On March 15, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Obama administration would shift tactics on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Specifically, the U.S. will shift its focus from overseas, regional ballistic missile defense toward greater protection of the homeland. However, while the political symbolism of this switch may be positive, the strategic and military consequences may well be counterproductive. As a result, the move looks more like short-term politicking than a new approach to strategic thinking. To some observers, Hagel’s announcement was a significant and welcome change in policy. Under the new plan, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency […]

Last week, Italy’s Foreign Ministry agreed to send two Italian marines back to India to stand trial for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen while guarding an Italian oil tanker off the coast of India last year, ending a diplomatic dispute that came on the heels of a separate and ongoing scandal over bribery allegations regarding Italian defense company Finmeccanica. In an email interview, Joel Sandhu, an expert on India-European Union relations at the Global Public Policy Institute, explained how these recent problems fit into India’s relations with Italy and the EU more broadly. WPR: What has been the trajectory of […]

Last week, at least 32 people were killed amid violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar, according to the state news media. It took several days for the military to restore calm. Jason Paul Abbott, Aung San Suu Kyi endowed chair and director at the University of Louisville’s Center for Asian Democracy, told Trend Lines that the events, in particular the military’s lack of haste in intervening to halt the violence, are indicative of the country’s broader power struggle over the ongoing reform process. Myanmar is currently undergoing a transition to civilian government after […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

This weekend’s visit by Xi Jinping to Moscow, his first trip abroad as China’s new president, resulted in no revolutionary agreements. The biggest “deliverable” to emerge from the summit — the major oil deal the two sides signed — was overshadowed by their continued failure to agree on a price for Chinese purchases of Russian natural gas. Yet expectations were low for the summit, so the lack of headline agreements came as little surprise. More surprising, however, was the extent to which Xi aligned Beijing’s foreign policy views with those of Russia in his public statements while in Moscow — […]

Jordan is reportedly choosing between two designs for nuclear power reactors in part to help address a domestic energy shortage, stoking fears about the spread of nuclear technology in a region still gripped by upheaval. In an email interview, Steve Thomas, director of research at the business school at University of Greenwich and an expert on the economics and policy of nuclear power, explained the significant obstacles to Jordan’s development of nuclear power. WPR: What is the current state of Jordan’s nuclear energy program? Steve Thomas: Reports implying that Jordan will soon order two nuclear power reactors are misleading. It […]

On March 26, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will gather in Durban, South Africa, for the BRICS grouping’s fifth summit. This collection of non-Western powers has cast itself as a new force in world affairs and a potential alternative to the global order that America and its European and Asian allies have traditionally supported. In reality, though, BRICS is less than the sum of its parts, and the real danger to today’s international order lies elsewhere. The BRICS summit has an unusual origin story. The group’s membership reflects an acronym coined by Goldman Sachs economist […]

Xi Jinping has arrived in Moscow, having chosen Russia as the first country to visit since his inauguration last week as president of China. After meeting with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials, Xi will then leave to attend his first BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa, where he will hold talks with the leaders of the “rising and resurgent” bloc of nations comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In particular, he will have an opportunity to engage one-on-one with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting. From South Africa, Xi will […]

Strategic retrenchment is all the rage among America’s national security experts. There is increasing agreement that the global strategy of the past two decades is politically and economically unsustainable, so Washington must cut its security commitments and scale down engagement around the world, particularly when it involves the U.S. military. This is not a new idea. After World War II, some political leaders and opinion shapers encouraged President Harry Truman to follow American tradition and disengage from Europe and Asia. That pressure ended only when the extent of the Soviet threat became clear and North Korea invaded South Korea. After […]

Hot on the heels of January’s record-shattering air pollution levels in Beijing, China’s commercial capital of Shanghai has witnessed its own environmental crisis, with thousands of dead pigs turning up in the city’s waterways. China’s major cities have long been notorious for their high levels of air and water pollution, but such visible signs of threats to human health are thrusting environmental hazards into the public eye like never before. The Chinese government has taken some steps to address public concern at these hazards, but if either history or the experience of other countries is any guide, Beijing needs to […]

On March 11, North Korea declared that it would withdraw from the 1953 armistice that stopped the war on the Korean Peninsula. In an email interview, Balbina Y. Hwang, a visiting professor at Georgetown University and a former adviser at the U.S. State Department who has written extensively on the Koreas, discussed the significance of the move and its likely impacts. WPR: Technically, what does the armistice control? Balbina Y. Hwang: The Korean Armistice, signed on July 27, 1953, established the parameters of a cease-fire between the official warring parties of the Korean conflict: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea […]

On March 11, the International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped charges against Kenya’s Francis Muthaura who, along with Kenyan President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta, was accused of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the violence following Kenya’s 2007 presidential elections. In an email interview, William Schabas, a professor of international law at Middlesex University, explained the problems the ICC has faced in prosecuting cases. WPR: What has been the conviction record at the ICC to date? William Schabas: The ICC has registered precisely one conviction to date; the case is still on appeal, although the conviction is unlikely to be reversed. […]

The Obama administration’s decision to adapt U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in response to the threat posed by North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear programs provides an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to set aside the protracted, debilitating, but unnecessary dispute with the United States and its NATO allies over missile defense. On Friday, the administration announced that it would deploy an additional 14 interceptor missiles in Alaska to address North Korea’s recently demonstrated capabilities to launch a long-range missile as far as North America and Pyongyang’s refusal to cease testing nuclear weapons. The administration also decided to […]

Tension is rapidly accelerating in Antarctic affairs on a range of issues, all of them relating to sovereignty and resources. The tensions include disputes over proposals for new marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean; renewed friction between the U.K. and Argentina over their overlapping claims in Antarctica; significant numbers of countries expressing an interest in exploring Antarctic minerals, despite a ban on mineral extraction; increasing numbers of states trying to expand their Antarctic presence, signaling both heightened interests and insecurities over Antarctica’s current governance structure; and escalating conflict between anti-whaling groups and the Japanese government over whaling in the […]

Orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes from nearly 250 miles up, the International Space Station (ISS) is as much a political achievement as a technological one. The ISS represents the largest peaceful cooperative program human beings have ever conceived and implemented, and it is the most politically complex space program since the space age began in 1957. Led by the United States, the ISS program started in 1982, with assembly in space beginning in 1998 and the last planned module scheduled for launch this year. The program’s international partners — space agencies in the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan […]

The month-long crisis in Sabah, which has seen an incursion of rebel fighters from the Philippine island of Sulu into Malaysia’s northern-most state on the island of Borneo, is a stark reminder that Southeast Asia remains engulfed in unresolved territorial disputes and conflicts. Malaysia has been deeply involved in several of these conflicts as both a stakeholder and a mediator. The Sabah crisis now presents Malaysia with a thorny domestic security challenge that also has implications for its regional role. As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Malaysia has so far subscribed actively to the ASEAN […]

Perhaps it is time to start taking Hamid Karzai at his word. Every time the Afghan president criticizes the United States or constrains the operations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials deploy the gamut of explanations to downplay his behavior. These have ranged from the tactical (he’s trying to build up his nationalist credentials among the populace), to the pharmacological (he’s “off his meds”). Karzai’s latest bombshell, delivered during Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Afghanistan as the new U.S. secretary of defense, was to suggest that the United States is colluding with the Taliban in attacks throughout the country […]

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