A U.S. Air Force captain at a pre-flight check of a F-15E Strike Eagle at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 16, 2011 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes).

American security strategy often twists and shifts. The White House changes hands; partners come and go; enemies emerge and fade; and threats rise and fall. But throughout all the change, there are constants, and none are more enduring than a preference for indirect applications of military force, particularly airpower. There are good reasons for this. Relying on airpower, rather than direct methods that put U.S. troops in close proximity to enemies, lowers American casualties. Airpower exploits America’s technological superiority. And it’s easier to disengage, should things go badly, if the United States does not have troops on the ground. Aircraft […]

People pan for gold along the Dagua River, Zaragoza, Colombia, July 8, 2009 (AP photo by Christian Escobar Mora).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein and host Peter Dörrie discuss ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates, El Salvador’s murder epidemic and the impact of the drop in global commodities prices. For the report, journalist James Bargent joins us to discuss illegal gold mining and violence in Colombia. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant articles on WPR: ISIS vs. Al-Qaida: How Do Affiliates Choose?El Salvador’s Murder Epidemic and the Paradox of Peacebuilding SuccessWith Little International Support, Unrecognized States Turn to Each OtherWPR’s Global Insider Series on the Commodities CycleLengthy Oil Slump Could Force Saudi Arabia’s Hand on […]

U.S. President Barack Obama with Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, during the 10th East Asia Summit at the 27th ASEAN Summit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

Editor’s note: This is the final article in a WPR series on the South China Sea territorial disputes and the various claimant countries’ approaches to addressing them. The tiny sultanate of Brunei is perhaps the least visible of the six claimants in the South China Sea maritime disputes, in part due to its preferred approach of addressing the issue discreetly. In an email interview, Jatswan Singh, associate professor in the Department of International and Security Studies at the University of Malaya, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, discussed Brunei’s claims in the South China Sea. WPR: What are Brunei’s territorial claims in […]

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a campaign stop, Concord, N.H., Jan. 20, 2016 (AP photo by John Minchillo).

Last week I spent two days in New Hampshire attending campaign events for five different presidential candidates: GOP hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. John Kasich and Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. At various points the meetings I attended were inspiring, amusing, frustrating, stupefying and boring. But it wasn’t until I traveled to Pittsfield, New Hampshire, that it became enraging. The event was a town hall meeting where Christie spoke to employees of a small manufacturing company. The topics ranged from drugs and immigration to the federal budget and the […]

Soldiers guard a corner in a gang-controlled neighborhood in Ilopango, El Salvador, Aug. 31, 2015 (AP photo by Salvador Melendez).

On Jan. 16, El Salvador commemorated the 24th anniversary of the peace accords that ended the country’s 12-year civil war between the government and the then-rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). But despite a quarter-century of peacebuilding, El Salvador continues to face the scourge of widespread violence: In 2015, the country’s homicide rate hit 104 per 100,000 people, a dramatic increase from 61.8 in 2014 and the worst in the world. To put the magnitude of that proportion in context, the World Health Organization classifies a rate of 10 per 100,000 people as an epidemic. El Salvador’s murder rate […]

Women pan for gold along the Dagua River, Zaragoza, Colombia, July 8, 2009 (AP photo by Christian Escobar Mora).

The threats arrived in October by Whatsapp messages and pamphlets that were circulated around the northern Colombian town of Segovia. They placed a death sentence on every one of the 1,600 workers of Grupo Damasa, the business that operates the town’s richest gold mines, if the mining company did not pay a gold “tax.” “Stop working or we will stop you. We’re not playing,” they read. Within two months, four of the company’s miners were dead; two more had been shot; and one of its processing mills was attacked with a grenade. But still, Grupo Damasa’s owner would not pay […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Sergei Karpukhin).

“You’ve got to fake it till you make it!” Long the refrain of aspiring actors and entrepreneurs who have to pretend to be famous or rich well before they are either, this might also be a good motto for international peacemakers grappling with the Syrian war. This week, diplomats and United Nations officials are supposed to gather in Geneva for talks between the Syrian government and a cluster of opposition groups. It is still not absolutely clear when the conclave will begin. It was meant to start today. Now it looks like it might be Wednesday or later. The meeting […]

A woman walks past a campaign poster showing Afonso Dhlakama, presidential candidate for the Renamo party, Maputo, Mozambique, Nov. 30, 2004 (AP photo/STR).

