President Barack Obama came into office ready to talk, and on many fronts he has already made good on his promise. He has directly addressed the Iranian people and opened channels to the government in Tehran. His address last week to the wider Muslim world was widely hailed as a success. And he exchanged a smiling handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in April. Yet, apparently some situations demand a harder line. At the moment, one such situation is a North Korea poised to go nuclear. The item has thrust itself to the top of the president’s already overflowing agenda. […]

Abu Sayyaf Seen Testing Relations With MNLF

SANDAKAN, Malaysia — Relations between the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) are souring as the Filipino rebel factions increasingly differ on strategy for the pursuit of a homeland for indigenous people and the broader Islamic community. The pair occupy the tiny island haven of Jolo in the Sulu Sea where sources said the more conservative MNLF are increasingly irritated by an escalation in violence in the region baring all the hallmarks of the Abu Sayyaf. “The MNLF is up the hill and the Abu Sayyaf is down the hill and that’s the way they prefer it,” […]

Theory and Practice of COIN in Afghanistan

I don’t want to make too much of this NY Times story about al-Qaida operatives making their way from Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia. It’s based on a pretty small sample size, as well as on a “senior Obama administration official” who has every reason to attribute “some of the movement to ‘the enormous heat we’ve been putting on the leadership and themid-ranks’ with Predator strikes, launched from both Pakistan andAfghanistan.” After all, widening the drone strikes in Pakistan was one of President Barack Obama’s campaign stances, so it’s no surprise to see his administration pushing back against the growing […]

TAWAU, Malaysia — The Philippine military has gained the upper hand over militants fighting for an independent Islamic homeland in the country’s south, after a series of deadly raids resulted in the destruction of rebel bases and pushed the conflict deeper into countryside. Given the geography and the thousands of islands that surround Mindanao, no one expects the Philippine military to achieve a definitive victory over the insurgents and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But the offensive will restore some lost prestige to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo as she completes her last year of office. Arroyo was forced to […]

A revived maritime dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia has led to a series of chest-thumping incursions and face-offs between the two countries’ navies. The stand-off reached its zenith, for now, after the Indonesian Navy reported Malaysian warships had entered the oil-rich Ambalat area off the Borneo coast several times over the last two weeks. The provocations almost crossed the line into conflict, with an Indonesian vessel reportedly coming close to firing at one of the Malaysian ships. However, with both sides pointing the finger at the other, apportioning blame for the crisis is difficult. Indonesia claims that the Ambalat oil […]

When Faith in COIN Becomes Certainty

For some reason, this sentence from the CNAS report (.pdf) on Afghanistan and Pakistan that I wrote up yesterday kept rattling around the cranium: But because populations in civil wars tend to side with whichever group exercises control, protecting the population must take precedence over all other considerations. That sums up in a nutshell the central premise of COIN doctrine, from which all of its operational priorities are derived. Now, to be very clear, unlike Michael Cohen, I think that the COIN doctrine represents an enormous advance in the U.S. approach to warfare, both strategically and politically. Strategically, it represents […]

Into the Great Unknown in Afghanistan

After flagging this very valuable post by Tim Lynch on conditions inthe southeast of Afghanistan, Joshua Foust observes, “[T]here is afundamental disconnect between what we are doing in Afghanistan andwhat we expect to happen.” Lynch’s post is a long but essential read,and I second Foust’s assessment. The question is, Will the added troopsand vaguely hinted-at shift in operational priorities be sufficient torecouple what we’re doing with what we expect to happen? With that question fresh in my mind, I clicked through tothe new CNAS report (.pdf) on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which offers proposalsfor metrics and operational priorities on both sides […]

WPR Feature Issue: Intractable Conflict

For those of you who enter the site through the blog, I’d like to encourage you to take a look at our new feature issue, which just went live today. In it, we take a close look at three intractable conflicts that have resisted solutions for generations, and that we’ve all seen drifting in and out of the headlines for decades now: Sumantro Bose examines the Kashmir conflict, Brian Calvert looks at Sri Lanka, and Gareth Jenkins shines a light on Cyprus. (All three sub. req.) What I found most fascinating, in going through them all, is that while the […]

Oil Industry Drilled Over Human Rights

Royal Dutch Shell agreed Monday to pay $15.5 million in an out-of-court settlement, in compensation to families of Nigerian victims of alleged human rights abuses committed by the company in the 1990s. The move came just days before a New York court was scheduled to hear the case and despite company claims of no wrongdoing. Ten Nigerian plaintiffs, including the son and brother of slain writer/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, brought suit against the oil giant over the execution of eight anti-Shell environmental activists by Nigeria’s military rulers in 1995. The suit was filed in U.S. courts under a 200-year-old law that […]

