Dating the commencement of the U.S. War in Afghanistan from the first entry of American troops into the country on Oct. 7, 2001, the war has now lasted longer than the failed Soviet effort of the 1980s. And at last weekend’s NATO summit, the U.S. government committed to continue fighting in Afghanistan at least through 2014, with one senior American official calling even that possible withdrawal date “aspirational.” Opponents of continuing the large-scale, American-led counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan cite the failure of the Soviet military to suppress the Afghan insurgency in the 1980s as evidence that the United States will […]

Last week, China and Russia announced they will no longer use the dollar to conduct their bilateral trade, but instead will use their domestic currencies, the yuan and ruble, to do so. Some doomsayers have depicted this move as yet another sign of the dollar’s imminent decline and claim it threatens the greenback’s status as the pre-eminent reserve currency. But a closer examination suggests the deal will have more of a symbolic impact than any tangible economic or geopolitical effects. Since 1992, self-imposed restrictions have been in place requiring that trade between China and Russia be conducted in dollars, a […]

History tells us that, when a rising great power approaches the standing of the dominant system-shaping great power, conflict is inevitable, either directly or in such regions where their two spheres of influence intersect. The great counterexample is the acceptance by a “rising” America of the late-19th century of Great Britain’s implicit offer of a “special relationship,” which allowed the latter to punch above its weight throughout the 20th century. That alliance was subsequently forged in opposition to common enemies: first the Kaiser and then Nazi Germany, followed by the Soviet Union. China and the United States have no such […]

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South Korea and the United States recently began a review of their bilateral nuclear energy agreement that expires in 2014. In an e-mail interview, Mark Hibbs, senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program, discussed U.S.-South Korea civil-nuclear cooperation. WPR: What is the status quo in terms of U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation? Mark Hibbs: On the basis of a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement from 1974, South Korea has built 14 of its 20 nuclear-power reactors with the help of U.S. industry and government agencies. The agreement permitted U.S. firms to supply technology, equipment and fuel for […]

On the surface, the NATO summit meeting in Lisbon, the North Korean artillery barrage against Yeonpyeong island, and the unmasking of the “fake” Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in Afghanistan would appear to be separate and unconnected events. But there is a common theme that ties these three news stories together. In his WPR column column on Monday, Thomas P.M. Barnett summed up the problem: The United States cannot “close the gaps” in the global security system. The end of the Cold War and the rise of new power centers around the world have not led to any appreciable shift in […]

Last weekend, graduate students at the University of Kentucky failed to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. In and of itself this was not surprising, and did not distinguish last Friday and Saturday from a typical weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. What made the weekend special was that students at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, the terminal Masters program in foreign affairs where I teach, in conjunction with the Army War College, ran through the International Strategic Crisis Negotiation Exercise, a simulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh stand-off designed to expose students to the problems of international negotiations. The exercise involved dividing […]

On Oct. 17, Iranian border guards clashed with drug traffickers on the wild Iran-Afghan frontier and subsequently seized 331 lbs of narcotics contraband. The incident would be just one of many such skirmishes that take place every week, were it not for one difference: The seized drugs were not the usual suspects of Afghan opium and hashish, but rather synthetic drugs, highlighting alarming changes to the Southwest Asian narcotics industry. Synthetic drugs, such as potent crystal meth (called “shisheh,” or “glass” in Farsi), LSD and various forms of refined heroin (including a smokable, condensed-rock form referred to locally as “crack”) […]

On Nov. 18, for the first time since their October 2007 summit in Tehran, the leaders of the five Caspian Sea littoral states — Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan — gathered in Baku to discuss issues including maritime-border delimitation, security and environmental protection. Despite a dramatically changed regional situation since the last summit, the Baku meeting nevertheless produced little in terms of substantive outcomes. But recent trends point to future breakthroughs. What has changed since the Tehran summit? Washington and Moscow have achieved a warming in relations, with burgeoning bilateral cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan in particular. To avoid […]

