A fierce ideological battle that appears to favor a radical Islamic constituency may hold the key to the future of a little-known but restive region in south Russia. The religious topography of the North Caucasus can no longer be reduced to a simple theological contest between Sufi traditionalists and Islamists. Increasingly, ideological schisms are emerging within the Islamist constituency itself, which Moscow rather ambiguously labels the “Wahhabi” community. The infighting revolves around differences in thinking between moderate reformers and radicals, a rivalry that, while long-prevalent in nearby Chechnya, has now become especially apparent in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, another patch […]

Lawless Afghan-Pakistani borderlands have emerged as a flash point between officials on both sides over who is responsible for bringing order to a known Taliban safe haven in the face of a gathering insurgency. The blame game ignores the reality that the “Pashtun belt” at ground level belongs to neither country, with a history of rejecting would-be occupiers. The same rugged tribal areas that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaida operatives retreated to following the U.S.-led 2001 invasion to topple the Taliban have become a rear base for Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks against NATO-led security forces in Afghanistan […]

SIEM REP, Cambodia — Twelve-year-old Van Nak remembers like it was yesterday the force of the blast that took his right arm and his father. “It hit me here,” he says tapping his chest with his only hand, “and knocked me over.” Van was just 6 years old when he accidentally triggered a landmine near the Thai-Cambodian border while planting rice with his now deceased dad, one of the tens of thousands of victims of subterranean explosives that litter the countryside. According to the government-run Cambodian Mine Action Center, anywhere between four and six million mines and pieces of unexploded […]

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China’s decision to conduct its first test of an anti-satellite weapon represents a sharp escalation in the hitherto low-key dispute between China, Russia, and the United States over the use of outer space for military purposes. The test, which occurred Jan. 12 (Beijing time), represents the first anti-satellite attack by any country in over two decades. It also marks the first use of a ground-based missile to destroy an orbiting satellite. On Jan. 18, the Bush administration confirmed media reports that China had used a kinetic kill vehicle (i.e., one which attacks targets by colliding with them rather than exploding […]

China’s recent decision to blast one of its own satellites from the sky using a ground-based missile has re-ignited concerns in Washington that a potential military rival could be seeking to “weaponize” space. While China’s Foreign Ministry stressed that the “test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country,” the destruction of its own satellite has created a hotbed of speculation regarding Beijing’s possible ulterior motives. Some China experts contend it was an attempt by Beijing to pressure Washington to negotiate an international treaty banning weapons in space. The Bush administration, however, remains […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — Astrology and superstitious belief are part of everyday life in impoverished Burma, where hope for every family hangs on some fortune-teller’s prophesy. But there is one prediction no one in the country is prepared to make — who will succeed ailing leader Than Shwe. Rumor is rife in Rangoon that the hardhearted general who cherishes his family life is seriously ill with intestinal cancer. His death or withdrawal from a position of influence is seen by some Burma-watchers as a small chance for a break in the long-running deadlock between the hard-line military regime and the suppressed […]

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NO RED CARPET FOR PRODI — Ten months after Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s election, he still has not been invited to the White House, and political commentators in Rome have concluded that the center-left coalition leader is being given the Bush cold shoulder. It’s unusual for the new prime minister of a key NATO country not to have visited Washington sooner, but the word from Italy is that this is the Bush administration’s way of expressing its displeasure with the way the bilateral relationship is going. The left wing of Prodi’s government, which includes the Communists, is pressing for […]

On Dec. 29, China published its latest white paper on national defense. In the past, the government’s security-related publications have been rich in generalities about China’s good intentions but sparse in specifics about its actual capabilities. “China’s National Defense in 2006” continues in this tradition. The United States and other countries have repeatedly called on the Chinese government to make its military budget and programs more transparent in order to minimize misunderstandings about China’s intentions. They caution that China’s excessive military secrecy may alarm its neighbors and impede China’s integration into regional security institutions. The new paper attempts to address […]

