Syrian rebels from the “Al-Qasas Brigade” or “Justice Brigade” run through an olive grove to avoid Syrian Army snipers, Oct. 20, 2012 (photo by Flickr user syriafreedom licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to counter the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has three central components: pressuring the Iraqi government to change its policies that fuel support for IS and to rebuild its military; conducting U.S. airstrikes to weaken IS and prevent it from gaining an outright military victory; and training and equipping militias to fight IS on the ground, including Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syrian rebels. All of these components are shaky to one extent or another, but the third is the most precarious of all, reflecting the Obama administration’s desperate effort to balance […]

South Korea’s Yonggwang Nuclear Power Plant, Feb. 25, 2013 (photo by Flickr user Korea Yonggwang NPP, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Dropping oil prices and alternative sources have resulted in dramatic changes for the global energy sector. As new players and relationships emerge, traditional powers, particularly Russia, still wield energy as a geostrategic weapon. This report covers the politics of energy over the past year. As Oil Prices Drop, Some Seek Hidden Hands Behind Market ForcesBy Frida GhitisOct. 23, 2014 Europe EU Seeks Energy Security Solutions to Russian Gas ChallengeBy Richard WeitzJune 3, 2014 Russia’s Energy Ambitions Explain Putin’s Zigzags on UkraineBy Nikolas GvosdevJune 27, 2014 Russia’s Energy Leverage Over Europe, Ukraine Considerably DiminishedBy Keith SmithMarch 4, 2014 Turkey Positions Itself […]

Women in a field, Almolonga, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Sept. 12, 2006 (photo by Flickr user erik2481 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

While poverty and violence have pushed thousands of Central Americans to take the long and dangerous trek to the United States, the embattled region now faces another challenge: Droughts and torrential rains have all but ruined the harvests of hundreds of thousands of impoverished farmers in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. And even though climate extremes were exacerbated in recent years by temporary weather phenomena, ill-prepared governments and climate change have put food security in the region permanently at risk. This summer, the most severe drought in over four decades hit the so-called Dry Corridor, a subtropical highland area […]

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the U.N., United Nations, New York, Sept. 19, 2014 (U.N. photo by Amanda Voisard).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Vladimir Putin and Samantha Power both grumbled about the state of the international system last week. It is hard to know who is the more displeased. The Russian president told foreign dignitaries that American policy toward the United Nations and international law threatened to make the whole system “worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.” But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., embarking on a tour of the Ebola-ridden countries of West Africa, targeted other states for not fulfilling promises to fight the disease. Too many […]

U.S., Australian and Chinese service members disembark from an Australian Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter at a remote landing zone in Northern Territory, Australia, Oct. 12, 2014 (DoD photo by Cpl. Jake Sims, Australian Defense Force).

Earlier this month, Australian, U.S. and Chinese troops took part in a survival training exercise in northern Australia. In an email interview, Benjamin Schreer, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, discussed Australia’s military and strategic partnerships. WPR: What is the extent of Australia’s military engagement, in terms of joint exercises and dialogue, with China? Benjamin Schreer: In recent years, Australia’s military engagement with China has gradually increased. In 2012 both countries agreed on a “strategic partnership,” which included a commitment for an annual high-level dialogue. In September, the second Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue was held in Sydney. […]

A woman marches with leaflets with the images of missing students attached to her body, during a protest against the disappearance of 43 students from the Isidro Burgos rural teachers college, in Mexico City, Oct. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).

Just over a year ago, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto celebrated the first victory of his lauded “Pact for Mexico” coalition after the country’s Senate passed an education reform bill aimed at wresting control of the education system from Mexico’s most powerful union. In subsequent months, he and his team passed a series of other reforms in telecommunications and energy, promising to kick-start a new era of investment and economic growth. This past August, after signing into law the secondary legislation implementing energy reform, Pena Nieto penned an op-ed in the Financial Times declaring that “Mexico’s reform agenda is now […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24, 2014 (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz).

The first so-called 2+2 meeting of the U.S. and South Korean foreign and defense ministers since Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s president took place last week in Washington. At the meeting, the two sides reaffirmed their global partnership and also made progress in walking back a commitment to transfer wartime command from U.S. to South Korean forces by the end of next year. However, South Korea and the United States have yet to overcome their differences regarding missile defense and how to counter North Korea’s new missile capabilities. After years of tense talks on the issue between the two countries, […]

President Barack Obama walks over to greet people after arriving in the snow at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H., March 1, 2012 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Nikolas Gvosdev’s column will appear Monday. How three presidents—Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin—and one institution—the European Union—grapple with and navigate the political challenges they will face this winter will have a profound impact in shaping global politics in the years to come. The decisions that are taken, or deferred, will determine whether current assumptions about the international order are reconfirmed or discarded. Those assumptions include the belief that most countries, including the rising and resurgent powers, still prioritize their relationships with Washington over bonding together […]

President Ronald Reagan with Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Ed Meese and Don Regan, Nov. 25, 1986 (White House photo from the Ronald Reagan Library).