The Kashmir conflict is a legacy of the post-colonial partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 into the Hindu-majority country of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. From its genesis, the conflict has been defined by competition between India and Pakistan over the national identity of Kashmir’s population. But the elites of both countries have also made the territory central to their respective principles of nation-statehood. In Pakistan’s official ideology, Pakistan as a nation-state has been considered incomplete without Kashmir, a Muslim-majority territory contiguous to the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. In the Indian counter-claim, […]

Sri Lanka’s Stubborn War

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the deceased leader of the Tamil Tigers, once likened himself to a spider in the center of a web, comfortably in control of a sprawling network. But over the past two years, the Sri Lankan military methodically, unflinchingly pulled his web apart, ultimately dismantling one of the most sophisticated insurgencies in the world. On May 19, the government claimed victory in a 30-year-old campaign, one that had cost tens of thousands of lives and seen the unraveling of much of Sri Lankan society. Though the guns have fallen silent, a state of emergency continues. Checkpoints are manned by […]

As the World Health Organization agonizes over whether or not to declare the H1N1 flu virus an official pandemic, I can’t help but think of the American national security establishment’s continuing struggle over the definition of threat in a post-9/11 world. In both instances, we see institutions with worldwide responsibilities coming to grips with an increasingly interconnected global landscape. And although that global landscape, according to all the available data, suffers less catastrophe, it nonetheless appears to present far greater potential for such catastrophes to unfold with seemingly uncontrollable consequences. By “less catastrophe,” I mean that in a world of […]

NATO in the Post-Afghanistan Era

I’m not the only one who sees a short expiration date on our NATO allies’ commitment to Afghanistan now that the war has been “Americanized.” Here’s Jari Lindholm: I’m no apologist for ISAF ineptitude, but let’s be honest: for eightyears, Europeans have been covering America’s ass in the north. Whathappens when they pull out is anybody’s guess. Make no mistake, though:now that they’ve been handed an excuse on a silver platter, they will leave. Lindholm leaves some room open for the French to stay, and I’d go as far as to say it’s unlikely they’ll leave. There hasn’t really been […]

Twenty Years On, Tiananmen Still Commands Global Attention

Commemorations of the 20th anniversary of China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square today produced images ranging from the momentous to the surreal. In Beijing, plain clothes security officials sparred with reporters in a darkly comical umbrella dance at Tiananmen Square, where police outnumbered tourists. In Hong Kong, organizers estimated that 150,000 people turned out for a candlelit vigil in Victoria Park. International discourse on the anniversary reached a fever pitch over the last week, with hardly a pundit on the planet — outside China, that is — silent on the subject. That China’s democratic credentials or lack thereof […]

COIN-bayah, My Lord, COIN-bayah

Something of a blog spat has broken out between Andrew Exum and Michael Cohen, and before weighing in, I’ll endorse the suggestion made by one of Exum’s commenters that the two ought to hash this all out over some drinks. Both take an intellectually honest approach to questions of national security, and I’m sure that together they’d generate more light than heat. So take a chill, guys, COIN-bayah. As for the case on the merits, I’d say they’re both right and wrong. Cohen’s right when he says that we’re not really engaged in a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Exum finds this […]

India and the Obama Nonproliferation Team

According to the Times of India, President Barack Obama’s nonproliferation team — and especially Robert Einhorn, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s just-announced special adviser on nonproliferation — is “considered hardcore nonproliferationsist in the old Democratic mold.” In particular, Einhorn, Ellen Tauscher (under sec. of state for arms control) and Timothy Roemer (U.S. ambassador to India) are all seen as hostile to the U.S.-India nuclear deal. But one Indian analyst dismissed fears that they might throw a wrench in the works, saying: There is nothing to be alarmed about. We havegot most of what we wanted in terms of global sanctions […]

In April, the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort sailed from Virginia with 900 doctors, nurses, engineers and civilian volunteers aboard. Comfort’s mission: to deliver humanitarian aid to seven Latin American countries over a four-month period, “building relations with many countries, and strengthening already-strong bonds,” in the words of mission commander Bob Lineberry, a Navy captain. In the first two months of their tour, Comfort’s staff treated 29,000 patients, including performing more than 500 surgeries. They also helped rebuild hospitals and conducted medical training with local health professionals. Operation Continuing Promise is aimed at reinforcing existing U.S. ties with Antigua, Colombia, […]

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