Up to $1.7 billion a year in oil money is set to flow into impoverished Cambodia, where 35 percent of the population lives under $1 a day and where this year’s national budget is only $1.8 billion. Yet in a country ranking a dismal 166 out of 180 on Transparency International’s annual corruption rankings, allegations of nepotism and cronyism are already surfacing around the country’s nascent oil sector, set to start production in 2012. Critics, like London-based watchdog Global Witness, claim the makings of a “resource curse” are in place, wherein a political elite will siphon profits that should be […]

Afghanistan as NATO-Europe Faultline

Spencer Ackerman introduces us to the new SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe, otherwise known as NATO’s military commander), Adm. James Stavridis. It’s the first time a Naval officer has held the post. Note that the alliance, along with the rest of the world, is currently engaged in anti-piracy patrols off of Somalia. That also corresponds to a shift in strategic focus among Western general staffs towards the Indian Ocean and Asia as the most likely threat horizon, with an emphasis on naval rivalries. This is admittedly tea-leaf reading, but I wonder if this doesn’t represent Washington’s desire to reassert the […]

Poland to Increase Afghanistan Troops?

The Polish daily Gazeta (via Nicolas Gros-Verheyde) is reporting that Poland is planning to send 400 more troops to Afghanistan. That might seem like good news for an Obama administration that has been lowering its expectations for European troop increases. (And yes, any good news on European troop increases will number in the hundreds, not the thousands.) But the reason why the Poles are likely to send the reinforcements is cause for some concern: The 1,600 Polish troops in Ghazni province are in for an exceptionallystormy spring and summer. U.S. forces will be pushing the Taliban out ofthe Kabul region […]

Afghanistan and Iraq as Gated Communities

I’ve said this before, but the militarization of the Afghan economy doesn’t strike me as an effective way to pacify the place. This picture by Josh Foust (more here) of FOB Salerno in Khost Province, Afghanistan, got me thinking that essentially what we’re modelling in Iraq (the Green Zone) and Afghanistan is the most extreme version of the American gated community. But when a gated community is inhabited primarily by soldiers (yes, I’m exagerrating to make the point), it becomes a garrison. Apparently that’s what’s left of the nation-building approach.

Thailand’s Kra Canal

How’s this for infrastructure stimulus spending (via 2point6billion): The Kra Canal Project, which would link the South China Sea directlyto the Indian Ocean by cutting across the Thai isthmus, has shownrecent signs of being reactivated given the economic benefits it wouldbring to the region as well as the continuing problems with piracy inthe Straits of Malacca and the current route for trade to and fromIndia and South-East Asia to China. The canal, which was first recognized as a potential for boostingtrade in 1677, would have the same impact on South-East Asia as thePanama and Suez Canals have had elsewhere. The […]

A movement led by black-coated lawyers achieved a defining victory for the rule of civil law in Pakistan on Monday with the restoration of illegally deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This highly popular movement provides an opportunity to strengthen the Pakistani state, improve the judicial system’s responsiveness, and resist creeping Talibanization. Shortly after sunrise on Monday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ended a prolonged judicial crisis by announcing that Chaudhry, sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf, would once again become the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In November 2007, Musharraf removed Chaudhry, who had […]

The Limits of Globalized Solutions?

In a piece over at Foreign Affairs’ revamped Website, Rawi Abdelal and Adam Segal echo what I’ve been saying about the impact of the global financial crisis on this round of globalization. Namely, that as big as the economic challenges of the crisis are, the political challenge it presents might be bigger: The current crisis has caused the destruction of value, the contractionof capital, a decline in consumption, and an increase in unemployment.But its ultimate impact may be even more pervasive, because the crisishas further undermined the political legitimacy of the free movement ofcapital, goods, and services. The legitimacy problem […]

On March 8, five Chinese trawlers surrounded and harassed the USNS Impeccable, a civilian-crewed naval survey ship sailing in international waters on the South China Sea, resulting in a week-long diplomatic tiff. The Chinese government accused the ship of spying on its naval forces. Washington eventually admitted that was true, but insisted it had every right to do so. (See James Kraska’s WPR Briefing.) In the wake of the incident, both sides moved in reinforcements. The U.S. Navy sent a destroyer to escort Impeccable on future missions; Beijing deployed a patrol vessel to the area. Some pundits declared the confrontation […]

