Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens as President Barack Obama talks about Hagel’s resignation during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel apparently drew the short straw and emerged as the first sacrificial victim dispatched by President Barack Obama in response to his party’s dismal midterm election results, which will cost the Democrats control of the Senate. Beyond that, however, it is clear that the focus of U.S. national security has shifted dramatically over the past two years. Hagel was selected to preside over the American disengagement from the Middle East, to usher through a series of lean budgetary years for the Pentagon and to lay the foundations for the eventual rebalance of American strategic priorities […]

Protesters hold up posters that read in Spanish “Pena Out!” during a march to pressure the government into finding 43 missing college students, Mexico City, Nov. 20, 2014 (AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell).

Autumn has been a difficult season for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Public furor has erupted into sustained and sometimes violent protests over the disappearance of 43 students in the rural southwestern state of Guerrero. Long one of Mexico’s poorest, most crime-ridden and isolated states, Guerrero had not been a priority for Pena Nieto’s administration, which has focused tirelessly on promoting the image of a modern and efficient Mexico to foreign investors. But as Guerrero’s longstanding economic and security problems became headline news across the world in the past month, that crafted image of a Mexico open for business after […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to Mali President Boubacar Keita on the sidelines of the U.N. Chief Executives Board meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2014 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

Does it matter who runs the United Nations? There was a frisson of excitement at U.N. headquarters at the start of this month when a consortium of advocacy groups launched a campaign to overturn the “outdated and opaque” process for selecting the secretary-general. But at a time when increasing global divisions threaten to reduce the U.N. secretariat’s ability to improve international cooperation, there are questions about how much impact the post can really have. The current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, steps down at the end of 2016. As I have previously argued, Ban took far too long to find his feet […]

Demonstrators demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff over an alleged scheme of corruption that siphoned money from the state-owned oil company Petrobras, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 15, 2014 (AP photo).

Earlier this month, while Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rubbed shoulders with other global leaders at the G-20 summit in Australia, her justice minister, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, announced the arrest back in Brazil of 15 people for arranging kickbacks on contracts from state-owned oil company Petrobras. Shortly after hearing the news, two more executives from a major Sao Paulo construction company turned themselves in to police. The second round of the corruption investigation known as Operation Carwash was underway, and by Nov. 16, 23 people would be arrested, including Renato Duque, former head of services at Petrobras. As word of the […]

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

This week, military planners from more than 30 countries are gathered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to plot their approach against the so-called Islamic State (IS). On the other side of the world, IS is probably mulling its strategy as well. It is easy to imagine how different the two sessions must be, yet the two groups do have one thing in common: Both know that if their strategies are to work, they must first try to get inside the mind of their enemy. Anticipating what the enemy will do—what security experts call “red teaming”—is never easy, […]

FARC Commander Pastor Alape talks to the press in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 18, 2014 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Instead of resuming occasionally promising peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos abruptly called them off after the rebels kidnapped an army general, along with a soldier and a government attorney. According to Colombian media, it was the first time in half a century of fighting that the guerrillas had taken an army general captive. FARC rebels later agreed to release Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, but the status of the two-year negotiations between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebels remains uncertain. Intermittent fighting has flared amid […]

Smoke rises from burning garbage as an Indian woman looks for recyclable material at a dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

The United States and China surprised other G-20 members when they announced a new agreement last week on curbing greenhouse gas emissions just a few days prior to the group’s summit in Australia. But the G-20 member who perhaps noted this development more than others is India, currently the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. India was taken off guard by what amounts to China’s first step back from its previous ironclad refusal to make any binding commitments on limiting overall emissions. New Delhi is now preparing to fend off greater pressure directed its way to make similar pledges in the […]

Demonstrators protest the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico City, Nov. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

In the months after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took office almost two years ago, he impressed even the skeptics with his dynamism, tackling the seemingly immovable forces that had been blocking his country’s progress. For a time it seemed as if the new administration was about to usher in Mexico’s long-awaited revolution, one that vowed to replace poverty and hopelessness with a sense of equality and a measure of social justice, even if he was crafting that transformation through legislation rather than Molotov cocktails. Now, however, that impression has been shattered. Outraged Mexicans have been throwing real Molotov cocktails […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, France, Nov. 20, 2014 (State Department photo).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s last-minute whirlwind tour of European capitals in the run-up to the Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with Iran calls to mind the old aphorism about diplomacy: The hardest part isn’t getting the other side to agree to the deal, it’s convincing your own side to agree to it. In this case, Kerry’s stopover today in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is illustrative. In November 2013, Fabius played a high-profile—and high-stakes—role in toughening up the initial interim framework accord that was extended once already and is now set […]