In the early 1980s, U.S. military strategy had lost its bearings. Rocked by a decade of bloody, expensive and divisive counterinsurgency in Vietnam, Americans could not agree on how to use their military in a way that would both promote the national interest and reflect national values. Under the Reagan administration, the U.S. began to shake off this malaise. In a 1984 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s secretary of defense, suggested a set of tests or principles to guide the use of the American military: vital national interests must be at stake; the U.S. […]

Oil pumps work at sunset in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, Oct. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

Oil occupies a special place in the world of international trade and in the public lore. No other commodity carries the political, strategic and tactical power of petroleum. Since it became the world’s primary fuel less than two centuries ago, oil has played a major role in shaping world events, triggering trade embargoes and colonial wars, making and breaking political alliances and always offering a justification, real or imagined, for international conflicts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the recent precipitous drop in global oil prices has generated a flurry of conspiracy theories. Speculation about “the real cause” behind the current […]

President Barack Obama arrives to vote early in the midterm elections, Oct. 20, 2014, Chicago, Ill. (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Traditionally, U.S. midterm elections have been referenda on how a president has managed domestic affairs, a vote of confidence or rejection of his various policy choices. International events, however, can emerge as issues in the campaign to the extent that they indicate whether the country is moving in the right or the wrong direction. In 2006, for instance, the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the Iraq War became a factor in the recapture of both houses of Congress by the Democrats because it was put forth alongside domestic disasters—such as the handling of Hurricane Katrina—as part of an effective campaign slogan […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gives a press conference at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

With crude oil prices down 25 percent since June and holding at roughly $86 a barrel on Tuesday, Venezuela is getting nervous. Lower prices will put greater strain on Venezuela’s oil-reliant economy as its government struggles with growing macroeconomic imbalances. Yet even with all the problems that reduced oil prices create for his administration, President Nicolas Maduro is doubling down on his current policies. By stalling in the hopes of a bailout in the form of higher oil prices or Chinese credit, instead of attempting politically unpopular restructuring, Maduro is ignoring cracks in his political and economic program. Booming commodity […]

Aecio Neves, Brazilian Social Democracy Party presidential candidate, greets supporters while campaigning at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Felipe Dana).

A wild Brazilian presidential campaign is nearing an end, its zigzagging story lines returning to where they began: with the incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff, ahead. After the death of Socialist Party candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash in August, the emergence of his running mate Marina Silva as the new Socialist candidate briefly upended the race, and had many expecting a runoff between two female candidates—a first-ever in Brazil. But that never happened. Instead, Silva came in a distant third behind Rousseff’s center-right challenger, Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, who now trails Rousseff by just a […]

Members of the U.N. investigation team take samples from the ground to test for chemicals in the Damascus countryside of Zamalka, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013 (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen).

A series of recent media reports have refocused attention on chemical weapons and highlighted the threat presented by their possible use by terrorists. Stories about the so-called Islamic State (IS) seizing the remains of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons stockpile in Iraq; the large number of abandoned chemical weapons that U.S soldiers discovered during the post-Saddam occupation of Iraq; and the continued cases of chemicals being used as weapons of war in Syria have all generated concern and alarm. But they also highlight the ways in which the international chemical weapons regime must be updated to reflect the current nature of […]

Supporters of presidential candidate Tabare Vazquez during a rally in Montevideo, Uruguay, Oct. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Matilde Campodonico).

Oct. 26 is a big day for South American democracy. Most observers will be focused on the runoff in Brazil between the incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff, the candidate of the left-center Workers Party that has been in office since 2002, and her center-right challenger, Aecio Neves, in an election battle over who offers the better path toward securing and expanding the economic gains of the middle class. But a similar electoral scenario is playing out next door in Uruguay, where former President Tabare Vazquez of the leftish Broad Front is hoping to return to office, succeeding outgoing President Jose “Pepe” […]

Two UH-60 Blackhawks assigned to U.S. Army Europe’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade on approach to pick up soldiers during a mission rehearsal exercise (Photo by SPC. Glenn M. Anderson).

Since the U.S. Army left Iraq and began withdrawing from Afghanistan, it has struggled mightily to reinvent itself and convince Congress and administration policymakers to preserve much of its force structure. This has been an uphill battle. For many Americans, the Army has become synonymous with counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the U.S. doesn’t expect to fight a major land war with another nation, it was easy—if incorrect—to conclude that it no longer needs a large Army. This forced military leaders and national security experts who believe in the enduring importance of land power to appeal for preserving Army […]

Chinese workers walk past the No.1 reactor at the Ningde Nuclear Power Plant in Ningde city, Fujian province, China, April 18, 2013 (Imaginechina via AP Images).

As it enters middle age, the nuclear energy industry is facing a question common at this stage of life: Does it still have exciting possibilities for growth, or are its best days behind it? Optimists who see nuclear energy as an appealing low-carbon option for combating climate change praise its stability and reliability over decades of operating experience, as well as the cheapness and reliability of uranium fuel supplies. Organizations like the International Energy Agency foresee substantial increases in nuclear-generated electricity over the next few decades, with the number of nuclear plants worldwide—currently at roughly 400—perhaps doubling or tripling. Yet, […]

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