The Literature of War

This is just a re-occuring, random thought that’s been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks, but I thought I’d air it out: Is there something peculiar to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars that explains why the literature to emerge from them is almost exclusively non-fiction, whether war memoirs or war reporting? Or does that just reflect on the current state of the publishing industry? My hunch is that it’s both. Or to be more specific, it’s a reflection of the professionalization of the military. To be sure, there were plenty of war memoirs to come out […]

Will the worldwide recession actually benefit Chinese arms exports? That’s what WPR managing editor Judah Grunstein speculated last week, citing Chinese defense companies’ ability to reproduce foreign weapons systems and then sell them on third-party markets at lower prices than the original. It is too early to identify a clear trend, but not premature to consider potential unwelcome scenarios. The tremendous diplomatic exertions that the United States and Israel are making to keep Russia from selling its S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran or Syria, for instance, will matter little if China chooses to sell them its HQ-9 surface-to-air […]

Mamma Mia! Kim Luvs Pizza?!?

Friend (and former assistant editor) of WPR Michael Wilkerson sent in this piece on Kim Jong-il’s relentless and now successful pursuit of nuclear weapons capacity pizza. It’s reassuring to know that the number one priority of Stanford undergrads has not changed considerably since my days on the Farm twenty-odd years ago. Less reassuring to know that we’ve been sharing it all these years with Kim.

Oxymorons rarely work. Sure, people can’t get enough of jumbo shrimp. And there is a good reason why Shakespeare’s, “Parting is such sweet sorrow. . .” still resonates four centuries after it was penned. But on the whole, oxymorons tend to signal an inconsistency that is impossible to resolve. More and more, trends in American foreign policy reflect exactly this kind of incongruity. Take some of the concepts that have evolved over the past few years: warriors as diplomats, for instance, or soldiers as state-builders. Now, Afghanistan’s future, which will likely involve a “surge” of troops, places another seemingly discrepant […]

The Legal War behind the Impeccable Incident

The ancient strategist Sun Tzu stated that the acme of military skill consists of defeating one’s enemy without actually engaging him in battle. China’s strategy for advancing its domination of the South China Sea resembles a modern-day attempt to put that advice into practice. With a weak but growing blue-water capability, China is carefully and deliberately promoting a vision that de-legitimizes the forward presence of the U.S. Navy in the region. Last week’s bold and dangerous maneuvers by Chinese government vessels to disrupt a military survey mission 120 km from its coastline is the latest example of that effort. The […]

When Barack Obama became the new U.S. president, one of the primary concerns for many observers was restoring America’s image in the eyes of the world. During the eight years of the Bush administration, the favorability ratings of the United States had declined dramatically. Nowhere was the U.S. image more negatively viewed than among publics in Muslim-majority countries. Anti-Americanism had intensified in the Arab world, and spread from Nigeria in West Africa to Indonesia in the Far East. Despite the administration’s vigorous efforts to win Muslim hearts and minds through innovative public diplomacy, when former president Bush left office, U.S. […]

Many of America’s actions in its post-9/11 campaign against al-Qaida have served to increase Muslim and Arab radicalism, rather than to dampen it as intended. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the detainment of captured terrorists at Gitmo and subsequent revelations regarding the use of water boarding and other torture techniques all served to amplify negative perceptions of the United States in the Islamic world and facilitate the radicalization of potential recruits for the terrorists’ cause. But two recent developments have led many Americans to believe that al-Qaida and the threat it posed might be on the verge of […]

Photo: An Iraqi woman walks to the Rusafa polling station carrying an Iraqi flag, Dec. 15, 2005 (Defense Dept. photo by Jim Garamone).

The Iraq War will surely stand as the greatest of foreign policy mistakes — a failure, and a tragic one, as no shortage of commentators have called it. What makes it more tragic is that it needn’t have been so. Whether or not one was firmly against the war from the start, the verdict on Iraq will ultimately be characterized by an unusual mix of anger, ambivalence, and, perhaps most of all, confusion. From the beginning, Iraq wasn’t just about a war. It raised a series of questions that many of us still have trouble answering. If the war was […]

SLOPPY STAFF WORK — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton burst into raucous laughter when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out a translation error on the “Reset Button” she gave him as a joke gift. The joke was on her, however, and in private she was less good-natured about the sloppy staff work responsible for the error. For one thing, it started her off at something of a disadvantage, however slight, with her Russian counterpart. For another, it pointed up an unfavorable comparison with her predecessor: Russian-speaker Condi Rice would very probably have caught the error in time. Such snafus […]

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