Libyan children wave national flags as they look out over Tahrir Square, during the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Benghazi, Libya, Feb, 17, 2013 (AP photo by Mohammad Hannon).

Libya is a mess and rapidly getting worse. It is a “failed state ravaged by civil war, and a magnet for al-Qaida and Islamic State (IS) recruits,” as Christopher Chivvis put it— “Somalia on the Mediterranean.” The principle victims are Libyans themselves. After suffering through decades of Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship, they now face a future that is, in many ways, even worse. But the danger spreads outward. Gadhafi’s weapons have been used to arm extremists across Africa, dragging other nations like Mali toward the abyss. Libya probably has more IS fighters than any place outside Syria, and they now threaten […]

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech on board the Chinese frigate Changbaishan at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Feb. 19, 2015 (AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis).

While the world watches the ongoing debt negotiations between Greece and its international creditors mainly for their impact on the Greek and eurozone economies, the talks have already put Beijing’s plans for a strategic transport system meant to further integrate Europe and the Mediterranean with the Chinese market back on track. The new leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens had initially announced plans to halt the privatization of Greece’s largest seaport, Piraeus, alarming investors from the Chinese shipping giant Cosco, which is keen to take a majority share in the Greek facility. But as part of the […]

NATO troops take part in the military parade to mark Estonia’s Independence Day near the Russian border, Narva, Estonia, Feb. 24, 2015 (AP photo by Liis Treimann).

The latest cease-fire between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine remains tenuous, but there are some signs it may hold for now. Kiev withdrew heavy artillery from the front today as the Russian ruble rallied for the first time since its collapse in December, prompted both by the cease-fire and by a rebound in global oil prices. While Russia’s economic outlook remains grim, with Western sanctions still in place, Russian President Vladimir Putin can claim some measure of victory after a year of interventions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, to the north, the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—are faced […]

Ukrainian troops wave as they ride on an armored vehicle near Artemivsk, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 24, 2015 (AP photo by Evgeniy Maloletka).

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable in New York sponsored by the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development on the question of whether the West and Russia have entered into a new Cold War. My sense of pessimism that it now seems impossible to get relations between Russia and the West back on track was reinforced by listening to the exchanges. Even if the present cease-fire holds in Ukraine and succeeds in halting open warfare, the effect will only be temporary. Any sort of long-term settlement seems to be beyond reach. Neither Russia nor […]

Libyan soldiers take a break from fighting with militants on the frontline in Al Ajaylat, 75 miles west of Tripoli, Libya, Feb. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Mohamed Ben Khalifa).

Just how bad is Europe’s strategic situation? Over the past week, senior European politicians and officials have piled up dire predictions about the continent’s security. Italy’s foreign minister called for a United Nations peacekeeping force to halt Libya’s collapse into violence “before it’s too late.” The French defense minister attacked other European Union states for failing to do enough against terrorist groups in Africa. NATO’s deputy military commander warned that Russian forces could launch an assault aimed at seizing territory from an alliance member similar to its operations in Ukraine, sparking an “existential”—meaning nuclear—war. This all sounds rather like panic. […]

A busker plays music in front of graffiti that refers to Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the Plaka district of Athens, Feb. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis).

On Friday, European finance ministers meeting in Brussels reached a deal to extend Greece’s bailout by four months. As part of the deal, Greece was given 48 hours to present a list of reforms to creditors, including measures such as cracking down on tax evasion and relaxing labor laws. This list is due to be submitted by midnight on Monday, and if creditors do not feel the reforms go far enough, the entire deal could collapse. The tentative agreement eases some of the uncertainty that came with the victory of the radical left Syriza party in Greece’s snap election in […]

NATO headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 8, 2015 (NATO photo).

This past weekend, militants in Libya aligned with the so-called Islamic State (IS) brutally executed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians they had captured. As the victims’ blood flowed into the Mediterranean Sea, their executioner declared, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.” Even as most of Europe’s attention remains focused on the east and the fighting in Ukraine, the horrific murders highlight the threat the continent faces to the south. They also serve as yet another reminder, if one were necessary, that the operation to depose former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, once praised as a successful example of the responsibility to […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attend a meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 7, 2015 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

The fate of the latest cease-fire in Ukraine remains precarious, and even if the current truce unexpectedly endures, a lasting settlement to the Ukraine conflict will still prove elusive given the players’ conflicting strategic aims. Russia wants to keep Ukraine weak and divided, while the Ukrainian government—backed by the United States—wants to rule a reunified country, to include Russian-occupied Crimea. For their part, many Europeans would seem content with almost any settlement that ended the fighting and the sanctions they have imposed on Russia. But despite these differences, the truce might buy time for progress on other measures that would […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi bids farewell to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Feb. 10, 2015 (photo from the Presidential Press and Information Office).

