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 […]

Experts in national security law watched with interest when France intervened militarily against Islamic extremists in Mali earlier this year. Would France detain individuals that it and Malian forces had seized and, if so, how would it treat them? Would it follow the lead of the United States by holding the prisoners as enemy combatants? If not, how would France, or its Malian partners, treat those captured during the fighting? France has thus far shown no desire to employ a Guantanamo-style solution. But it remains unclear whether prisoners will be prosecuted under Malian criminal law or handled in some other […]

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 […]

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 […]

Last weekend, both Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, announced their plans to step down when their current terms end in 2014. Van Rompuy, who will have served his maximum of two terms of two and a half years each, said he plans to retire from politics once his mandate expires. Ashton does not face term limits but said there is “no possibility” she will serve a second five-year term, partly because of the physical demands of the position. Guillaume Xavier-Bender, a program officer for the German Marshall […]

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 […]

The Higgs boson has captured the imagination of the public, worldwide. Why? The answer is fundamental to the human race, a feature that sets humans apart from other living species: our curiosity and desire to understand the world we live in. Some of this knowledge is self-serving — for example, how to cope with diseases or improve our ways of life. But human curiosity goes well beyond just satisfying those practical needs and desires. Whether it be the origin of the universe or the inner dynamics of microscopic particles, we simply want to understand how things work. Basic research, sometimes […]

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 […]

On March 5, 2013, the pro-Western government coalition in Moldova collapsed, compounding the significant difficulties already facing the settlement of the conflict over the separatist region of Transnistria, one of the so-called frozen conflicts dating back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Moldova’s current political crisis further diminishes the opportunities to revive the positive momentum that clearly existed after fall 2011, when official talks between the conflicting parties resumed through a multilateral settlement process. This momentum had been triggered by the so-called Meseberg memorandum (.pdf) of June 2010, in which Germany’s Angela Merkel and Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev pledged in […]

Last week, European leaders did one of the things they do best: look hesitant over how to handle a pressing foreign policy question. As the European Union’s leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande declared the bloc should end its arms embargo on Syria, enabling them to send weapons to the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. But their counterparts appeared convinced that this would only exacerbate the conflict. German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed especially unfavorable toward the proposal, observing that “the fact that two have changed their minds” didn’t oblige […]

Rejecting criticisms by the United States and the European Union, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is defending recent constitutional amendments despite concerns they will undermine democracy and the rule of law in Hungary. The changes adopted earlier this week will lead to more restrictive laws on higher education and family rights, among other concerns, according to Human Rights Watch. “This is the definite end of any constitutional oversight of the activity of the parliamentary majority,” Gábor Halmai, director of the Institute of Political and International Studies at the Eotvos Lóránd Univerity in Budapest, Hungary, told Trend Lines in an email […]

The U.S.-European Union “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” negotiations, which were launched last month, are the biggest consolation prize in the history of international trade liberalization. Since the end of World War II, the United States and Europe, as the world’s two economic superpowers, have led successive rounds of global negotiations that slashed import tariffs, removed quotas and greased the wheels of international commerce. The last and biggest round, which created the World Trade Organization in 1994, was, like the seven others before it, essentially a U.S.-EU agreement with the rest of the world along for the ride. Few at […]

In February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Turkey, indicating a willingness to help Turkey revive stalled negotiations over its longstanding bid for European Union membership. In an email interview, Rana Deep Islam, a project manager with Stiftung Mercator whose research focuses on Turkey-EU relations, explained the state of Turkey’s EU accession bid and how it could move forward. WPR: What is behind Germany’s recent statement that it will support reviving Turkey’s EU accession process? Rana Deep Islam: The German government under Merkel still does not have a clear-cut policy on how it wants to handle Turkey’s membership aspirations. On one […]

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