Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units near the entrance to the town of Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Jake Simkin).

For the past century, the United States has had a complex, shifting relationship with dictators. On one hand, America’s liberal instincts convinced the public and its elected representatives that democracy was the only stable form of government over the long run. But after the U.S. became a global superpower following World War II, this was counterbalanced by a conservative quest for order, stability and a carefully modulated pace of change. These two sides of the American strategic psyche were often in conflict when it came to dealing with dictators around the world. As decolonization blended with rising Soviet power during […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

For years, many Western and even Russian analysts expected that a resolution of Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West would weaken ties between Tehran and Moscow. However, in the months since July’s nuclear deal, relations between Iran and Russia have strengthened, while Tehran’s ties with the West have stagnated. The Syrian war, as well as skillful Russian diplomacy, have short-circuited, at least for now, any anticipated Iranian geopolitical reversal after the nuclear deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran in late November, the first visit by a Russian president since 2007, was the latest indication of healthy ties. Although […]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015 (AP/Pool photo by Carlos Barria).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein and host Peter Dörrie discuss the major trends that shaped 2015, a year marked by the re-emergence of borders and national approaches to transnational problems. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Trend Lines is produced, edited and hosted by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focussing on security and resource politics in Africa. He can be followed on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

Yemenis condemning airstrikes by the the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Keeping weapons out of the wrong hands is good policy. In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, heightened attention has been paid to the illegal black-market networks that often arm terror groups and stoke conflict around the world. But the international community is not helpless to prevent this uncontrolled arms trade. A year ago on Christmas Eve, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) entered into force, with 130 countries signing on and, at the time, 61 of them ratifying it. One year later, 76 states are party to the treaty. The ATT is the only global, legally binding […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Mandel Ngan).

International conflict management is not necessarily a rewarding occupation for people who have neat and orderly minds. Well-made plans tend to fall apart in fast-moving crises. As I noted in a chapter in a book on the Security Council published earlier this year, the recent history of United Nations peace operations is basically a story of “one damn thing after another.” U.N. forces have repeatedly been caught off-guard by upsurges in violence and entangled in intractable struggles that they can help mitigate but cannot resolve. This is not only true for the blue helmets. In the United States, analysts once […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting at his palace, Ankara, Turkey, Dec. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Yasin Bulbul, Presidential Press Service).

More than five years have passed since relations between longtime friends Israel and Turkey unraveled. During that time, diplomats and politicians have made countless efforts to revive what was once a deep and productive bond. U.S. President Barack Obama even interceded personally at one point, a move that seemed to have succeeded in breaking the impasse. That was in 2013, at the end of Obama’s trip to Israel, when he nudged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Erdogan to take the call, in an effort to get the leaders of the two countries […]

An activist at a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, Dec. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Thibault Camus).

Looking back on the past year, it would seem from merely scanning the headlines that the world is becoming a deadlier, more violent place. The year began with a series of bloody massacres by the Nigerian terrorist/insurgent group Boko Haram, which has become the deadliest such group in the world. Next came the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks in Paris, after which the violence seemingly continued without pause. The Sanaa mosque bombing in Yemen killed 142 people; the al-Shabaab attack on a university in Kenya took another 147 lives; the massacre perpetrated by the self-declared Islamic State in Kobani, […]

Tribal fighters prepare to take their positions during fighting with the Houthis, Taiz, Yemen, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Abdulnasser Alseddik).

Five days of peace talks in Switzerland between Yemen’s warring parties wrapped up Sunday with no breakthroughs, making it increasingly clear that the Arab world’s poorest country is teetering on the brink of semi-permanent chaos. With the deeply polarizing civil war rumbling on, the local branches of both al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State are gaining territory and influence. The war has seen the country fragment, with divisive sectarian rhetoric, hitherto minimal in Yemen, playing an increasingly prominent role. As the Houthis—Zaydi Shiites from the northwest—have advanced in the south and east of the country, areas where the population is […]

Representatives at the meeting of the International Syria Support Group, New York, Dec. 18, 2015 (U.N. photo by Cia Pak).

The United Nations should be pleased by recent progress in three of its hardest conflict-resolution efforts. It’s not yet time for a victory lap in Yemen, Syria and Libya: All three conflicts continue to rage on the ground, and the prospect of international peacekeepers enforcing a negotiated settlement remains distant at best. But peacekeeping is always the final stage of a lengthy diplomatic process, and some deeper appreciation for the work of the U.N.’s high-level diplomats in defining a process for resolving the three conflicts, among the world’s nastiest, is warranted. In quick succession in the final weeks of the […]

Nigerien peacekeepers from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Menaka, Mali, Dec. 3, 2015 (U.N. photo by Marco Dormino).

