While details remain uncertain about who started the fighting and exactly who did what to whom, last week saw a marked escalation in rhetoric and violence between mostly Sunni Arab protesters and Iraqi government forces under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s control. Peaceful protests turned into armed camps. Dozens were killed in the most intense clashes with security forces since Iraq’s virtual civil war in 2006-2007. The Iraqi state is today much better equipped to hold its own against armed adversaries than it was six or seven years ago, when the U.S. played a crucial role in ending sectarian fighting, not […]

With the introduction of multiparty politics, and in particular with the adoption of the 1961 constitution, civil-military relations in Turkey came to be characterized by a duality of governance: a powerful military with an autonomous influence over politics alongside a weak civilian government, reduced to a virtual facade by the presence of the military. The military, and the small civilian elite that worked closely with it, basically called the final shots on major issues. Matters of high politics, such as foreign policy, national security and overall strategic vision, were managed by the military-centric “state,” while issues of low politics, such […]

Over the weekend, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was airlifted out of the country for treatment after suffering a mini-stroke. But while Bouteflika’s doctors said the damage to his health was reversible, their reassurance has not put an end to speculation about a potentially abrupt end to his presidency. “[This news] reminds everyone of Bouteflika’s already questionable health and so reinforces doubt concerning the appropriateness of his rumored candidacy in 2014 for a fourth term,” Hugh Roberts, Edward Keller professor of North African and Middle Eastern history at Tufts University, told Trend Lines in an email interview. “It also raises the […]

There was a small but striking increase in the chances of a Western intervention in Syria last week. The Obama administration not only confirmed that it is “very likely” that the Syrian military has “used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria” but also added that “the United States and international community have a number of potential responses available, and no option is off the table.” Secretary of State John Kerry privately briefed Congress on options ranging from diplomatic actions to a no-fly zone. All this has been in line with previous U.S. warnings to the Syrian government against […]

In his recommendations for the United States to become more actively involved in determining the outcome of the Syrian civil war, Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has fallen victim to one of the more seductive temptations that regularly befall American policymakers: that with enough aggressive leadership and a healthy application of technological acumen, Washington can get other actors to align themselves with and then execute U.S. policy objectives. Summed up, Corker’s policy strategy is to locate the elusive Syrian moderates who, once armed, trained and equipped by the United States, will in […]

In responding to the growing security crisis emanating from Syria, Jordan finds itself caught between the positions of the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with the U.S. insisting on restraint and gradualism in Syria and the six-member GCC pushing hard to tip the military balance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jordan’s King Abdullah must negotiate these competing forces to manage what he sees as an imminent threat in Syria. Seen from Jordan’s perspective, that threat can be explained in terms of three concentric rings of security. The first ring is the growing influx of Syrian refugees, who […]

The United Nations may be on the verge of launching a new wave of peace operations, beginning with a blue helmet force in Mali in July. Further deployments to Somalia and Syria are also on the horizon. Yet the U.N. still has a huge amount of unfinished business to complete in countries where peacekeepers are already deployed, ranging from Haiti to Liberia and Lebanon. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his advisers look for the resources for a new generation of missions, they will face pressure to cut costs and downsize existing missions — even if that means leaving some fragile […]

On Tuesday, Morocco cancelled its annual joint military exercises with the United States and other international observers just as the “African Lion” war games were set to start, according to U.S. officials. Though no formal explanation for the cancellation was given, the move follows an expression of support from the White House for broadening the mandate of the United Nations observer mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, to allow it to monitor human rights in the disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco in the 1970s. According to Human Rights Watch, “Moroccan abuses in Western Sahara particularly target Sahrawis” — residents […]

RAQQA, Syria — This dusty, nondescript provincial capital in eastern Syria has all the hallmarks of a city recently captured by rebel forces. A statue of former President Hafez Assad has been pulled down from its plinth, its lips painted red and a pair of horns fixed to its head. Nearby, houses have been reduced to rubble by government air raids, while many that remain standing are pockmarked by small-arms and heavy-weapons fire. One feature, however, sets Raqqa apart from other towns captured by Syria’s rebels: The Syrian rebellion’s traditional flag — green, white and black with three red stars, […]

