In a region rife with seemingly unsolvable conflicts, one budding relationship is demonstrating that not all hope is lost in the Middle East: Once implacable enemies, Turkey and the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq are forging ever-closer political and economic ties, independent of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad. The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relationship is blossoming despite the failure of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “Kurdish initiative,” an effort to mend relations with Turkey’s domestic Kurdish minority, who account for some 20 percent of the Turkish population. The world’s largest ethnic group without an independent state of its own, […]

The first official visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Washington last week offers a convenient opportunity to assess the current Russian-U.S. relationship. Since assuming office, one of the priorities of U.S. President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team has been to improve ties with Russia and other foreign governments that had become alienated from the United States. Relations between Washington and Moscow became especially strained in 2007 and 2008 following the acute confrontations that arose over the planned U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia’s August 2008 War with Georgia, and other issues. Despite […]

The Gulf region ranks among the most valuable and strategically important pieces of real estate in the world because of its abundance of oil and gas resources and its location at vital geographic crossroads for the world’s security and economy. And until viable alternative energy resources emerge to sufficiently fuel the global economy, the Gulf region will continue to be one of the most strategically contested regions of the world for years to come. In large part due to this strategic importance, the Gulf has been wrought with instability for decades, plagued by both conflict between states in the region […]

Global Insider: Turkey’s Trade Relations with Arab Neighbors

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently proposed a visa-free trade zone with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In an e-mail interview, Chatham House Associate Fellow Fadi Hakura explains Turkey’s trade relations with its Arab neighbors. WPR: What is Turkey’s current state of trade with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan? Fadi Hakura: Turkey engages in $3 billion of annual trade with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan collectively, representing 10 percent of Turkey’s trade volume with the Arab world, and is slightly above its $2.5 billion of annual bilateral trade with Israel. Overall, less than one-quarter of Turkish exports are destined to Arab markets, whereas […]

In the early 18th century, King Vakhtang VI of the ancient Georgian kingdom of Karlti watched as his land was overcome with chaos and warfare. Having traded his vassalage to Persian overlords for allegiance to Peter the Great, the Georgian king was unexpectedly abandoned by his new allies and saw his kingdom brought to ruin by the onslaught of Persians, Ottomans, Afghans, and Russians. Vakhtang’s submission would eventually lead to Georgia’s total capitulation to Russian domination in the 19th century and Soviet rule in the 20th. Today, the dynamics that marked the tumult of the 18th century are no less […]

A recent headline in Britain’s Sunday Times must have sent blood pressure readings soaring on both sides of the gulf known on one side as the Persian Gulf and on the other as the Arabian Gulf: “Saudi Arabia gives Israel clear skies to attack Iranian nuclear sites.” Had Riyadh really struck a deal with the Jewish state, making it easier for Israeli jets to pound Iranian targets? The Times quoted anonymous “defense sources in the Gulf” who maintained that the kingdom had gone as far as to conduct practice drills in which its air defenses would stand down, allowing flights […]

Global Insider: Turkey’s Nuclear Ambitions

Turkey’s civil nuclear program has recently gained momentum with a signed deal with Russia to build the country’s first nuclear power plant and talks of a possible $20 billion contract with South Korea for the construction of up to four nuclear energy reactors. In an e-mail interview, Henri Barkey, professor at Lehigh University and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discusses Turkey’s nuclear ambitions. WPR: What is driving Turkey’s renewed interest in nuclear energy? Henri Barkey: There are three reasons. First, the Iran debate has highlighted how far behind Turkey is on nuclear energy, as there are […]

The EU’s Dwindling Soft Power

I explained in detail last week why I think the “Turkey turning East” meme is overblown in a dipomatic context. On the other hand, the fact that Turkish trade is turning East strikes me as a far more significant development, for Turkey, but also, if not more so, for the EU. In the absence of a credible hard power global role, the EU’s real influence comes in the form of its market’s ability to attract partners and thereby spread norms. With European growth projections looking bleak for the next few years, this trend is likely to become generalized, meaning that […]

