Something small but historic happened on the shores of the Red Sea on Monday. As delegates to the Palestinian donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh gathered for lunch, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem was standing near the door to the banquet room. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked by, and instead of staring straight ahead or finding a reason to turn in the opposite direction as an American diplomat might have done during the Bush era, she walked straight towards Moualem, shook his hand, and held a brief conversation. That was the moment when Washington […]

For the IMF, the global economic downturn could not have come soon enough. Two years ago, the Fund’s lending portfolio was a scanty $13 billion, down from $100 billion in 2003. As Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Indonesia, and the Philippines each paid off their loans early, the institution’s revenue stream slowed to a trickle. Since the institution’s operating costs are financed by fees and interest charged on its loans, its shrinking portfolio resulted in annual losses between $200 and $300 million. Forced to find alternative sources of income and reduce costs, the fund initiated plans to sell off some of its […]

The Revolution Will Not Be Telecommed

Andrew Sullivan featured this T-Mobile ad, which is basically the first commercial usage of a “spontaneous” flash mob (at least that I’ve seen). My first reaction to the ad’s conceit, “Life’s for Sharing,” was that what was being portrayed — and shared — wasn’t life, but a carefully contrived and planned commercial. Then it occurred to me that the flash mobs on which the ad is based are just as carefully contrived and planned as the ad itself. Given my reading habits lately, and my natural apocalyptic streak, the train of thought then led to the ways in which the […]

Engagement Doesn’t Guarantee Results

The Obama administration’s outreach efforts — Russia here, Syria here, Iran in the works — are certainly a welcome corrective to the Bush administration’s insistence on isolation and conditioned negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’ll work any better. The problem in all three cases is that being a spoiler offers more leverage and influence than being part of the solution. So long as a stable and peaceful Middle East is a high priority for Washington, then Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can say things like, “If you want to talk about peace, you can’t advance without Syria.” But outside of a stable […]

Letting Eastern Europe Sink

If all you read was the NY Times, you’d probably have the idea that the EU is on the verge of an East-West schism. Wishful thinking, perhaps. As Art Goldhammer points out, the (French-language) view from Europe is a bit more nuanced. According to this version, the EU’s refusal to float an “Eastern European” bailout is based on a broader sense of solidarity that rejects the idea of internal boundaries, whether East-West or North-South. There’s also the fact, as Angela Merkel made clear, that no monolithic bailout could respond to the distinct needs of the various countries. But here’s the […]

Emerging Powers vs. Immerging Powers

I had some vague thoughts swirling around the cranium, and a French word I ran across in some weekend reading helped crystallize them: s’immerger, which means to immerse oneself, but also to submerge oneself. The word corresponds to the English immerge, which I hadn’t realized existed. (That rumbling sound you hear is my Shakespearian-scholar and Greek- and Latin-speaking grandfather rolling over in his grave.) It immediately made me think of President Obama’s Camp Lejeune speech, which put the withdrawal from Iraq in the context of a regional diplomatic fabric. The same approach informs the regional approach to the Afghanistan War, […]

WPR Feature Issue: The Blue Planet

For those of you who enter the site through the blog, I want to call your attention to the latest WPR feature issue, The Blue Planet: Water and Geopolitics, which just went live today. It’s a look at the way freshwater and maritime resources are likely to impact international relations. Here’s a hint: scarcity can drive cooperation as much as conflict, and competition is very likely to take place in the context of multilateral treaties and conventions. Here’s Aaron Wolf, from “Troubled Waters: Conflict and Cooperation Over Shared Rivers“: Water is a vital resource for which there is no substitute, […]

Global Insights: China Fumes After Moscow Sinks Freighter

When the Chinese first learned that two Russian coast guard ships had sunk a Chinese-owned freighter on Feb. 15 in the Pacific Ocean, the incident must have aroused conflicting feelings regarding their sometimes overbearing neighbor. The freighter, the New Star, was registered with Sierra Leone and was using that country’s flag of convenience. The Hong Kong-based J-Rui Lucky Shipping Company owned the vessel. Ten of the 16 crew members were Chinese citizens, while six were from Indonesia, including the captain. Of the eight who died when the ship sank 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the port of Nakhodka, seven were […]

Over the past two years, the Arctic Circle has been the object of both exciting and alarming speculation. The planting of the Russian flag on the North Pole sea floor led to stories of a race to claim its resources. The opening of the fabled Northwest Passage and Russia’s Northern Sea Route led to reports of shortened trade routes — saving thousands of miles and many days at sea — between Europe and the Far East. Government forecasts of large — if as-yet undiscovered — oil and gas reserves have given rise to concerns over sovereignty, security and sustainability throughout […]

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