Cold War, […]

In a May 23 speech at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama announced a shift in U.S. national security strategy. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, he noted, the United States “went to war.” After 12 years, al-Qaida has been decimated. Those of its leaders still alive spend more effort hiding than plotting new attacks. The American homeland “is more secure,” the president said. And the United States had ended or is ending large-scale military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorism still threatens, Obama argued, but the nature of the threat has changed […]

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