The Bitter Irony of Turkey’s Gaza Stance

Okay, maybe hypocrisy might be a better word than irony. I mentioned in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza flotilla assault that Turkey’s credibility on Israel’s Gaza policy is undermined by its own past and present military campaign against the Kurdish PKK terrorist/militant group camped out in northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains. According to this article from Le Figaro, civilian deaths resulting from that campaign number in the several thousands, although the article (which focuses on Iran’s recent military strikes against a related Kurdish outfit) does not specify a timeframe. Now, in response to the PKK’s yearly spring/summer spike in bombings […]

Global Insider: South Korea’s Civil Nuclear Industry

South Korea’s burgeoning civil nuclear industry is gaining increasing international attention, due to a recent $20 billion construction deal with the UAE (which included an additional $20 billion operation and service contract), and potential multi-billion deals with both Turkey and India. In an e-mail interview, Mark Hibbs, senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy program, discusses South Korea’s rise to prominence in the global civil nuclear energy industry. WPR: What is South Korea’s current status in the global civil nuclear industry? Mark Hibbs: South Korea has steadily built up its nuclear power sector over the last […]

In terms of foreign policy rhetoric, the Mediterranean has always represented a “special” interest for Italy, in part due to its geographical location. But the amount of resources and commitment Rome has mobilized for its Mediterranean foreign policy has never been commensurate with its declared ambitions. In practice, Italy’s Mediterranean policy since the end of the Cold War has been a function of its bipolar domestic political system, and largely linked to the role Rome has tried to play in the other two, fundamental pillars of Italian interests: the transatlantic partnership and the process of European integration. Although far from […]

Managing Turkey’s Transition from Bridge to Hub

Since Monday morning, I’d been wanting to dash off a post to the effect that, 1) the extent of Turkey and Brazil’s diplomatic triumph in getting Iran to sign a basically meaningless text had been greatly exagerrated; and, 2) Turkey is not turning from West to East, but rather is affirming its position as a node in the global power structure. But on Monday, Walter Russel Mead did the heavy lifting on the first point. I figured that still left me the second one, but Yigal Schleifer took care of that yesterday. Both are worth reading in full, as is […]

Will the Deepwater Horizon disaster, already 2010’s best candidate for the most significant “black swan” event, have a similar, long-lasting geopolitical impact as the Three Mile Island accident 30 years ago? If that mishap had not occurred, it’s very likely that the United States would have a vastly different, and superior, position vis-à-vis energy independence today. The U.S. could have moved down a similar path to that of France, which generates most of its electricity — some 78 percent — from nuclear power plants. Some of the side benefits the French enjoy as a result include much cleaner skies, since […]

In the aftermath of its disastrous raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla that tried to break the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, Israel has come under intense pressure to lift the embargo of the Hamas-run territory. The decision of how to handle Gaza under Hamas rule is an extraordinarily complicated one for many political, strategic and humanitarian reasons. In fact, there is one aspect of the embargo that many of its presumably peace-loving opponents fail to note: Ending the blockade of Gaza could kill the chances for peace. There is a reason why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas […]

The Tragic Logic of Israel

It’s easy to exagerrate the extent of Israel’s diplomatic isolation, and you can count on that to happen every time an incident like the Gaza flotilla occurs. But what is indisputable is that since at least the Lebanon War of 2006, the Israeli strategic braintrust has prioritized maintaining absolute liberty of action over massaging international opinion. The reason has to do with the logic upon which the state of Israel is based, namely that the Jewish people needed a state of its own because it could not count on the community of nations to protect it. In other words, the […]

The new Iran sanctions resolution cleared the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday by a vote of 12-2, with all five permanent members voting in favor. Does its passage represent a “diplomatic victory” for the Obama administration, as some have claimed? Or have the measures been so “watered down,” as others argue, that they are not likely to be effective in changing Iran’s course of action? And how significant is Russia’s apparent change of heart, ultimately supporting a fourth round of sanctions that it initially opposed? To answer those questions, the vote at Turtle Bay needs to be put into a […]

Global Insider: Iraq-Kuwait Relations

In late-May, Iraq sent its first ambassador to Kuwait since the outbreak of the First Gulf War. In an e-mail interview, Ahmed Ali, a research associate at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discusses the historical context and current state of Iraq-Kuwait relations. WPR: What are some of the unresolved issues in Iraq-Kuwait relations? Ahmed Ali: There are two sets of unresolved issues between Iraq and Kuwait — tangible and intangible. They are closely related and are sources of continuous friction between the two countries. Additionally, they have the ability to feed off of each other and as a […]

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