Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti).

It is traditional to pen one’s last column of the calendar year as a retrospective of key events that have occurred over the last 12 months, along with predictions for the coming year. I would like to alter tradition to expand the scope of my inquiry—to compare expectations as they stood two years ago, on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and to contrast that with the situation we face today. U.S. foreign policy has undergone several tectonic shifts, in a seemingly haphazard and unplanned fashion. Yet the fallout will shape the global strategic environment and constrain […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the anti-submarine ship Vice Admiral Kulakov, Novorossiysk, Russia, Sept. 23, 2014 (photo from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office).

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a revised national military doctrine. The updated text aligns better with recent Russian government statements and policies than the previous version, issued in 2010. In particular, the new doctrine presents a lengthier list of threats while also recognizing Russia’s revived military capabilities. The Russian Security Council directed the writing of a new doctrine in July 2013, well before the current crisis in Ukraine. The Council approved the new text on Dec. 19 and Putin signed it one week later. The document was then posted on the Kremlin website. This iteration is the fourth […]

A man holds a placard as people gather in support outside the Zaman newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Akin Celiktas).

Turkish police raided a newspaper and television station with ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement earlier this month, arresting 23 journalists, producers and writers. While freedom of the press has long been a concern in Turkey—which currently ranks 154 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index—the arrests have more to do with growing tensions between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the exiled Gulen. Gulen was an ally of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) until a corruption scandal, which Gulen and his followes deny instigating, broke last year. […]

Oil pump jacks work in unison on a foggy morning, Williston, North Dakota, Dec. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Eric Gay).

In the waning days of 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, roundly castigated by critics for most of the year as being weak, feckless and indecisive, appears to have been vindicated by more recent developments. Eschewing the calls for immediate reactions to a series of disparate events—from anti-government protests in Venezuela to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine—the president opted for diplomacy and sanctions, augmenting his existing approach to perennial problems like Iran and its nuclear program. Now, the story goes, a whole list of U.S. opponents, from Cuba to Iran, are moderating their defiance of Washington and looking […]

Environmental activists in a boat perform wearing puppet heads representing world leaders during the Climate Change Conference COP20 in Lima, Peru, Dec. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Martin Mejia).

LIMA, Peru—Divisions among governments about how to deal with global warming pushed the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP20, nearly two days past its deadline. But the agreement approved in the Peruvian capital in the early hours of Dec. 14 was groundbreaking in that all of the 196 participating nations promised to formulate a plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. After two decades of negotiations in which developed nations were expected to cut their emissions while the rest got a free pass, that shared commitment is an important step. But it remains to be seen what each […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he gestures towards Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

This year has seen a remarkable strengthening of Russian-Chinese ties, building on a relationship that even before 2014 was at its historical best. Their growing closeness is evident in their security policies, economic ties and ideological alignment. U.S. policies presume that Russia and China can be successfully managed through a combination of firmness and patience, but there needs to be greater recognition of how these countries jointly present a more challenging environment for U.S. foreign policy. In an underappreciated interview with The Economist this August that focused mostly on Africa and the U.S. economy, U.S. President Barack Obama made revealing […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall for a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the Kremlin, Moscow, Dec. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Maxim Shipenkov).

One year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was releasing political prisoners in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, even as protesters were massing in Kiev’s central square to demand the ouster of Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The international spotlight was already on Russia and Ukraine, but no one could have predicted what was to come. The events of 2014 have shaken both countries: Yanukovych’s ouster in February; Putin’s annexation of Crimea in March; the bloody stalemate in eastern Ukraine; the tragic downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner by Russian-backed separatists; escalating Western sanctions against Russian businesses; Ukraine’s steady progress […]

Dozens of immigrants who arrived on a cargo ship from Turkey line up for meals in a basketball arena where they have been given temporary shelter, Ierapetra, Crete, Nov. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

European decision-makers are accustomed to appearing weak. Their collective economic, political and military weight has plummeted in recent years. But they like to think that they retain moral authority. Europe’s governments claim to be virtuous on a wide range of issues. The United Kingdom and the Nordic countries are committed to international aid. Germany is standing up for personal privacy in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. France has shrugged off accusations of neocolonialism to intervene in benighted ex-colonies such as the Central African Republic (CAR). Europe may not be a great power, but it wants to do the […]

Police stand watch over flower tributes and messages written on the footpath outside the Lindt cafe in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Rob Griffith).

Following the 9/11 attacks, U.S. national security strategy focused with laser-like intensity on militant organizations that supported transnational terrorism, particularly al-Qaida. While it was never proven that al-Qaida’s sanctuary in Afghanistan was essential for the attacks, the connection between foreign sanctuary and terrorism became so deeply etched in the American psyche that eradicating militant sanctuaries, both real and theoretical, became an inextricable part of stopping transnational terrorism. Thus began what became known as the Global War on Terrorism. As the United States and its allies pummeled al-Qaida in the ensuing years, support for transnational terrorism shifted from that organization’s core […]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his speech during a ceremony to mark the 57th anniversary of the 1956 uprising in Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/MTI, Tibor Illyes).