MOSCOW — On Dec. 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Security Council in Moscow dedicated to addressing the social and economic problems of the Russian Far East. In Putin’s assessment, the situation in the region, which borders China, had become so grave as to constitute a threat to the country’s national security. According to a transcript on the Kremlin website, Putin declared in his opening remarks that past government action had failed to overcome the Far East’s grave problems. These include the district’s declining Russian population and its imbalanced economic activities. Putin also warned that the […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — While a jittery Thai capital has been warned to brace for more bomb attacks from unidentified terrorists, the country’s military-installed government is sowing fear among Thailand’s foreign business community. New laws promulgated by the unelected interim regime following the September army takeover seem to have less to do with the coup’s professed aim of putting the country back on the road to national unity than with blatant nationalism. Foreign companies in Thailand are seething in the wake of a law that tightens restrictions on foreign business ownership. This follows a clumsy diktat in late December on foreign […]

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In both his public speech to the nation Wednesday evening and his private meeting the day before with House Democrats, President Bush warned that a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq would encourage international terrorism and gravely damage America’s standing in the Middle East. On this basis, he has called for increasing the commitment of U.S. troops and other resources to the region. Although the crisis in Iraq is important, the administration needs to pay more attention to other regions of equal if not greater long-term significance. In particular, the conflict has already generated major trends in East Asia gravely harmful […]

Hopes for reform in Turkmenistan after the death of its megalomaniacal dictator have faded fast as political machinations in the country appear geared toward a continuance of strict one-party domination. Less than a week after self-proclaimed “father of the Turkmen” Sapurmurat Niyazov died of reported heart failure on Dec. 21, Turkmenistan’s politicians moved to amend the constitution, install pre-selected candidates for upcoming presidential elections, and arrest hundreds of potential political opponents. “Sadly Niyzaov’s passing has been followed by a complete lack of democratic signs and there is yet to be any basis for reasonable optimism,” says Erika Dailey, Director of […]

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — For the cool price of $555, Lan Kosal will escort a client to a remote location in the Cambodian countryside to blow up a cow with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a grizzly form of entertainment popular among some backpackers visiting this poor Southeast Asian nation. The use of the Soviet-era launcher and its artillery is the relatively inexpensive part of the package, said Lan. “The real cost is the cow. You have to buy it before we let you kill it,” he explained matter-of-factly. Many tourists, he noted, aren’t interested in firing bazookas at bovines or […]

Our destination is on a high plain some 120 kilometers south of Kabul: a barren area that the native population calls simply “Dasht”: desert. About ten minutes earlier we turned off the main road and now we are advancing with difficulty over sand and gravel. It is a bright, beautiful day. The sunlight is like mica glistening out of a steely blue sky. The car must be somewhere out in front of us: a white Toyota Corolla that is supposed to take us to our scheduled meeting. Our investigations are almost completed. We have been waiting for days for this […]

At a Dec. 16, 2006, meeting in Beijing, the Chinese government awarded U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Corporation a multi-billion dollar contract to supply China with its next generation of nuclear reactors. The Westinghouse deal represents the single largest international nuclear power transaction in history. During the next few months, the two countries will negotiate a framework agreement to govern the sale. After that, Westinghouse and China National Nuclear will sign a detailed sales contract for the four 1,000-megawatt reactors. Chinese and American companies will build two of the four reactor units at Sanmen in Zhejiang Province and two at Yangjiang in […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — In an effort to bolster its armed forces, Myanmar’s ruling junta continues to diversify the sources of its military hardware, finding willing suppliers in countries that are eager to gain access to the Southeast Asian nation’s abundant energy resources. Although China remains the principal dealer of military equipment to Myanmar, India has recently offered a multi-million dollar military assistance package to the junta’s leaders. According to the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, the assistance package, presented by Indian air force chief S.P. Tyagi on a visit to Myanmar’s new administrative capitol at Naypyidaw in late November, […]