Long considered to be a post-conflict success story, Mozambique currently finds itself in a period of uncertainty, with past political progress and current economic opportunities threatened by unresolved tensions on both fronts. The government’s decades-long war with the Mozambican National Resistance, a rebel group turned political party that is known as Renamo, officially ended 24 years ago. After a period of postwar reconstruction, the country has enjoyed steady and solid economic progress. GDP growth has averaged between 7 and 8 percent for the past decade, and the discovery of significant reserves of coal and gas have driven robust foreign investment. […]

President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the White House, Washington, Jan. 19, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made his first visit to Washington as prime minister this week, where he met with President Barack Obama and gave a national security speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In his speech at CSIS, Turnbull discussed the Syrian civil war and expressed confidence in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which he referred to as ISIL. The coalition against the Islamic State “will win,” he said, “by targeting ISIL militarily, using local ground forces supported by coalition air power, weapons and training; curbing ISIL finances; stopping foreign fighter flows; and […]

Syrian refugees wait to be approved to get into Jordan, near the town of Ruwaished, Jan. 14, 2016 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

Syria diplomacy is back. International alarm over the self-proclaimed Islamic State has given new urgency to a political settlement that would bring some stability to Syria after nearly five years of civil war, as well as align the country’s warring parties and interested world powers against the jihadi group. The International Syria Support Group, which includes the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, has invested in a diplomatic process that made seeming progress in Vienna in November. In a joint statement subsequently endorsed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, the group called for U.N.-supervised negotiations later […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani welcomes Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

This past week, Iran satisfied its obligations for implementing the nuclear deal reached last July with world powers, earning it relief from sanctions. The prisoner swap with the United States that followed hinted that a new era of possible cooperation between Washington and Tehran could be in the cards as the result of last year’s hard-earned diplomatic victory. But how relations will unfold, and how they will fare under the next U.S. administration, remain unclear. Iran’s other relationships are also in flux. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran following an attack on its embassy in Tehran […]

EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria, Jan. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

It was a rare week of good news in the Middle East. Iran met its obligations to formally launch all the provisions of the nuclear agreement agreed to with world powers last July, an early demonstration of its commitment to radically restructure its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Tehran also surprised many observers with the quick release of 10 U.S. sailors detained last week after they inadvertently navigated into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. Finally, in the latest step forward in building a more functional relationship between Washington and Tehran, the two sides completed secret negotiations […]

This photo released by a militant website shows a flag of the Islamic State group placed on a damaged helicopter, Tadmur military airbase, Palmyra, Syria, May 31, 2015 (Militant website via AP).

Once again the Obama administration is revising its programs to counter and defeat the self-styled Islamic State, particularly on the battlefield of ideas. With no apparent decline in supporters flocking to the movement nor any shortage of unhinged murderers inspired by it, State Department officials announced that they were creating a new “Global Engagement Center” to combat the Islamic State online. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama met with social media-savvy representatives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to convince them to join the effort. This is simply the latest episode of a series now deep into reruns: The United States fiddles with […]

A woman who was forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers during World War II speaks at a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy, Seoul, Dec. 30, 2015 (Kyodo via AP Images).

In the last week of 2015, the United States received a late Christmas present from the governments of Japan and South Korea. The deal reached by Tokyo and Seoul to resolve their differences over the painful issue of Korea’s so-called comfort women—Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II—helped to remove one of the psychological obstacles to strengthening Washington’s strategic alliances in Asia. Only days later, North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon, which served to highlight the common threats and shared interests linking the U.S. and its allies. Now the U.S., South Korea and Japan are […]

The signing of a U.N.-sponsored deal forming a unity government and aiming to end Libya's conflict, Dec. 17, 2015, Sikhrat, Morocco (AP photo by Abdeljalil Bounhar).

On Dec. 17, dozens of delegates from Libya’s two rival parliaments, as well as from local municipalities and civil society, signed a United Nations-brokered deal to form a national unity government and hopefully halt the country’s long descent into unrest and civil war. Talks had been ongoing for almost a year, with plenty of obstacles along the way. But almost a month on, the agreement’s prospects are decidedly mixed. The nascent Government of National Accord has yet to be fully formed. A nine-member presidential council is up and running, although working mostly from Tunis. Overall, the power-sharing process outlined in […]

President Barack Obama with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, Sept. 4, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

For decades, American security strategy in the Persian Gulf has been built on a partnership with Saudi Arabia. But despite this relationship’s importance, it was always peculiar and tense, pairing a democratic global power with a secular approach to foreign policy on one hand with a stridently conservative authoritarian regime on the other. Given the Saudi regime’s internal repression and international support for a brand of Islam that sometimes provides an ideological gateway to violent extremism, few Americans felt any affinity for the desert kingdom. The relationship was seen as unpleasant but necessary to stabilize global oil prices and prevent […]

King Salman of Saudi Arabia opens the 36th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

From a multinational military intervention in Yemen’s civil war to ties with the United States, the countries of the Persian Gulf have adopted a more pro-active approach to regional issues in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal. This collection of analysis from WPR provides insight into Gulf countries’ domestic politics, the Yemen war and relations with Washington. The articles linked below are free for nonsubscribers until Jan. 21. The Domestic and Regional Policy Outlook Nimr Execution Is Latest Unforced Error for Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 people, including Shiite cleric and opposition figure Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, got […]

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