For decades U.S. security policy has followed two distinct tracks. In Europe, the Pacific Rim and the Middle East, the extent of American national interests and the possibility of aggression by hostile states led to a direct approach with formal security treaties and the stationing of U.S. forces. In places like Latin America, Africa and, more recently, Central Asia, U.S. strategy was indirect, focusing on security assistance and the provision of advice and training. Partnerships were the coin of the realm. The idea was that other country’s militaries, helped by the United States, would take responsibility for security in their […]

As the U.S. looks to the end of one phase of the war on terror, with military operations having ended in Iraq and currently winding down in Afghanistan, a new one is well underway, characterized by drone strikes and covert missions by special operations forces. In Africa, Kenya and Nigeria are battling serious challenges from Islamist terrorist groups. Meanwhile, in the Sahel, al-Qaida’s affiliates are carrying on the group’s ideology even as its central organization falters, with implications for the U.S. and Europe. This WPR Special Report examines the new fronts in the war on terror. Counterterrorism Containment Should Guide […]

On Jan. 7, Cameroon’s gay rights community received a rare bit of good news. In what activists described as a breakthrough, the Court of Appeal in Yaoundé, the capital, overturned a ruling against two men found guilty of homosexuality in 2011. Jonas Singa Kimie, 19, and Franky Ndome Ndome, 25, were arrested in July 2011 by authorities who accused them of violating Article 347 of the penal code, which explicitly outlaws gay sex acts. The authorities had no proof of the alleged acts, but claimed the men’s clothing, manner of speaking and drink of choice proved they were gay. A […]

The wars in Mali and Syria have followed very different trajectories over the past month. While Syria has become symbolic of international inaction, France’s use of force in Mali has shown that some Western governments are still willing to launch new interventions abroad. And while there have been no dramatic military shifts in Syria, French troops have pushed deep into northern Mali with growing speed. The crises also have very different geopolitical implications. The situation in Mali is the latest in a long series of French operations to stabilize its former colonies, although Paris enjoys an unusual level of African […]

European Union member states, Canada and the United States have all committed military transport aircraft to move troops and equipment from Europe to West Africa in support of the French offensive to reclaim northern Mali from Islamist rebels. Six American C-17 Globemaster III aircraft are flying missions as part of U.S. Africa Command’s effort to support French operations, while one Canadian C-17 and two British C-17s are also flying cargo to support the air and land campaign. The involvement of North American aircraft in the French-led mission has brought Europe’s long-standing airlift shortage to the fore. Faced with the demands […]

In January, France began military operations to wrest northern Mali from the control of Islamist militants and prevent them from taking over the rest of the country. In an email interview, Rachel Utley, an expert on French defense and security policies at the University of Leeds, discussed France’s broader military posture in the Sahel region of North Africa. WPR: What are France’s overall military capabilities in the Sahel, and where are its regional bases? Rachel Utley: France maintains a long-standing military presence in Africa, as important for its political value — the promotion of French presence and influence — as […]

The response to last week’s hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria perfectly encapsulated the broader relationship between the European Union and Algeria. EU countries, notably France and the U.K., tried to encourage Algeria to consult with them on handling the dramatic events taking place on Algerian territory, but ultimately, the Algerian government acted on its own terms, on the basis of its better intelligence about the situation on the ground. In the end, European leaders acknowledged that, while they would have liked some advance notice, the Algerian army had responded swiftly and appropriately according to its […]

Germany’s reluctance to participate in the French intervention in Mali beyond providing logistical support and humanitarian assistance is hardly surprising. Europe’s “leading power” has been repeatedly absent from its partners’ past military efforts, the most notable recent example being its refusal in 2011 to take part in the operation against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. Although Germany now hopes to prove itself a reliable partner, it appears to be caught between its reservations about foreign military intervention and its responsibilities as an ally, neighbor and large European power. Despite every indication that the crisis in Mali is developing into a conflict with […]

