The protests in Ukraine and Venezuela and the unveiling this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Obama administration’s budget request to Congress would appear to be separate and unrelated events. Yet they are linked by the challenge those developments pose to the strategic assumptions that serve as the foundation of the fiscal year 2015 U.S. defense budget. The United States can no longer afford a strategy that hedges against all possible risks. The fiscal crunch, combined with the need to divert an ever-growing portion of the defense budget to personnel, health and pension costs and away from procurement—particularly […]

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez once tried to insult his country’s next-door neighbor Colombia by calling it the “Israel of Latin America.” But the Colombian president said he found the comparison an honor. “I admire the Israelis,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, characterizing the misfired epithet as a “compliment.” Santos made his comments last summer, when he had traveled to Israel to sign a bilateral free trade agreement. The visit, as one might expect, brought a flurry of mutually admiring remarks among the countries’ leaders. But what might have seemed as a one-off burst of flattery has continued to […]

Last November, the United States suspended aid and arms transfers to Egypt in reaction to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In contrast, earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, praising the “unconditional friendship” between Egypt and Russia countries and reportedly working to negotiate a $2 billion arms deal. Although American officials express a continued commitment to the U.S. partnership with Egypt—and the United States is likely to remain Egypt’s top arms supplier—leaders on both sides of the relationship are wondering where it’s heading. The confusion was heightened this week when the interim Egyptian […]

On Feb. 16, the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of Syria’s Western-backed rebel grouping, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), expelled its chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idris. Idris, who had long been seen as ineffective, was replaced by Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, a Syrian army defector and head of the FSA’s Quneitra military council. His deputy is to be Col. Heitham Afeisi, co-founder and deputy commander of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, a large FSA outfit mainly active in the northwest. The move capped a difficult six months for Syria’s rebels. Plagued by divisions and infighting, as well as indecision among their […]

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent proposal for a NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Palestine is not a novel idea. Similar proposals were floated by both the Clinton and Bush administrations as well as in NATO’s 2010 “Albright report.” But Abbas’ plan, which calls for NATO troops to be indefinitely deployed to protect the West Bank and Gaza as well as checkpoints within East Jerusalem, is worth considering. There are several reasons why NATO should take the idea seriously. First, and most obviously, NATO could make a significant contribution toward facilitating peace between Israel and Palestine. Without doubt, NATO would offer […]

Three months after Iran reached an interim agreement with the U.S. and its negotiating partners in the P5+1 to limit Iranian nuclear capabilities, the two sides announced last week that they had agreed upon a framework for negotiation of a final comprehensive agreement. In remarks in Jerusalem following the announcement, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said that these negotiations, scheduled to begin March 17, will be “very tough” and “will go on through July.” At the same time, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessed that, in the agency’s judgment, Iran is complying […]

Will the Ukrainian revolution help or harm the Syrian rebellion? The two uprisings currently appear to be on very different trajectories. It is three years since Syrian citizens began protests against President Bashar Assad, precipitating the cycle of violence that would lead to civil war, yet he maintains a brutally tenacious hold on power. By contrast, Assad’s Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from the capital, Kiev, last week after just three months of demonstrations culminating in a sudden spike in violence. Assad may view Yanukovych’s humiliation as proof of the need for utter ruthlessness against his opponents. But the […]

This year started on a particularly pessimistic note in Cyprus. In December 2013, the latest attempt by the United Nations to bring the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders back to the negotiating table had foundered. The two sides had been unable to reach an agreement on the wording of a joint statement that would have laid down the parameters for a renewed attempt to reunify the island. At the core of the dispute was a disagreement on the nature of sovereignty in any settlement. While the two sides have long agreed that any solution would see the creation of […]

Speaking to a crowd in Tel Aviv last month, former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror emphasized a common Israeli concern about future conflicts. “Whatever will be the scenario,” he said, Israel “will have to deal with many missiles and rockets.” But, he added, Israel now faces “a new scenario” because “the numbers now are so different.” He pointed especially to Hezbollah’s arsenal, estimated by some senior Israeli officials at 100,000 projectiles. Israel has therefore been building up its layered active defense systems, and last week an Israeli firm unveiled the newest layer at the Singapore Air Show: the laser-based […]

