How to best explain Vladimir Putin’s zigzags on Ukraine? Over the past few months, spokesmen and leading officials have confidently made statements about Russian policy only to have the Russian leader suddenly change course. It can be quite confusing for analysts and commentators to assess Russia’s true intentions—and makes Putin look dangerously unpredictable. Putin’s long-term goals are clear: to prevent Ukraine’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic world; to preserve some semblance of Ukraine’s former position as a neutral intermediary and buffer between Russia and the West; and to retain Russia’s special relationship with the country, particularly its southern and eastern […]

Spanish police have recently begun to crack down on Islamist militants in its exclaves Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa. In an email interview, Gerry O’Reilly, senior lecturer in geography and international affairs at St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, discussed Spanish policy toward both autonomous territories. WPR: What is Spain’s logic for maintaining its two North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla? Gerry O’Reilly: Spain maintains the exclaves for historical and security reasons: Spain acquired these territories as part of the 15th-century “Reconquista” crusade. Spain’s security imperative remained with Ceuta given its geostrategic importance, as it faces the British […]

The race for European Commission president got a bit more interesting over the weekend as leaders from Europe’s left, including French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, reportedly backed Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy, setting up a showdown with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes Juncker. It is a high-stakes dispute, given that the European Commission presidency is one of the most important institutions in the European Union, empowered with proposing legislation and representing the EU abroad. A meeting in Paris on Saturday among leaders from France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, […]

When the Obama administration took control of U.S. foreign policy in 2009, it undertook to mitigate what it considered the damage wrought by the George W. Bush team. The Iraq War was to be wound down, although, as it happens, more or less along the timeline laid down by the previous president. Afghanistan, the forgotten war, was to be quickly turned around by a judicious application of U.S resources and attention. A deft wielding of diplomacy would end the standoff with Iran, “reset” relations with Russia and bring China into a new dialogue to solve global problems. After the massive […]

Since hosting a meeting last September to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the start of Six-Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, China has stepped up shuttle diplomacy with the aim of resuming those negotiations. The result so far has been a virtual merry-go-round of periodic consultations among the respective chief delegates to the talks in Pyongyang, Beijing, Washington, Tokyo, Moscow and Seoul, but there has been no discernible progress toward resumption of the multilateral talks. On the contrary, rather than forging the consensus necessary to draw North Korea back into substantive multilateral negotiations, the process appears to […]

A large part of ending civil wars and insurgencies is about finding new political solutions to old political conflicts. One such political solution and instrument has at times been to convert armed groups into political parties. Convincing former warring parties to enter formalized democratic politics is not an easy task however, and even when armed groups transform into political parties, the challenges for long-term democracy continue. Research related to the political integration or reintegration of armed groups has been quite extensive. But political integration of armed groups is only one facet of a larger question about political integration of various […]

Over the past two years, whenever Russia has undertaken steps in the international arena that the United States disapproves of, there has been a predictable response in Washington: a parade of somber-faced U.S. officials solemnly warning Moscow that its actions are opposed by the “international community” and that Russia risks isolation by its policy choices. Indeed, #RussiaIsolated has become the hashtag of choice in the State Department’s social media arsenal. Certainly, the U.S. has had some successes in turning the hashtag into reality: winning some symbolic votes at the United Nations; getting a coalition of states to impose limited sanctions […]

When Catherine Ashton was appointed the European Union’s first high representative for foreign and security policy in 2009, many met her arrival with disappointment. She was not the first choice for the role, and her foreign policy experience was limited to a short stint as commissioner for trade. The new position of high representative, which included a dual role as vice president of the European Commission, was created by the Lisbon Treaty and intended to strengthen the EU’s collective foreign policy. The British baroness’s appointment, for some, reflected a lack of ambition. Indeed, for those suspicious of an expanded EU […]

