Last week in Cape Town, South Africa, I was a keynote speaker at the massive Mining Indaba conference, the premier annual gathering of global extractive companies involved in Africa’s dominant economic sector. And the difference between the many military and aid conferences I’ve attended on Africa and this international commodities convention in Africa was telling. If you think most Americans now obsess over a “rising” China, you should know that we take a backseat to the Africans on this score. But whereas we often see China’s rise as a potential threat, Africans see it as an opportunity, and China’s “positive […]

The War Literature This Time

The NY Times has two interesting articles on a subject I’ve written about before: film and literature inspired by the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Like me, they note the lack of novels, as compared to memoirs, although this is to be expected given the lag-time before good fiction usually appears. Interestingly, they also discuss something that I’d ignored, namely the lack of political criticism in both the literature and cinema that has come out of the wars to date. In some ways, that was implied in my previous remarks, given the nature of the great post-War and Vietnam-era film and […]

Lawfare in the South China Sea

In another UNCLOS-related story, the NY Times reports that Vietnam is increasingly trying to multilateralize its territorial disputes with China over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Instead of negotiating bilaterally, Hanoi is pushing a collective negotiation between all the parties — Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — that have conflicting claims. In the “Integrate but CYA” formula I’ve used to refer to Asia, this would be the “Integrate to CYA” correlary. There’s nothing terribly novel about a collection of weaker states banding together to counterbalance the influence of a more powerful one, and China is […]

This Week’s WPR Video Highlights

Here are a few of this week’s highlights from WPR’s video section: – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returns to the negotiating table with a deal that makes some observers wary. WorldFocus discusses the warranted skepticism in this video. – Afghan farmers receive attention from the USDA as one of the United States’ top non-military priorities. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack briefs the press in this video. And agricultural initiatives can be seen at work in this video. – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed positive developments in N. Ireland in this video. Our video section is updated daily. I’ll highlight […]

Bombing in Pakistan Reveals U.S. Presence

Three Americans were killed as the result of a roadside bomb inPakistan, near the Afghan border. The deaths were the first of theirkind since the U.S. military’s involvement in training activities inPakistan’s tribal regions. Though the Taliban has claimedresponsibility for the attacks, it is unclear whether the U.S.personnel were the targets of the attack or were just a byproduct of anattack meant to deter attendance at an inauguration for a regionalall-girls school. NewsHour’s Gwen Iffil speaks with Dawn TV’s SaimaMohsin.

Reintegrating the Taliban, Really

The whole question of reintegrating the Taliban bears some attention, since it’s now become the new buzzword with regard to creating the political conditions necessary to ending the insurgency. Yesterday, Craig Davis’ WPR Briefing examined some of the cultural challenges reintegration will present. Today, Joshua Partlow examines some of the political challenges it raises in terms of negotiating with the Taliban leadership, and Martine van Bijlert recently examined some of the potential pitfalls of implementation in terms of ground-level foot soldiers. Clearly, there are a lot of circles to square, and it seems obvious that any power-sharing arrangement will be […]

This WPR Special Report compiles news, analysis and opinion from WPR’s pages to provide insight into what some are calling the new “Great Game” — the political battle for influence and control over the production, sale and transit of oil and gas across Eurasia — from Europe to the Caucasus, to Iran, to South and Central Asia. Below are links to each article, which subscribers can read in full. Subscribers can also download a pdf version of the report. Not a subscriber? Subscribe now, or try our subscription service for free. South Asia, Iran and the IPI Pipeline Pipeline Politics: […]

Afghan Police Force Sees Reform

There is a renewed effort to beef up Afghanistan’s indigenous policeforce while battling a reputation for corruption and illiteracy withinthe force. These new recruits will be at the front lines of thecounter-insurgency effort, with an average of four dying each day onthe job. From Kabul, Al Jazeera’s David Chater reports.