It has been a busy week for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. On Monday, he had to apologize to his Gulf Arab patrons for a leaked audio recording, purportedly of him and two of his generals mocking the oil-rich monarchies and scheming how to squeeze them for billions. “Man, they have money like rice,” says a man identified as el-Sissi on the alleged recording, which revealed more than just the scorn Egypt’s junta has for its foreign backers and for everyday Egyptians. As the Egyptian blogger known as Baheyya wrote, in the “frank, relaxed banter,” Egypt’s current ruler and two of […]

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice in the Oval Office prior to a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Feb. 10, 2015 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has drawn a good deal of criticism for its concept of “strategic patience,” which serves as the core for the recently released National Security Strategy. It’s understandable why the president’s national security team chose that specific language. It is meant to give more gravitas to an approach more jocularly described as “don’t do stupid [things]”—and is supposed to convey that the current management does not plan to respond impulsively to the challenges of the day. In a 24/7 news culture, when demands for the United States to “do something” erupt within minutes of breaking news […]

A protestor shouts slogans during a “Dignity March” to protest against austerity in Madrid, Spain, Nov. 29, 2014 (AP photo by Andres Kudacki).

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was in Brussels on Wednesday for an emergency meeting with 18 other eurozone finance ministers about his country’s bailout. It is just the latest sign of how the victory of the radical left, anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece’s election last month has dominated the European Union’s agenda. But with all the attention currently on Greece’s attempt to restructure its debt plan, it is easy to forget the other countries subjected to strict austerity measures by the troika of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including Portugal, […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at the Munich Security Conference, Feb. 7, 2015 (Munich Security Conference photo).

Last weekend’s Munich Security Conference vividly illustrated the conflict in both vision and values between Russia and the West. The Russian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, pushed a narrative of Western triumphalism, Russian victimization and the likelihood of further confrontation unless the West satisfied Russian grievances. The American and European leaders at Munich, despite their differences in emphasis and tone as well as over the question of supplying arms to Ukraine, were united in challenging this narrative, portraying a Russia that is clearly violating international norms. Lavrov denied the accusation made by many Western speakers at the conference […]

Handshake between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 4, 2015 (European Union photo).

The victory of Syriza in Greece’s recent parliamentary elections has led some to speculate about the impact the radical leftist party will have on Europe’s political landscape. With the Greek economy suffocating from depression-level contraction, Syriza campaigned on the promise to end the budgetary austerity imposed by the so-called troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB)—as a condition for the bailouts that are still the only thing keeping the country from a sovereign default. Would this leftist insurrection against the fiscal stewardship of the powers that be in Brussels, some asked, serve as […]

Ukrainian military vehicles drive towards Debaltseve on the outskirts of Artemivsk, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Evgeniy Maloletka).

Washington is contending with the blowback from its latest diplomatic gambit in the struggle with Russia. Last week, U.S. officials began to float the possibility of offering Ukraine defensive weapons to counter the latest advances by Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. If this was a trial balloon meant to reassure Kiev, it had the unfortunate side effect of throwing some major European powers into overt panic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande publicly declared their opposition to the plan and hurried to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There are plans for […]

Demonstrators carry posters saying “Stop Russia!” and crossed out pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, Nov. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Shakh Aivazov).

A few hundred miles from the Moscow-backed offensives in eastern Ukraine, a quieter Russian expansionist project is taking shape in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On Jan. 23, the Russian Duma ratified what it called a “Treaty on Alliance and Strategic Partnership” with Abkhazia, further extending and codifying Russian suzerainty over the balmy, subtropical republic on the Black Sea. In nearby South Ossetia, a rump highlands statelet of less than 40,000 people, its de facto president has promised an even more comprehensive treaty with Moscow likely to be signed later this month. The reaction from Tbilisi […]

Ukrainian army soldiers perform a weapons exercise at a training ground outside Lviv, western Ukraine, Feb. 5, 2015 (AP photo by Pavlo Palamarchuk).

The talk of Washington this week was a new policy paper co-authored by a team of experts who argue forcefully that the United States “should provide Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance as soon as possible.” The report’s authors include Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer, both former U.S. diplomats now at the Brooking Institution (Talbott is its president), who also made the case in a Washington Post op-ed last week, as well as Ivo Daalder, Michele Flournoy and other former top-ranking American officials. U.S. President Barack Obama and his national security team are reported to be considering the proposal. The […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Feb. 2, 2015 (AP photo by Rolex Dela Pena).

Russia’s trade with China continues to grow despite the precipitous collapse in the value of the Russian ruble and the unprecedented Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia last year following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Indeed, China’s economic importance to Moscow has increased as Russia’s commercial relations with Europe, the United States and Japan stagnate. Yet the Russia-China economic relationship is imbalanced, with Russia sending mostly natural resources to China and importing mostly Chinese consumer goods. As a result, the two countries will find it difficult to deepen their economic cooperation much further unless it expands to encompass high-value […]

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