Today all conflicts have cascading effects, quickly engulfing neighboring states and, if unchecked, entire regions. They cause humanitarian disasters, refugee problems and sometimes ecological decay while abetting the spread of extremism, crime and disorder. The expanding violence in the Saharan region is a perfect example. Tragically, North Africa has joined the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Yemen and Somalia as one of the world’s most dangerous places. All of these conflicts share a pathology: Extremists associated with or inspired by al-Qaida blend with and exacerbate existing tensions based on ethnicity, sect, clan, race or personal patronage, making old conflicts even more deadly. The […]

Earlier this month, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations asked the Security Council to permit the use of surveillance drones for U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In an email interview, Walter Dorn, an expert in the technology of U.N. peacekeeping at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College, discussed the U.N.’s drone plan. WPR: What capabilities is the U.N. seeking to acquire with the proposal to deploy drones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Walter Dorn: The U.N. would like to better see and hear what’s going on within its […]

On Monday, 100 mutinous soldiers seized Eritrea’s Ministry of Information and forced state television to broadcast their list of demands. Loyal government troops quickly put an end to what some are calling a failed coup attempt, but two Eritrea experts who spoke with Trend Lines said the challenge to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who has made the country one of the most isolated and oppressive in the world, is far from over. “This is a reflection of the depth and breadth of dissatisfaction in the society over the continuing failure to take the country beyond the war footing it went […]

Last week, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta came to Europe to say “goodbye and good luck.” The U.S. is switching its strategic focus to the Pacific; in the future, Europeans will have to do more fending for themselves. The coincidental eruption of the Mali crisis underlined Panetta’s point. The U.S. found itself legally precluded from intervening because of the overthrow of the democratic government by the Malian army in March. So in this North African crisis, the U.S. would not even “lead from behind” as it had in Libya. Any intervention in Mali was strictly up to the Europeans. […]

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President Barack Obama begins his second term with a new national security team in the making. It now looks like most if not all his key nominees will secure Senate confirmation in coming months, with Sen. John Kerry at State, former Sen. Chuck Hagel at Defense and White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan at the CIA. Though some have described Obama’s new “team of friends” as representing an inward-looking impulse, world events may not permit that. As in his first term, Obama will probably again face a gap between his preferred goals and strategies — focusing on Asia and rebuilding […]

Editor’s note: This report was originally published on Oct. 30, 2012, and updated with new material on Jan. 21, 2013. France’s sudden military intervention in Mali has put the country’s twin crises at the top of the international agenda. A loose coalition of Tuareg nationalists, Islamic militias and transnational criminal networks has split the country in half, with a military-led coup government in Bamako seemingly incapable of crafting a decisive response. Meanwhile, the spillover is increasingly threatening regional stability. Updated to include new developments, this WPR special report reviews the conflict in Mali and the crisis in the Sahel. Mali […]

France has been at war in Mali for just more than a week, and though you might not know it from much of the media coverage, France is winning. This fact has been overlooked in a good deal of commentary on the fighting for three reasons. First, the Islamist rebels the French set out to fight have proved surprisingly resourceful. Second, the Malian army has turned out to be hopeless. Finally, the seizure and murder of Western oil workers in Algeria by a group associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has shown that the Islamists have some strategic depth. […]

The United Nations Security Council has had a lot of rebellions to worry about since 2013 began. Islamist insurgents in Mali launched a new offensive, provoking a military response by France. Tentative negotiations in the Central African Republic have persuaded rebels to pause their advance on the capital, Bangui, at least for now. There have been more fierce battles in Syria, extinguishing hopes for U.N. mediation there. While trying to keep track of these events, diplomats at the U.N. have also found time to debate military technology, peacekeeping and another unresolved rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Last […]

In the Central African Republic (CAR), a rebel coalition called Seleka has captured at least 11 towns and cities since launching an offensive on Dec. 10. Seleka, Sango for “alliance,” was formed in August and comprises breakaway factions from four rebel groups that had signed peace deals with President Francois Bozizé starting in 2007. The group’s leaders charge that Bozizé failed to implement those agreements effectively. In particular, they are demanding payments for demobilized fighters and the release of imprisoned rebels. CAR has a history of instability, including the rebellion that brought Bozizé to power in 2003 as well as […]

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