The termination of the European Union embargo on providing military equipment to Syria’s rebels, combined with renewed efforts in the U.S. Congress to goad the Obama administration into providing arms to the anti-Assad opposition, suggests that the West will soon become more directly involved in aiding the fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The shift comes despite the near absence of domestic support in any NATO-member country for inserting troops directly into the fighting, and with concerns that establishing and enforcing any sort of no-fly zone over Syrian airspace might expose Western aircrews to unacceptable levels of […]

AMSTERDAM—When news of economic troubles in Europe started emerging in 2009, the prevailing narrative in the Netherlands, as in much of the northern part of the continent, held that cultural differences, even the weather, could help explain the problem. The troubles in Greece, one often heard the Dutch say, stemmed from a certain lack of discipline, perhaps understandable considering the temptations of leisure along the sunny Mediterranean coast. Almost five years later, Europe’s economic woes have reached the North Sea shores, sending a chill through one of the most disciplined economies of the European Union. The Netherlands is now in […]

The May 23 Moscow European Security Conference gathered government representatives, defense officials and analysts from Russia, Europe and elsewhere to discuss the range of issues confronting policymakers for European security today. Sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which covered my expenses as well as those of other nongovernmental participants, the speeches and debates displayed an interesting admixture of standard post-Cold War rhetoric and genuinely innovative thinking. While the conference highlighted the many areas of divergence between Russia and the West on matters of European and global security, it also offered some opportunities for renewed engagement and dialogue on these […]

This month, Iceland’s new conservative coalition government announced it would suspend talks to accede to the European Union, pending a referendum on whether the talks should continue. In an email interview, Maximilian Conrad, an assistant professor of European politics at the University of Iceland, discussed this decision and the recent history of Iceland’s relations with the EU. WPR: What were the reasons behind Iceland’s EU accession application, and what is driving the coalition government’s decision to suspend accession talks? Maximilian Conrad: The Icelandic decision to apply for EU membership can only be understood against the backdrop of the “kreppa,” Iceland’s […]

At the conclusion of his first year in office, French President Francois Hollande is facing criticism from all sides. Hollande was elected as an almost accidental president in May 2012 in the post-crisis wave of government changes across Europe. His promises to renegotiate German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hard-fought European Union budgetary pact—and to counter austerity measures by increasing public sector expenditures and imposing sharp tax hikes on business—made a deterioration in the French-German partnership, clearly visible over the past year, all but inevitable. Despite his campaign rhetoric, however, Hollande’s first year in office has been marked by conflicting policy messages. […]

The Syrian civil war has become one of the most complex and tragic conflicts of the 21st century. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 80,000 have died since 2011. The United Nations believes that 1.5 million Syrians are refugees, and that number could increase dramatically in coming months. Day by day, Syria is losing an entire generation, one that will be scarred by violence and unprepared to be productive citizens someday. Yet the conflict continues because those who could stop it—the Assad regime and its supporters, the various rebel movements and the external nations supporting one side or […]

KABUL, Afghanistan—In a surprise move in mid-April, Germany announced it is ready to provide between 600 and 800 troops to the as yet undefined NATO training contingent that will replace the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan after it comes to an end in 2014. It was the first such announcement by any country, including the United States. Washington is in the process of negotiating with Kabul the bilateral strategic agreement that should lay out the framework for a reduced but continued presence of American troops starting in 2015. Germany’s attempt to pull ahead of the pack is […]

As the British armed forces rebuild after more than a decade of sustained military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the strategic components of the U.S.-U.K. “special relationship” have come under intense scrutiny. At the politico-strategic level, while London remains committed to working alongside the U.S., there is deep concern that Washington has become a less than reliable partner. Indeed, there is a widespread view among British policymakers that in spite of the casualties taken by the British in support of a failed U.S. policy, Washington now prefers Germany to Britain as its “special” European partner. Were it not for the […]