People who write about international politics inevitably make a lot of incorrect predictions. It is sometimes useful to look back and ask why our prognostications were wrong. At the start of this year, I asked, “Where will international stabilization forces intervene in 2015?” My best guesses were Ukraine, Nigeria, Libya and Syria. There has been much talk about deploying peacekeepers to these war zones over the ensuing 12 months, but markedly less action. In retrospect, it seems clear that governments and international organizations have taken a cautious approach to mounting new missions in high-risk environments in 2015. But there are […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during a ceremony, Doha, Qatar, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP/Presidential Press Service photo by Yasin Bulbul).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Qatar two weeks ago was his second to the tiny oil- and gas-rich Arab state since he was elected Turkey’s president last year. The visit was significant because it inaugurated the first High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting between the two countries, a mechanism created last year to deepen bilateral cooperation in strategic sectors. During Erdogan’s visit, 16 separate agreements were signed for everything from education and maritime affairs to travel and energy. Some of the agreements—such as cooperation on archives, credential recognition in the maritime industry and public finance management—were technical in nature. Others, such […]

An Emirati soldier watches for enemy fire from the rear of a UAE Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen, Sept. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Adam Schreck).

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—The encouraging news that a seven-day cease-fire took effect in Yemen today as peace talks to end the country’s civil war got underway in Switzerland will bring relief to Yemenis, but also to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the country’s president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, has had mixed results at best. And a prolonged military engagement there would not enhance regional security, while making it harder to coordinate policies on Syria. But the Gulf states hold diverse views about how to move forward on the other acute problems in the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at a news conference at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, Dec. 1, 2015 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

Critics no longer stop at questioning or attacking the Obama administration’s strategy in dealing with the so-called Islamic State. As Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, bluntly claimed last month, “We don’t have a strategy.” Even Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Tim Kane have joined in, saying, “I don’t think the administration has done a good job of laying out a clear strategy.” Yet President Barack Obama insists that his administration has an effective strategy based on four components: airstrikes against Islamic State targets; support to Iraqi security forces and Iraqi militias fighting the […]

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and Algerian Speaker of the Senate Abdelkader Bensalah, Algiers, Algeria, March 22, 2015 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

In recent years, Algeria has focused more of its foreign policy on its immediate neighborhood, both in North Africa and farther south in the Sahel. Its busy foreign minister, Ramtane Lamamra, has been active in mediation efforts in Mali, Libya and Tunisia, earning plaudits from Western partners. Some officials and observers have seized on this foreign policy outreach as a purported “awakening” of Algerian diplomacy in Africa, a revitalization of the country’s historically strong role in continental affairs. Lamamra himself highlighted Algeria’s important regional efforts in an interview in October with the French daily Le Monde. But has Algeria’s Africa […]

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz at a news conference, Washington, Dec. 8, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Everyone it seems has a strategy for defeating the self-declared Islamic State. But the ones proposed by two of the Republican candidates for president truly stand out. Sen. Ted Cruz said last week that the United States should “carpet-bomb [the Islamic State] into oblivion.” He added, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” Donald Trump has a similar plan. Though he recently replied, when asked how he would deal with the group, that he would “leave [that] to your imagination,” he has talked previously about “bombing the [crap]” out of the […]

A Palestinian boy in front of an Israeli housing development, East Jerusalem, Sept. 21, 2009 (AP photo by Bernat Armangue).

Last week, the Israeli national security agency Shin Bet announced a series of arrests of extremist Israeli settlers suspected in the July arson attack that killed a Palestinian family of three in the West Bank village of Duma. The grisly incident, in which radicals from illegal Israeli settlements set a home on fire, leaving an 18-month-old boy to burn to death, brought settler violence to the fore. Although the Duma attack renewed concerns over settlement expansion and the violence it brings, such episodes are not new. As far back as 2008, settlers coined the term “price tag” to describe acts […]

Iranian navy troops march in a parade marking National Army Day outside Tehran, Iran, April 18, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

In the years leading up to the Iran nuclear deal, Iran and China found their interests at times aligning and at others diverging. Since the late 1990s, China had reduced its defense ties with Iran under U.S. pressure. At the same time, espousing a discourse of peace and cooperation, Beijing did not want the West to go to war with Iran. Moreover, Tehran’s perseverance in the face of Western efforts to isolate Iran was a counterbalancing force against U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, which suited China’s strategic interests. However, the conflict with Iran over its nuclear program also indirectly […]

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