NATO approved a new Strategic Concept in Lisbon on Nov. 19, the first reworking of the alliance’s mission statement since 1999. Although the document offers plenty of promises, the alliance seems to have overlooked a number of problems it faces in making good on them. First, the promises. The new Strategic Concept: – calls on the allies to develop their capacity to “prevent, detect, defend against and recover from cyber-attacks,” to protect “critical energy infrastructure” and to “maintain robust, mobile and deployable conventional forces to carry out . . . Article 5 responsibilities and the alliance’s expeditionary operations.”– reaffirms the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama made a splash in India by announcing that Washington will back New Delhi’s bid for a permanent seat on an expanded United Nations Security Council. It was a major policy shift that India has long clamored for and that the U.S. has long been reluctant to offer. As such, it warmed the hearts of Indian policymakers who have often viewed American support for the Security Council bid as a litmus test of the burgeoning U.S.-India partnership. But in backing India’s claim, Obama also raised some uncomfortable issues for Indian policymakers, making clear that Washington expects a […]

It is very likely that come the end of November, after a busy month traveling to Asia and Europe, President Barack Obama will have emerged with few decisive victories to burnish his image after the “shellacking” he took in the midterm elections. Instead, Obama and his team will have to adjust to some hard realities. Though the new Congress will not be seated until January 2011, we are already seeing changes in the political climate in Washington that will test the administration’s ability to show, both to Americans and to other governments, that the executive branch is still in the […]

BEIJING — The 16th Asian Games, now underway in Guangzhou, China, are the latest in a long line of massive, intensively promoted “mega-events” organized by the Chinese state to showcase national development and achievement. These mega-events have few proven grassroots benefits, however, and are no replacement for the substantive, fundamental reforms the Chinese government itself admits are necessary to modernize the country. Moreover, this obsession with mega-events may be damaging to long-term development, and ultimately risks widening the gulf between the experiences of ordinary Chinese and the flag-waving, mixed-market utopia portrayed in state propaganda. Since May 2008, eight distinct events […]

Writing this week in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria argued that the United States needs to adopt a “hedge” strategy with regard to China, nudging the PRC toward assuming a cooperative, responsible role in the international order, while at the same time preparing for the possibility of an aggressive China bent on regional domination. Zakaria’s argument echoed language in both the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (.pdf) and the 2010 QDR (.pdf), which took ambiguous stances on the future U.S.-China relationship. Those documents similarly suggested that China faced a choice over whether to become a constructive member of the international community, […]

President Barack Obama’s itinerary this month — first to Asia, then to Europe — will follow a path that recalls the setting of the sun. For some people, that image is a metaphor for American power, itself seen as waning. The theme of American decline is a familiar one, of course. It resurfaces more or less with every election, and with every poll that asks whether the country is “headed in the right direction.” However, the evocation of direction suggests a more apt image for Obama’s journey: the two-headed eagle. It was once a common feature of imperial heraldry — […]

President Barack Obama won fans in New Delhi last week with his call for India to take a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But while the president explicitly endorsed India as an “emerged” power, his declaration contained an implicit challenge as well. Obama said that he wanted the U.S. to work with India on an “efficient, effective, credible and legitimate” U.N. Though phrased as diplomatic rhetoric, these words raised important questions that India’s leaders must answer. Can India capture a permanent seat on the Security Council simply because of its growing economic leverage and military clout? Or should […]

Heading into the G-20 summit in Seoul last week, tensions were visibly high between the U.S. and China, the world’s top-two economies. Washington’s demands that China allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate were met with criticisms from Beijing about the Fed’s inflationary monetary policy. At the heart of the argument lay global current account imbalances, largely a consequence of the sizeable U.S. trade deficit with China. By the close of the summit, the U.S. delegation succeeded in getting the Chinese to acknowledge that these imbalances were problematic for the global economy, but failed in getting them to do anything […]

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