On March 15, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Obama administration would shift tactics on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Specifically, the U.S. will shift its focus from overseas, regional ballistic missile defense toward greater protection of the homeland. However, while the political symbolism of this switch may be positive, the strategic and military consequences may well be counterproductive. As a result, the move looks more like short-term politicking than a new approach to strategic thinking. To some observers, Hagel’s announcement was a significant and welcome change in policy. Under the new plan, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency […]

While American policymakers are fond of repeating the mantra that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program, the president publicly took one option off the table during his recent visit to Israel: Speaking to college students, Barack Obama reiterated, “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” If the Obama administration has indeed definitively rejected containment as an option, the United States will not develop contingencies for if and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. That means Washington is now committed to […]

Experts in national security law watched with interest when France intervened militarily against Islamic extremists in Mali earlier this year. Would France detain individuals that it and Malian forces had seized and, if so, how would it treat them? Would it follow the lead of the United States by holding the prisoners as enemy combatants? If not, how would France, or its Malian partners, treat those captured during the fighting? France has thus far shown no desire to employ a Guantanamo-style solution. But it remains unclear whether prisoners will be prosecuted under Malian criminal law or handled in some other […]

Last Friday, as the extraordinary session of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly stretched well into the night, Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS Roy Chaderton announced that the balance of power in the hemisphere had shifted. “We’re in rebellion against this corrupt and pusillanimous system,” he said, referring to the Inter-American human rights system, whose fate was — and remains — under discussion. “Spring,” Chaderton declared, “is coming to the OAS.” The rebellion Chaderton referred to has been underway for some time, with Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia pushing for reforms to a human rights system that they […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

This weekend’s visit by Xi Jinping to Moscow, his first trip abroad as China’s new president, resulted in no revolutionary agreements. The biggest “deliverable” to emerge from the summit — the major oil deal the two sides signed — was overshadowed by their continued failure to agree on a price for Chinese purchases of Russian natural gas. Yet expectations were low for the summit, so the lack of headline agreements came as little surprise. More surprising, however, was the extent to which Xi aligned Beijing’s foreign policy views with those of Russia in his public statements while in Moscow — […]

On March 26, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will gather in Durban, South Africa, for the BRICS grouping’s fifth summit. This collection of non-Western powers has cast itself as a new force in world affairs and a potential alternative to the global order that America and its European and Asian allies have traditionally supported. In reality, though, BRICS is less than the sum of its parts, and the real danger to today’s international order lies elsewhere. The BRICS summit has an unusual origin story. The group’s membership reflects an acronym coined by Goldman Sachs economist […]

During Mexico’s 2012 presidential election, opponents of then-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto warned that the young governor’s election would spell the return of the old-guard cronyism of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Yet as president, Peña Nieto has taken nearly the opposite course, assembling a cabinet of young PRI technocrats and members of rival parties. And in recent weeks he has mustered his centrist government into mounting an assault against Mexico’s entrenched monopolies. In February, Peña Nieto signed into law a bill to give the state more control over the hiring and firing of teachers. Days later, Elba Esther Gordillo, the […]

From the moment the White House announced that President Barack Obama would travel to Israel, the administration undertook a systematic effort to lower expectations, calling the trip a “listening mission.” On that count, the president’s trip succeeded before it started. Practically no one expects the Obama visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan to achieve any kind of a historic triumph. Given the deliberately minimized ambitions of the trip, how will we know if this much-anticipated tour was worth the president’s time? How can we judge if it truly was a failure or a success? The idea of nipping […]

Orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes from nearly 250 miles up, the International Space Station (ISS) is as much a political achievement as a technological one. The ISS represents the largest peaceful cooperative program human beings have ever conceived and implemented, and it is the most politically complex space program since the space age began in 1957. Led by the United States, the ISS program started in 1982, with assembly in space beginning in 1998 and the last planned module scheduled for launch this year. The program’s international partners — space agencies in the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan […]

The Higgs boson has captured the imagination of the public, worldwide. Why? The answer is fundamental to the human race, a feature that sets humans apart from other living species: our curiosity and desire to understand the world we live in. Some of this knowledge is self-serving — for example, how to cope with diseases or improve our ways of life. But human curiosity goes well beyond just satisfying those practical needs and desires. Whether it be the origin of the universe or the inner dynamics of microscopic particles, we simply want to understand how things work. Basic research, sometimes […]

The Obama administration’s decision to adapt U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in response to the threat posed by North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear programs provides an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to set aside the protracted, debilitating, but unnecessary dispute with the United States and its NATO allies over missile defense. On Friday, the administration announced that it would deploy an additional 14 interceptor missiles in Alaska to address North Korea’s recently demonstrated capabilities to launch a long-range missile as far as North America and Pyongyang’s refusal to cease testing nuclear weapons. The administration also decided to […]

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Tension is rapidly accelerating in Antarctic affairs on a range of issues, all of them relating to sovereignty and resources. The tensions include disputes over proposals for new marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean; renewed friction between the U.K. and Argentina over their overlapping claims in Antarctica; significant numbers of countries expressing an interest in exploring Antarctic minerals, despite a ban on mineral extraction; increasing numbers of states trying to expand their Antarctic presence, signaling both heightened interests and insecurities over Antarctica’s current governance structure; and escalating conflict between anti-whaling groups and the Japanese government over whaling in the […]

Honduras is the homicide capital of the world (.pdf). This is due in part to widespread and growing gang violence, but recently there have been reports that Honduran police themselves are organizing death squads. “Organized crime linked to drug trafficking is rampant, and it would appear that the Honduran police and judiciary are not just ineffective in addressing the problem, they are actually making it worse,” Alexander Main, senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told Trend Lines in an email interview. Recent reports show the Honduran police operating “more like assassins than law […]

Mexican drug cartels have made inroads in Guatemala, a fact highlighted last month by initial reports, ultimately false, that one of Mexico’s most wanted drug traffickers had been killed there. In an email interview, Christine Zaino, program associate in the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, and Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program, discussed Guatemala’s role in the drug trade and recent security reforms. WPR: How has Guatemala’s security situation changed since Otto Pérez Molina became president? Christine Zaino and Cynthia Arnson: Pérez Molina’s first year as president has shown mixed results; the country continues to struggle […]

Perhaps it is time to start taking Hamid Karzai at his word. Every time the Afghan president criticizes the United States or constrains the operations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials deploy the gamut of explanations to downplay his behavior. These have ranged from the tactical (he’s trying to build up his nationalist credentials among the populace), to the pharmacological (he’s “off his meds”). Karzai’s latest bombshell, delivered during Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Afghanistan as the new U.S. secretary of defense, was to suggest that the United States is colluding with the Taliban in attacks throughout the country […]

On March 8, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain appointed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to serve as deputy prime minister, a move that was widely lauded as injecting new momentum into the national dialogue process between the ruling monarchy and the opposition and sending a positive signal to a long-disheartened opposition. So far the national dialogue has moved forward with high hopes, but much of the discussion has centered on its scope, participation and logistics. The real test of success will be whether the process can resolve the crucial issues of an empowered parliament, electoral gerrymandering and […]

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