The people of Spain are now living through the fifth year of a deep economic recession, experiencing a level of unemployment that would have seemed utterly inconceivable in the decades before the bottom fell out. Government measures and European Union prescriptions find little popular support. But despite countless protests and furious debate, the Spanish are becoming disillusioned with all the options before them. As the recession lingers and the hardships intensify, the answer increasingly is “none of the above.” For the unloved government, the apparent lack of appealing alternatives is the most tangible reason for solace. In contrast to the […]

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Mohammed Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egypt’s first post-Arab Spring president, even as Russia continued to back Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus against an assorted opposition that includes the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood. This apparent contradiction illustrates the challenges Russia is facing in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Like virtually everyone else, Moscow was surprised by the groundswell of change that began in the Arab world in early 2011. Experts advising the Russian government call this a tectonic shift and compare its impact to that of the two defining periods […]

Does the U.S. genuinely want its European allies to police their geopolitical backyard? When it comes to the Syrian crisis, the answer seems to be no. Last week, the Obama administration signaled that it intends to set the diplomatic pace over Syria as the U.S. and Russia announced joint plans for a peace conference. This was not only an accommodating gesture to the Russians—who, as I argued in this column last week, have made immense political capital out of the conflict—but also a setback for Britain and France, which have agitated for a more hawkish Western line, including arming the […]

John Kerry undertook his maiden voyage to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state this week, and the initial impression is that his visit was a success. There was a perceptible thaw in what, over the past year, has been described as a much more contentious relationship. U.S. officials have focused on the prospect of a “more intensified dialogue with the Russians” that can now take place in the aftermath of the presidential elections in both Russia and the United States. Building upon the foundation laid last month by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Kerry continued the process of leaving behind […]

The United States and Russia have announced a diplomatic initiative that would bring together representatives from the Syrian regime and opposition forces to negotiate a framework to end the Syrian conflict. Russia previously demonstrated little desire to help forge an agreement between the Syrian regime and opposition, but now seems committed to current efforts to form a transitional government. David Hartwell, principal Middle East and North Africa Analyst at IHS Jane’s, emphasized that the current round of diplomacy is significant as much for relations between the U.S. and Russia as for Syria. “If this entails Americans and Russians working very […]

Late last month, the government of France issued a defense white paper outlining its priorities and plans for the military through 2019. In an email interview, Rachel Utley, an expert on French defense and security policies at the University of Leeds, explained the context and implications of the white paper. WPR: What are the major implications of the defense white paper, in terms of impact on force structure and capabilities, and any shifts of emphasis in terms of strategic focus and forward-deployed forces? Rachel Utley: French defense white papers used not to come along too often: 1972; 1994 in the […]

A Russian warship docked at the port of Haifa on May 1, making it the first Russian warship ever to visit Israel. In an email interview, Mark N. Katz, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University who focuses on Russian foreign policy, explained the recent evolution of the Russia-Israel relationship. WPR: What is the immediate context of Russia’s decision to send a warship to Israel for the first time? Mark Katz: The visit of the first Russian warship to Israel is one more sign of how Russian-Israeli relations have steadily improved ever since Vladimir Putin first came […]

If you take any interest in the Syrian war and international diplomacy, you may well experience a disturbing sense of deja vu this week. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Moscow. His visit is part of a renewed American campaign to make Russia rethink its strategy of support for the regime in Damascus, which could culminate in talks between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the June G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. Kerry is reportedly optimistic that he can make some progress. But this new push is reminiscent of earlier, unsuccessful efforts to win over the […]

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on Tuareg politics in northern Mali. Part I examined the factors shaping internal political development among Mali’s Tuareg community. Part II examines the factors shaping external relations among Mali’s Tuareg, the Malian government and France. French forces are drawing down in Mali, with Paris claiming that much of their work fighting Islamists and terrorists in the Sahara desert is done and can now be left to the Malian army and its regional allies. An African Union force will be securing much of the territory regained from Islamist extremists until a […]