“A nation on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator, getting in bed with Vladimir Putin,” Sen. John McCain called it, addressing the United States Senate earlier this month. McCain was talking about a NATO ally, a European Union member state and an enthusiastic member both of President George W. Bush’s Coalition of the Willing in Iraq and the international force in Afghanistan: Hungary. What has gone wrong? Most of Hungary’s growing band of international critics lay the blame squarely at the door of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. A former liberal opponent of communism, Orban now stands […]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker’s rally in Gauhati, India, Nov. 30 2014 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

In the short time since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May, he has revolutionized his country’s foreign relations. Modi has defied conventional wisdom, upended national traditions and launched a peripatetic campaign of rebuilding India’s ties to other nations. The hallmark of India’s foreign policy under Modi is the pursuit of tangible, preferably signed results. Its motivating objective is fomenting investment and economic growth. Ideological concerns have been relegated far down the priority list. Modi’s international relations early in his term are reminiscent of Turkey’s old “Zero Problems” formula from a few years ago, a philosophy that collapsed […]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 2, 2014 (AP photo by Virginia Mayo).

Cold War-era fears are resurfacing in northeastern Europe. Over the past year, Russian aircraft have violated the air space of nearly all Nordic and Baltic countries at a worrying rate, while this past fall, Sweden hunted for a suspected Russian submarine thought to be lurking in the waters off Stockholm. Those Russian provocations, along with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, have recharged debates in Finland and Sweden over joining NATO. In Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb responded to a question in September about the possibility of his country joining NATO by saying, “We […]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the World Diamond Conference in New Delhi, India, Dec. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Saurabh Das).

On Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin became the latest suitor to court Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi on the latter’s home territory. He follows Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and precedes U.S. President Barack Obama, who will travel to India next month for the country’s Republic Day celebrations. Unlike some Indian leaders, Modi does not have any ideological attachment to Russia. However, while New Delhi has ended its Cold War-era alignment with Moscow, India and Russia still share many overlapping interests. India is counting on Moscow to help secure New Delhi’s full membership in […]

A French Senator casts his ballot in an urn supporting a motion, at left, during a vote on the recognition of a Palestinian state, at the French Senate in Paris, France, Dec. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Last week, the French Senate voted to recognize Palestine as a state, following a similar vote by the French National Assembly the week before. With the symbolic measure, which only recommends that the French government recognize Palestine, the French lawmakers join their counterparts in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, all of whom passed similar nonbinding resolutions in recent weeks. Sweden has gone even further, with the government officially recognizing Palestine, a move which caused Israel to withdraw its ambassador. The recent groundswell of support in Europe for a Palestinian state comes as European relations with Israel are at […]

Peacekeepers from the Netherlands serving with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) keep watch in Gao, Mali, Feb. 26, 2014 (U.N. photo by Marco Dormino).

International crisis management does not evolve in a linear or rational fashion. It develops in fits and starts, almost always in response to specific shocks. Just as the Rwandan genocide and Srebrenica massacre reshaped United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s, forcing the U.N. to professionalize its management systems and start thinking systematically about protecting civilians, 9/11 led NATO to shift from regional stabilization in the Balkans to long-range expeditionary warfare in Afghanistan. Had U.N. or NATO officials known at the time that, by adapting to these events, they were heading for the quagmires of Darfur and Helmand respectively, they might […]

Firefighters and emergency workers examine the burned market pavilions in downtown Grozny, Russia, Dec. 4, 2014 (AP photo by Musa Sadulayev).

On Dec. 4, a major gun battle broke out in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, leaving 14 police and 11 militants dead. It was the worst violence in several years for the semi-autonomous Russian republic, which suffered through two bloody, failed wars for independence from 1994-1996 and from 1999-2009. The Chechen government has responded by demolishing the homes of the families of suspected militants, prompting condemnations by multiple human rights groups this week. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, some analysts suggested that the militants might have been affiliated with the so-called Islamic State (IS). As many as 800 […]

Opening ceremony of the 24th Ibero-American Summit, Veracruz, Mexico, Dec. 8, 2014 (Photo from the Ibero-America’s Secretariat General).

The annual gathering known as the Ibero-American Summit was designed to develop ties among countries with strong cultural and historical bonds and develop a bloc with political and economic power. But with every passing year and every successive summit, the event has instead contributed to the sense that Latin America is increasingly riven by profound ideological divides, made worse by persistent regional rivalries. The latest summit, held this week in Mexico, showed just how wide some of the chasms have become and how difficult it will prove to build a united Latin America, much less one that enjoys close links […]

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