The International Energy Agency, an organization comprising 28 industrialized countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) aimed among other things at preserving global energy security, is reportedly seeking to expand energy cooperation with emerging powers. In an email interview, Thijs Van de Graaf, a postdoctoral fellow at the Ghent Institute for International Studies specializing in global energy politics and international institutions, explained the IEA’s expansion drive and its likely effects. WPR: What is motivating the IEA’s push to form an “association” with emerging economies for the first time in its 40-year history? Van de Graaf: When […]

A lot has changed in the world of technology since the indigenous Zapatista movement emerged in the mid-1990s in southern Mexico to become a symbol of the fight for global justice. To modern would-be revolutionaries, the communication technologies that allowed the Zapatistas to gain global visibility — highlighted by the then-futuristic-looking pictures of Subcomandante Marcos, the movement’s leader, posing in the Chiapas jungle wrapped in electronic gear — now look obsolete and cumbersome. Communication technologies have since morphed into devices that, despite being smaller, are incomparably more powerful for broadcasting, not only because exponential growth in Internet penetration over the […]

In early April, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left Yemen for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, an example of Saudi Arabia’s deep involvement in the political transition of its southern neighbor. In an email interview, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton, explained the mechanics and the limitations of Saudi Arabia’s influence in Yemen. WPR: What are Saudi Arabia’s main levers of influence in Yemen? Bernard Haykel: Saudi Arabia has long-standing relationships with most, if not all, political, tribal and regional actors in Yemen. The principal form this relationship takes is payments offered by the Saudis […]

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently undertook a week-long visit to Japan and South Korea, highlighting NATO’s growing role in Asian security in partnership with nonmember governments. Rasmussen is convinced that NATO needs to deepen cooperation with partner states to address global security issues that can negatively impact NATO members’ security. Conversely, NATO has unique capabilities and experience in leading multinational military campaigns, as in Afghanistan and Libya, which can be applied to joint efforts among NATO and partner states to address security concerns in Asia and beyond. Since taking office in August 2009, Rasmussen has tried to induce alliance […]

Last week, Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi issued several decrees aimed at restructuring Yemen’s fractious military, including removing the son and two nephews of his predecessor, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, from the military leadership. The removed relatives of the former president were accused of using their positions of power to block reforms. Hadi replaced Saleh as Yemen’s president in 2012 after more than a year of citizen protests, and there have also been growing concerns that members of Saleh’s former regime were biding their time for an opportunity to attempt a return to power. The Associated Press […]

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The announcement this week that Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front), one of the main armed groups battling to take down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has formally announced its allegiance to al-Qaida could signal a major shift in Syria’s two-year-long civil war. It certainly complicates matters for the United States. Over the past several months, Washington has concentrated its efforts on two parallel but complementary tracks: forging a broad-based, secular-leaning, pro-Western provisional government that could take over the administration of areas where the government in Damascus has lost control; and encouraging different rebel military groups to develop a […]

The Arab-Israeli conflict has never lost its power to conjure visions of Nobel Peace prizes among world diplomats, even as it has repeatedly thwarted the efforts of even the most skilled among them. Despite the occasional success, well-intentioned plans have also backfired disastrously, triggering new waves of deadly violence. As the Obama administration launches a new push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the watchword must be, “First, do no harm.” Forging a successful peace process that brings results would obviously create tremendous benefits for the local population and for America’s strategic interests. It is undeniably a worthy goal. But […]

During a visit to Saudi Arabia in February, Japanese Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi reportedly offered cooperation on civil nuclear technology to help the kingdom boost oil exports by freeing up supplies currently used in domestic electricity generation. The offer came in the context of rising Saudi crude exports to Japan resulting from Tokyo’s post-Fukushima nuclear shutdowns as well as its declining imports from Iran. It also came at a time when the new Japanese government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking to boost civil nuclear exports to support Japan’s flagging domestic industry. Given its plans for a massive […]

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