Earlier this month, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi announced on state television that the country would be partitioned into six regions and renamed the Federal Republic of Yemen. The move came at the end of Yemen’s 10-month National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a process that was intended to help overcome ongoing tensions and grievances in the aftermath of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forced resignation in November 2011. Saleh left office after 33 years in power, the first 12 in North Yemen and the last 21 in the combined North and South. He was finally pushed out after anti-government protests […]

That Russia and NATO are developing plans to conduct a rare joint maritime show of force to reaffirm their commitment to the Syrian chemical weapons elimination process is a good development. According to Reuters, Russian and U.S. warships will jointly escort a U.S. vessel, the USS Cape Ray, which has been re-equipped to destroy Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons. Russian and NATO experts are currently developing a unified command structure, possible rules of engagement and other details within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, the most important alliance structure linking the parties. The escort mission would be largely symbolic since […]

The Iranian revolution of 1979 that overthrew the last ruler of the Pahlavi dynasty was one of the largest mass movements of the 20th century. This massive “participation explosion,” however, did not culminate in the creation of a democracy. The Islamic Republic that replaced the absolute monarchy was an authoritarian populist theocracy that began to consolidate its power very rapidly in the aftermath of the revolution, liquidating all the major opposition to its monopolization of political power. With the revolution having run its course, the political behavior of the Islamic Republic vacillates between pragmatism and revolutionary idealism, maintaining ideological adherence […]

In the past few months, as the prospects have emerged for an agreement between Iran and U.S.-led world powers on Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia and nuclear-armed Pakistan have made high-profile moves to strengthen their links in what is most likely not a mere coincidence of timing. Recent developments bring to mind repeated warnings over the years from top Saudi officials, like that of King Abdullah who in 2009 told a U.S. envoy, “If Iran gets nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” Saudi Arabia is content to let the world know it is exploring its options. The important question […]

Since the early 2000s, Algerian politics have been generally understood as a behind-the-scenes struggle between, on one hand, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his regional and administrative allies and, on the other, the military intelligence service chief, Mohammed “Tewfik” Mediene. Over the past several months, however, Algeria’s deep politics have risen to the surface, exposing the main fault lines between the country’s most powerful political camps. With the April presidential election approaching, Algeria’s elite appears locked in dispute at the highest levels. Proponents of a fourth term for the aging and ailing Bouteflika are charging ahead, while his institutional rivals are […]

There are two points of approximate consensus regarding the U.S. government’s Syria strategy. First, the U.S. should not send American troops to become directly involved in the fighting. All across the political spectrum in the U.S., among hawks and doves, the national sentiment strongly opposes sending U.S. forces to fight on the ground in Syrian battlefields. America is tired of sending its soldiers to die in Middle Eastern conflicts. The boots-on-the-ground option is off the table barring a dramatic development. The second point of growing agreement is that the Obama administration’s current approach to the Syrian conflict is a failure. […]

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tehran last week, his Iranian hosts made no mention of the domestic troubles facing him back home. That contrasts sharply with the kinds of criticism the notoriously touchy Erdogan regularly hears these days when traveling in the West. In particular, the problems facing Erdogan’s AKP government are placing a major burden on Turkey-U.S. relations. His authoritarian tendencies and proclivity to blame everyone, including Washington, for his domestic challenges have become increasingly difficult for the administration of President Barack Obama to ignore, despite the warm personal relationship between the two leaders. These challenges […]

The autonomous districts recently declared by many of Syria’s Kurds—who with some 2.2 million persons make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population—have potentially important implications for the deadlocked Syrian civil war that has been raging for almost three years. This struggle has increasingly drawn in the United States and Russia, as well as various regional parties, such as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, among others. In addition, Syria itself has degenerated into a Hobbesian war of all against all as the various opposition factions—increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadists from abroad—have begun fighting among themselves as well as […]