Despite all the uproar generated by President Barack Obama’s open-mike comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the nuclear summit in Seoul, no one should be shocked that election-year calculations play a major role in international politics. It is perfectly understandable that, in gearing up for what will be a tough and challenging re-election campaign, Obama would prefer not to have to deal with crises now if they can be postponed until after the ballots have been cast. This same logic has driven efforts to persuade Israel not to launch a strike on Iran, which might have immediate and drastic […]

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti approved major changes to the country’s labor laws last month, the latest of Italy’s attempts to overhaul its economy. In an email interview, Carlo Bastasin, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on European politics and economics and author of “Saving Europe,” discussed Italy’s economy. WPR: What have been the major weaknesses of the Italian economy, with regard to its European and non-European trade partners? Carlo Bastasin: The two features that have distinguished the Italian economy are the high level of public debt and the low growth of the past 10 years. The […]

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Business groups from the U.S. and the European Union last week called on U.S. and European leaders to move forward with the creation of a barrier-free trans-Atlantic market. In an email interview, Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Center for International Political Economy, discussed the prospects for a U.S.-European Union free trade agreement (FTA). WPR: What impact would a FTA have on U.S.-EU trade, and what sectors would be most affected? Fredrik Erixon: It would have a positive influence on trade, jobs and growth on both sides of the Atlantic. If you eliminate or reduce trade restrictions between two […]

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China reportedly suspended orders for Airbus aircraft this month in protest of the European Union’s emissions trading system. In an email interview, Miriam Schröder, managing director of the climate consulting firm Sinergi, discussed the European Union-China emissions dispute. WPR: What is the background of the dispute between the European Union and China over the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), and how has it developed? Miriam Schröder: Since January 2012, aviation has been included in the EU ETS. Not only flights within Europe, but also non-European aircraft operators that fly to or from Europe have to comply with the EU ETS. […]

After months of aggressive debates over the Middle East, the U.N. Security Council is starting to calm down. Last week the council released a statement supporting Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria — which calls for a U.N.-supervised cease-fire and an “inclusive Syrian-led political process” — signaling the change of mood. The Western powers reached consensus with Russia and China on the text, toning down and cutting controversial passages, after Moscow called for daily cease-fires to let humanitarian aid reach suffering Syrians. The contrast with the mood at the United Nations in February, when the Chinese and Russians vetoed a […]

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Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old who killed seven people in southwestern France over the past two weeks, was shot dead Thursday at his Toulouse apartment after a 30-hour standoff with police. The French national of Algerian descent, who said the killings of three Jewish children, a rabbi and three French paratroopers over the past two weeks were to avenge the killings of Palestinian children in Gaza, was a self-proclaimed jihadist who had visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area twice over the past two years. He represents the growing threat of homegrown extremists who identify with al-Qaida but operate on their own. And […]

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The foreign ministers of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina met earlier this month to sign a deal on sharing consular services, calling it a new era in the bilateral relationship. In an email interview, Srecko Latal, a Balkans analyst at the International Crisis Group, discussed relations between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. WPR: How have Serbia-Bosnia relations evolved over the past decade? Srecko Latal: Relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia have significantly improved over the past several years, from very difficult and tense relations at the end of the 1990s to the current situation in which both countries seem to understand that stability better suits […]

In the run-up to Russia’s March 4 presidential election, with opposition forces staging massive protests, Vladimir Putin sharply escalated the intensity of his anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric. His accusations of U.S. interference in Russian affairs and portrayal of America as an enemy of Russia brought back memories of the Cold War, raising the specter that Moscow would become an unmovable obstacle in the path of many of Washington’s foreign policy objectives. The concern carried particular weight at a time when the U.S. and its allies are trying to muster a united front to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to bring […]

NATO’s military intervention in Libya once again showed that the alliance’s internal cohesion can quickly become a center of gravity in any out-of-area operation. Moreover, the strategic position adopted by the United States, now widely known by the unfortunate moniker of “leading from behind,” has put the role played by European member states into sharp relief. Given Germany’s continued reluctance to participate in out-of-area operations, Franco-British relations are now decisive in both regards. Ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago in May, and one year after the beginning of the Libyan crisis, the strategic relationship between the U.K. and France […]

Last week, while in Poland to deliver a series of lectures on defense issues, I traveled by train from Warsaw to Krakow and was reminded why Norman Davies titled his magisterial history of the country, “God’s Playground.” Aside from the Great Plains of North America, one would be hard-pressed to find terrain better suited to armored and cavalry warfare — and more inviting to invaders on all sides. So it was no surprise that during my visit, many of the questions I heard from Poles concerned the health and future of the NATO alliance. Americans are fortunate enough to no […]

Two decades of unprecedented political, economic and social transformations in Eastern and Central Europe have produced outcomes that were hardly expected when the region emerged from communist rule. Despite initial pessimism about the prospect of establishing liberal democracy, several countries have developed consolidated democratic systems, functioning market economies and efficient democratic states with extensive welfare policies and relatively low inequality. Similarly, although there were well-founded doubts as to whether East European civil societies would ever be able to recover from decades of communist suppression, vibrant free media and well-organized associational life have emerged there as well. These countries are not […]

For the past few years, the Russian government has made the unprecedented decision to purchase expensive Western military equipment, in part to fill gaps in Russian defense capabilities, but also to use the threat of foreign competition to induce Russia’s military industrial complex to modernize its means of production and contain its costs. The most well-known such purchase was the signing in June 2011 of a $1.7 billion contract to buy two French-built Mistral class amphibious assault ships for the Russian navy, with the option to negotiate the purchase of two additional Mistral class ships that would be manufactured in […]

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Riots broke out on the French island of Reunion last month over oil prices and the cost of living. In an email interview, William Miles, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, discussed the political and economic status of France’s overseas departments and territories, known as DOM-TOM. WPR: What is the administrative and political status of France’s overseas departments and territories, and how contested is that both in the DOM-TOM and in France? William Miles: Although both the departments and territories are juridically part of France, there is an important distinction between the two. A French department is the […]

For more than three years, China has been gradually implementing a strategic plan to internationalize its currency, the yuan, with a central element of this strategy being to increase the yuan’s role in China’s cross-border trade settlement. To date, these efforts have been strikingly effective, as the “people’s currency” was used to settle nearly 10 percent of China’s international trade in 2011, up from essentially zero in 2009. Last week, it was reported that China is poised to take another significant step in promoting the yuan’s use in global trade settlement by extending yuan-denominated loans to the other BRICS nations: […]

If you’re looking for a good example of an oxymoron, or at the very least of a counterintuitive situation, nothing works better than the famed “resource curse.” The idea that great natural wealth might in fact contribute to keeping a country poor has captured the public imagination precisely because it helps explain a phenomenon that is one of the great paradoxes of our time: Countries blessed with fabulous riches are often also cursed, perhaps inevitably, with grinding poverty. But the phenomenon with the catchy title deserves a closer, critical look, because recent evidence suggests that the potion for breaking the […]

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On an official visit to the United States this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron focused his conversations with U.S. President Barack Obama on the war in Afghanistan as well as on efforts to address the crisis in Syria and heightened tensions with Iran. The leaders met to “reaffirm one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known,” Obama said Wednesday. But some observers wonder whether the importance of what is known as the “special relationship” is beginning to fade. “It is a special relationship,” said Frances G. Burwell, vice president of the Atlantic Council and director of its […]

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