ABOARD U.S.S. DONALD COOK — In 2008, Somali pirates hijacked more than 100 large commercial vessels, provoking a massive international response. More than 40 warships from a dozen navies subsequently assembled to patrol the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. At the same time, diplomats forged consensus approaches that included U.N. declarations governing operations in Somali waters, military accords uniting formerly rival navies, and legal frameworks for prosecuting suspected pirates in various national jurisdictions. The result, a year into this “global war on piracy,” is that successful hijackings are way down. In the three months ending in September 2008, […]

President Barack Obama’s performance at the United Nations last week was widely hailed — and condemned — as a clear departure from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. His most telling statement spoke volumes about the limits of U.S. power in an interdependent world: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Subtext? Atlas has put down the heavy globe and has neither the intention nor the wherewithal to pick it up again. If that makes for an uncertain age, it’s […]

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Amnesty International has kicked off a campaign to raise awareness around Sierra Leone’s appalling level of maternal mortality, in a bid to pressure authorities to do more to guarantee both women and children’s rights. One in eight women faces death during pregnancy and childbirth in Sierra Leone, one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality. A vast majority of those deaths are from preventable conditions, AI charged in a recent report (.pdf), “Out of Reach: The Cost of Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone.” Poverty, ignorance, institutionalized discrimination, tradition and distance combine to prevent many women from ever reaching professional […]

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As somebody who spends his workdays evaluating investment opportunities in emerging/frontier economies, I receive a lot of business pitches involving new technologies. The time I spend listening to these accounts of how things can ultimately work out for the better balances my work in the national security realm contemplating how everything must “inevitably” collapse into conflict. I find the perspective it offers invaluable, because it reveals how often what we call “realism” tends to be hopelessly trapped in centuries past. Right now the bulk of the pitches I receive focus on alternative energy. No surprise there, but not for the […]

When I was in Ecuador two years ago, a businessman named Ivan excoriated me about the limits Washington placed on business that local fishing firms could do with the U.S. The conversation went on for a while, but when it ended, he promptly introduced me to his teenage daughter and pleaded with me to speak to her so that she could practice her English. In fact, she spoke eloquently and fluently, but the irony was no less striking: The gringos to the north offered little opportunity to Latin America, but the best chance for Ivan’s daughter to succeed — leaving […]

How young Somali immigrants searched for belonging, and found jihad. Last of a three-part series. (Part I) (Part II) Somali-American terror recruits have common roots in an impoverished, neglected and sometime oppressed immigrant community. Their feelings of impotence and isolation — and their desperate searches for structure — are not new. But for the most part, any violent impulses simmered under the surface until late 2006, when the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia gave American Somalis — and their kinsmen all over the world — a cause on which to hang their dissatisfaction. In December of that year, thousands of Ethiopian […]

In August, fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group rampaged through Ezo, a county of autonomous South Sudan that borders the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels burned and looted homes, churches and health facilities, killed an undetermined number of civilians and kidnapped as many as 10 young girls, according to press reports. The LRA, which Washington has officially labeled a terrorist group, often forces children to become soldiers or sex slaves. The violence in Ezo displaced as many as 80,000 people, in a part of the world that’s already over-burdened by an estimated […]

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I personally identified with Stephen Walt’s mea culpa post regarding his own and America’s strategic ethnocentricism regarding what’s called “Africa’s World War.” As a result of reviewing submissions here at WPR, my own understanding of the various interwoven conflicts in Central Africa has risen slightly from total to simply near-total ignorance. But for probably many of the reasons Walt lists, although I periodically register the enormity of the human tragedy there, it’s not something I spend a great deal of time thinking about or studying. And when you’re dealing with over 5 million deaths in a decade, that kind of […]

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Just a few followup items I thought I’d get into the habit of posting: – With regard to my observation about the lack of Iraq or Afghanistan War literature or cinema, Jonathan Bernstein makes the obvious point, which I myself had noticed on reading the post afterwards, that all the novels and films I mentioned with regard to WWII and Vietnam were published or released well after the end of those wars. He also makes a less obvious, but just as astute, observation about the relation between a war’s popularity and the kind of works of art (propaganda vs. critical) […]

Amid devastated Somalia, a country mired for two decades in unforgiving conflict, Somaliland glows as an ember of hope. A moderate peace has held for 10 years in the autonomous region, reflecting a decade of efforts to expand governance, security and social institutions. Yet, despite it being a minor success in a sea of failure, regional and international organizations will not grant Somaliland status as an independent state, or give it a seat at the international roundtable. As another transitional government in Mogadishu fractures in the face of insurgent forces, and the international community scrambles to update policy positions, Somaliland […]

How young Somali immigrants searched for belonging, and found jihad. Second of a three-part series. (Part I )(Part III) When 26-year-old Shirwa Ahmed, a Somali-born immigrant living in Minnesota, blew himself up in Puntland, Somalia, on Oct. 29 last year, he became the very first American suicide bomber, and a harbinger of a looming crisis. Ahmed sneaked into Somalia in late 2007, followed by potentially scores of other young Minnesotan Somali-Americans. Since the first wave of “travelers,” as they are known, left America, Minnesota has become a quiet battleground. The miniature, homegrown war on terror has pitted government authorities and […]

The Taliban is running out of money. That was the conclusion some observers reached when the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported last week that Afghanistan’s poppy crop is down nearly a quarter compared to last year. But other experts caution against declaring financial victory. If anything, the behind-the-scenes campaigns to dry up Taliban funding are only now catching up to the extremist group’s sophisticated financial operations. Poppies, the basic ingredient in opium, represent Afghanistan’s biggest export — albeit an illegal one. They “fund the activities of criminals, insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” according to the UNODC […]

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The systematic assault and rape of children in war zones has emerged as a central characteristic of conflict across the globe, and governments must do more to protect minors and punish perpetrators, the United Nations says in a new report (.pdf). The nature of conflict has changed in the last decade, the report charges, creating “new and unprecedented threats to children. In many of the new wars, especially in Asia and Africa, conflict remains internal and takes place in peripheral areas where access is difficult. In particular, children and other vulnerable segments of the civilian population are increasingly becoming the […]

In what some experts are calling the third great wave of outsourcing — after manufacturing and services — cash-rich Arab and Asian governments are buying up arable farmland (read: water rights) all over the developing world. Naturally, the worst-case artists in my field of national security see only one possible outcome: a long, steady decline into a chaotic, Mad Max-like dystopia, characterized by that favorite of the alarmist set — resource wars. Get used to such predictions, as today’s still-stunning production inefficiencies are mechanically projected deep into the future, despite all indications of a biological revolution looming just over the […]

How young Somali immigrants to the U.S. searched for belonging, and found jihad. First of a three-part series. (Part II) (Part III) On Oct. 29 last year, Shirwa Ahmed drove a car full of explosives up to a government compound in Puntland, a region of northern Somalia, and blew himself up. The blast — apparently orchestrated by al-Shabab, an Islamic militant group with ties to al-Qaida — was part of a coordinated attack in two cities that killed more than 20 people. A BBC reporter described body parts flying through the air. The attackers were “not from Puntland,” said Adde […]

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