Vilsack: Afghan Farmers Top Priority

Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack brief the press on their recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Vilsack discusses what he calls the United States’ top non-military priority, farming. He says that while visiting, he visited a juice factory in Kabul that is working with more than 50,000 farmers to produce juice concentrate from apples and pomegranates to be sold worldwide. The secretary continued that efforts in Afghanistan’s agriculture sector will be made to reverse the detrimental effects of deforestation, bolster the infrastructure of the ministry itself, and to reinvigorate a once thriving agri-business, both domestically […]

U.S. Air Force Capt. Tyler Rennell and his Afghan student pilot had a communication problem. On a Nov. 2 training flight near Kandahar, Rennell was trying to teach Capt. Moeed, his Afghan air corps trainee, how to use a GPS device to navigate their Mi-17 helicopter. Moeed didn’t seem to understand the device’s terminology, and Rennell didn’t know how to explain it to him. Every word that Rennell and Moeed exchanged had to pass through a Pashto-speaking interpreter sitting in the back of the helicopter, listening in via the chopper’s intercom. “Tell him,” Rennell urged the interpreter, after describing the […]

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced the approval of a major arms sales package for Taiwan. The $6.4 billion deal includes 114 Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missiles, 60 Blackhawk helicopters, and two Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, among other items. The Obama administration is still considering Taiwan’s request for the F-16 C/Ds that it wants to replace some of its aging fighters. As it has in the past, Beijing quickly expressed its indignation through multiple channels. Foreign Ministry officials denounced the arms sales as interference in China’s internal affairs and China’s official media warned that the decision would “inevitably cast […]

Australia’s Naval Posture and Middle Power Constraints

In the “Trust but CYA” game that is Asia these days, a lot of the CYA component is taking place on the water, as well as under it. That makes sense, given the importance of shipping lanes to regional economies, the heap of maritime boundary disputes yet to be resolved, and the fact that the U.S. security guarantee to friends in the region depends to a great extent on its naval capacity. But as Nick Floyd highlights in a post on Australia’s naval posture over at the Interpreter, amphibious operations are central to strategic planning as well, given that five […]

Vietnam Continues Campaign Against Dissidents

A Vietnamese court sentenced Pham Thanh Nghien to four-and-a-half years in prison on charges of spreading propaganda on Jan. 29, the latest in a string of convictions against pro-democracy activists in the country. Human rights groups have criticized Vietnamese authorities repeatedly over the last few years for an increasingly intense crackdown on free speech — one that has seen writers, bloggers, lawyers and journalists put behind bars. “It is deeply concerning that prosecutors used Nghien’s articles as a pretext to imprison her for anti-government views. This conviction leaves Vietnamese journalists and activists vulnerable to imprisonment on the basis of published […]

Afghanistan: The Civilian Strategy

A lot of observers, myself included, have criticized the way in which U.S. foreign policy has been militarized of late. One pernicious illustration of that trend is how these same observers, myself included, often spend a lot more time analyzing the military components of U.S. foreign policy than the civilian aspects. Both trends are exagerrated when it comes to Afghanistan and, before it, Iraq. Part of that is understandable, since Afghanistan is a warzone. And if foreign policy really is militarized, then to undersatnd it, you’re better off analyzing the military strategy. Nevertheless, I found it interesting that, for all […]

While considerable disagreement exists on precise steps for creating a more stable Afghanistan, most key international policymakers now agree that any successful strategy there, and in Pakistan, hinges on the ability to mainstream anti-government fighters and potential fighters into the political and economic systems in those countries. That was reflected in the communiqué that emerged from last week’s London summit on Afghanistan, which called for, among other things, reintegrating Taliban who cut ties with al-Qaida and other extremist networks. But more attention needs to be given to the difficulties involved with such an approach, which will likely prove extremely challenging […]

Mehsud, or the Dangers of No. 2

Whether or not he’s actually dead, Hakimullah Mehsud illustrates one of the dangers of a CT strategy based on organizational decapitation — namely, that the No. 2 guy waiting in the wings might actually prove to be more dangerous than the guy whose charred boots he filled. A similar phenomenon has been noticeable among the Basque ETA terrorist group, which has replenished its ranks with what appears to be an even more militant younger generation. (Of course, Americans need only look to their own very recent past for another useful illustration.) I have admittedly been among those who have made […]

Early this past January, Turkey’s ambassadors from around the world gathered in Ankara for their annual meeting. The five-day gathering had the usual elements of gatherings from previous years: the seminars and debriefings, and the traditional group visit to the austere mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey’s secularizing founder. But there were also some significant differences this time around. Turkey’s foreign policy profile has increased dramatically in recent years, and the ambassadors’ meeting coincided with visits to Ankara by the Japanese, Brazilian and German foreign ministers, all of whom addressed the Turkish envoys. Turkey’s top diplomats were treated to […]

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