Swedish, Dutch, German and U.K. leaders held a mini-summit Monday in Sweden to discuss, among other topics, the selection of the next European Commission president. The term of the current commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, runs out by Oct. 31, but his replacement could be selected as early as this summer. But even after Monday’s meeting, it remains an open question not only who the next commission president will be, but how that candidate will be selected. German Chancellor Angela Merkel last month announced her support for former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, while British Prime Minister David Cameron has […]

Lax oversight. Deregulation. “Shadow banking.” These are some likely responses an expert might give if asked what caused the 2008 financial crisis. In the years since the meltdown, there has consolidated in the public consciousness an image of the pre-crisis global financial system as a sort of Wild West, where greedy bankers, rather than reckless outlaws, operated with impunity, causing irreparable social harm. But there is now a new sheriff in town, with the letters “U.S.A.” boldly emblazoned on its badge. Determined to impose order on a once “lawless” system, the U.S. Federal Reserve and Justice Department are unilaterally playing […]

When then-French Defense Minister Herve Morin was asked about the prospect of France selling Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia in a 2010 interview, he spoke of the need for a new kind of relationship with Russia. “We can’t go on calling for a strategic peace and security partnership” with Russia, he told the newspaper La Tribune, and “see the Russians simply as heirs of the Soviet Union.” Somewhat more practically, he also welcomed “the fact that we can hope to get a major contract for French industry.” Four years later, prospects are remote for the kind of Western rapprochement […]

President Barack Obama has delivered a consistent message during his trans-Atlantic sojourn this week, including a stirring address in Warsaw, and hit all the right rhetorical notes. To Europeans concerned that the long-announced “rebalance to the Pacific” means less U.S. attention to their continent, the president reaffirmed that European security is the “cornerstone of our own security, and it is sacrosanct.” The former Soviet-bloc countries were promised that they “will never stand alone.” Now comes the hard part: translating words into policy. The initial signs are not encouraging. The president’s announced “reassurance plan” for European security, with a price tag […]

Against the backdrop of ongoing tensions with Russia, President Barack Obama began a four-day trip to Europe this week. His first stop was Poland, a NATO ally celebrating 25 years of independence from Soviet domination. As Obama stood next to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, the situation in Ukraine was a central theme of his remarks. The United States and Poland are “absolutely united in the need to stand with the Ukrainian people as they move forward,” Obama declared. In Warsaw, Obama also announced a $1 billion “European Reassurance Initiative” to support regional partnerships and fund U.S. presence in the […]

A serious crisis played out during the past month over the future of France’s defense budget, pitting the pared-down and overstretched Defense Ministry against the cost-cutters of the Budget Ministry. Though the Defense Ministry has been spared for now, the fallout may leave lasting marks on the French military leadership’s morale, and on the country’s reputation as a European defense leader. In the first 18 months of Francois Hollande’s presidency, France underwent a full defense review. The financial crisis and geopolitical changes, it was believed, warranted a revision of the country’s 2008 Defense White Paper. Moreover, a new Military Program […]

Spain’s King Juan Carlos, who until only recently was beloved by a vast majority of his subjects, announced Monday that he had decided to hand the crown to his eldest son. Within hours, before the sun even had time to set over the Iberian Peninsula, tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets to demand a referendum on abolishing the monarchy altogether. It was a head-snapping collapse in popular approval for a man who was once hailed as Europe’s most popular monarch and was considered without hyperbole as a savior of Spanish democracy. And it comes as a cautionary […]

On May 28, the European Commission released its comprehensive energy security strategy. Although the immediate goal is to avert another winter energy crisis such as those Europe experienced in 2006 and 2009, the long-term objective is to reduce European Union reliance on vulnerable foreign energy supplies, especially from Russia. The European Council, comprised of the member states’ heads of state or government, will discuss the proposed plan at its June 26-27 session. Europe’s core challenge is that its energy demand will rise by an estimated 27 percent by 2030, while EU domestic energy production is falling. EU countries already rely […]