A police officer searches a man during a drug raid at the “21” slum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 2014 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

Compared to some of its neighbors, Argentina has been relatively unscathed by the effects of drug trafficking. But a recent increase in drug-related problems, including a spike in the trafficking of cocaine from Bolivia and Peru to the United States and Europe, has exposed some of Argentina’s key structural weaknesses, underscoring the need for comprehensive reform. While the cocaine and other drugs being transited through Argentina are mainly produced elsewhere, processing laboratories were also recently found in the country itself. The trade in methamphetamines is growing as well. Between 2004 and 2008, 48 tons of ephedrine—a precursor chemical used in […]

Four-image NAVCAM mosaic of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, using images taken on Sept. 24, 2014 when Rosetta was 28.5 km from the comet (ESA photo).

When the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully landed the spacecraft Philae on a comet last week, it accomplished something once thought to be the sole purview of the superpowers. In truth, the ESA—a consortium of 20 formal members—highlights a well-established and accelerating trend: Whereas space was once beyond the reach of all but the United States and the Soviet Union, recent decades have witnessed the spread and maturing capabilities of new space powers around the world. While the United States has reasons to be concerned with that shift related to national security, it also has cause to celebrate, as promoting […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

Whenever a U.S. president’s party experiences major losses during a midterm congressional election, there is always pressure to fire members of his team. In this particular cycle, pundits have urged President Barack Obama to consider replacing his national security adviser, Susan Rice, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others, as part of an effort to change course and find a new direction for his last two years in office. But staffing questions do not lie at the heart of the Obama administration’s problems. Rather, the administration has fallen short in its ability to define U.S. strategic priorities and to […]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced a pair of important initiatives, one to restore the Defense Department’s troubled nuclear enterprise to health and another to spur innovation within the department. The two initiatives are necessary, if incomplete, but achieving both goals will difficult. Hagel’s proposed overhaul of the Defense Department’s management of its nuclear weapons enterprise is long overdue. The U.S. nuclear command’s core components, besides the actual warheads, include the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines as well as the supporting infrastructure for the entire system. It also […]

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 13, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Mexico’s recent decision to cancel a high-speed rail contract with the China Railway Construction Company (CRCC) is the latest example of the unsettled relationship between two of the largest emerging economies. In an email interview, Matt Ferchen, associate professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, discussed China’s economic ties with Mexico. WPR: How have Mexico’s economic relations with China developed in recent years, particularly since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001? Matt Ferchen: The takeoff in China-Latin America commercial and diplomatic relations began just about a decade ago in […]

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Myanmar President Thein Sein, Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 13, 2014 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Myanmar, where he will attend the East Asia Summit and the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit as well as meet with national leaders. The visit comes less than two years after Obama’s first to the Southeast Asian nation, which was also the first ever by a sitting U.S. president. Obama’s 2012 Myanmar trip was “a symbolic visit to reinforce the message that reform needs to be consolidated. It is a mark of appreciation, a reward if you like, and at the same time it is a measure to press for further […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping toast at a lunch banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Greg Baker).

Inside the United States, supporters of President Barack Obama have all sorts of explanations for the defeat handed the Democratic Party in last week’s midterm elections, which not only increased the Republican majority in the House of Representatives but also gave the GOP control of the Senate. Democrats’ failure to mobilize their traditional voters to turn out at the polls; accusations of voter-suppression techniques, which disproportionally impact those more likely to cast ballots for the Democratic Party; and the Republicans’ successful efforts at playing up anxieties about the economy, Ebola and the so-called Islamic State (IS) have all been put […]

A police officer and a soldier arrest a gang member in compliance with the government’s “Mano Dura” plan in San Salvador, El Salvador, Oct. 16, 2003 (AP photo by Victor Ruiz Caballero).

One of the primary causes of political violence in Central America during the second half of the 20th century was the absence of democratic rule of law. Elected or not, political leaders were rarely held accountable under the law. Laws were established and applied in an arbitrary fashion. As former Brazilian President Getulio Vargas is alleged to have said, “For my friends, whatever they want; for my enemies, the law.” “Justice” was often served by individuals working outside of official state sanction—that is, paramilitaries and death squads. When the law was applied, it favored those in positions of authority, often […]

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