Construction workers speculate what Cuba’s President Raul Castro will announce in an upcoming live, nationally broadcast speech in Havana, Cuba, Dec. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

The announcement that the U.S. will normalize relations with Cuba came as a surprise, but Cuba’s opening has been years in the making. This report includes WPR’s coverage of the island nation going back to 2007, tracing the post-Fidel transition and Raul Castro’s slow but steady reforms. From Fidel to Raul After Fidel, Cuba Poised to Capitalize on Economic, Energy OpportunitiesBy Carmen GentileFeb. 22, 2008 Cuba: A Cult of Personality Without the PersonalityBy Jonas ClarkMarch 6, 2008 Cuba Poised Between Past and Future: Part IBy Marcelo BallvéFeb. 20, 2009 Cuba Poised Between Past and Future: Part IIBy Marcelo BallvéFeb. 27, […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti).

It is traditional to pen one’s last column of the calendar year as a retrospective of key events that have occurred over the last 12 months, along with predictions for the coming year. I would like to alter tradition to expand the scope of my inquiry—to compare expectations as they stood two years ago, on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and to contrast that with the situation we face today. U.S. foreign policy has undergone several tectonic shifts, in a seemingly haphazard and unplanned fashion. Yet the fallout will shape the global strategic environment and constrain […]

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel observes a training scenario at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 16, 2014  (DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt).

In a Nov. 15 speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the creation of a Pentagon initiative to develop new military technologies and operational concepts to counter growing threats to U.S. military supremacy. He noted that potential American adversaries are increasingly able to field advanced weaponry that rivals U.S. capabilities at a time when the Pentagon finds itself in a severely constrained fiscal environment. According to Hagel, the new initiative will seek to produce breakthrough innovations and eventually “develop into a game-changing third ‘offset’ strategy” that will allow the United States to […]

Adoration of the Magi by El Greco, 1568

The Christmas story is full of joy and wonder, but it also includes a cautionary tale about a diplomatic blunder. The blunderers are the three ostensibly wise men from the east who visit King Herod in Jerusalem to ask: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” This query sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in Herod’s decision to massacre the baby boys of Bethlehem and its environs in a failed attempt to kill Jesus. This atrocity ensures that […]

A South Korean army soldier walks near a TV screen showing an advertisement for Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

When they set out to make “The Interview,” a comedic movie about assassinating the leader of North Korea, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco likely did not realize they would spark a massive cyber attack, lead the White House to dub those attacks a national security problem or inadvertently trigger a First Amendment crisis in the United States. When Sony and theater owners bowed to hacker demands that they cancel the movie’s Christmas Day release, followed shortly by Paramount’s refusal to allow movie theaters to run “Team America: World Police”—another comedy made at North Korea’s expense—in its place, they highlighted […]

Oil pump jacks work in unison on a foggy morning, Williston, North Dakota, Dec. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Eric Gay).

In the waning days of 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, roundly castigated by critics for most of the year as being weak, feckless and indecisive, appears to have been vindicated by more recent developments. Eschewing the calls for immediate reactions to a series of disparate events—from anti-government protests in Venezuela to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine—the president opted for diplomacy and sanctions, augmenting his existing approach to perennial problems like Iran and its nuclear program. Now, the story goes, a whole list of U.S. opponents, from Cuba to Iran, are moderating their defiance of Washington and looking […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he gestures towards Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

This year has seen a remarkable strengthening of Russian-Chinese ties, building on a relationship that even before 2014 was at its historical best. Their growing closeness is evident in their security policies, economic ties and ideological alignment. U.S. policies presume that Russia and China can be successfully managed through a combination of firmness and patience, but there needs to be greater recognition of how these countries jointly present a more challenging environment for U.S. foreign policy. In an underappreciated interview with The Economist this August that focused mostly on Africa and the U.S. economy, U.S. President Barack Obama made revealing […]

Police stand watch over flower tributes and messages written on the footpath outside the Lindt cafe in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Rob Griffith).

Following the 9/11 attacks, U.S. national security strategy focused with laser-like intensity on militant organizations that supported transnational terrorism, particularly al-Qaida. While it was never proven that al-Qaida’s sanctuary in Afghanistan was essential for the attacks, the connection between foreign sanctuary and terrorism became so deeply etched in the American psyche that eradicating militant sanctuaries, both real and theoretical, became an inextricable part of stopping transnational terrorism. Thus began what became known as the Global War on Terrorism. As the United States and its allies pummeled al-Qaida in the ensuing years, support for transnational terrorism shifted from that organization’s core […]

Gasoline is advertised for $1.99 per gallon at an On Cue station and $2.03 per gallon at the nearby 7-11 in south Oklahoma City, Dec. 5, 2014 (AP photo by Sue Ogrocki).

The dramatic fall in global energy prices over the past several months provides the United States with a window of opportunity to push new solutions to several pressing domestic and foreign policy challenges—if Washington is focused and prepared to act quickly. I proposed one such solution several weeks ago: a reverse-windfall tax to set a “price floor” on domestic energy consumption. Doing so would take advantage of falling prices at the pump to raise funds to sustain the infrastructure that has been constructed over the past decade in the North American nonconventional energy fields, without damaging the U.S. economic recovery. […]

CIA Director John Brennan at a news conference at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Dec. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

After months of wrangling with the Obama administration over its release, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page executive summary of its voluminous report on CIA torture practices against suspected terrorists is a searing document that excoriates the CIA for engaging in brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the agency’s euphemism for torture. Not surprisingly, the report has been roundly criticized as either factually wrong or partisan by leaders in President George W. Bush’s administration, under which the torturing took place, as well as by the CIA’s senior management team and their retired counterparts from the Bush years. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the […]

An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, Nov. 5, 2014  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Spc. Shauna C. Sowersby).

Canada may scale back its purchase of F-35 fighter jets, citing rising costs, according to a government report released last week. In an email interview, David Axe, editor of War is Boring, discusses the current status of the F-35 program. WPR: What is the current status of F-35 production, and how do current purchase orders compare to initial commitments? David Axe: Production is around 40 planes annually—and has been for a few years now. Most are for the U.S. military, but allied air forces have also begun to acquire a few copies. That’s a much, much lower production rate than […]

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House Summit on Early Education held in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, Dec. 10, 2014. (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Beginning in the early 20th century, America’s global strategy coherently linked U.S. actions in different places and on different issues. Today it does not, instead treating each security challenge in isolation, with little or nothing connecting them. The reason for this incoherence is clear: The United States has no unifying strategic vision. It didn’t used to be this way. President Woodrow Wilson designed America’s first strategic vision based on support for national self-determination, democracy and international law, with the great powers acting as guardians of the system. After World War II, when American power seemed to be the only thing […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti).

Because no two countries in the world share completely overlapping interests, the responsible leader must assess under what conditions disagreement with another state warrants interfering with beneficial ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent summit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara this past week illustrates the delicate dance of this kind of selective partnership. There are serious divisions between Ankara and Moscow over several fundamental foreign policy issues, ranging from Russia’s longstanding support for the maritime claims of Cyprus, the northern part of which is recognized by Turkey as an independent country, to Turkey’s opposition to the regime of […]

South Korean President Park Geun-hye shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting, Beijing, China, Nov 11, 2014 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

I had the opportunity to spend the past week in China and South Korea discussing various issues related to U.S. policy toward Asia with government representatives, academics and think tank counterparts. In general, I found that some previously hot-topic issues had decreased in salience, even as there remains confusion over U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategic and tactical priorities in the region during his remaining two years in office. One takeaway in particular seemed strikingly clear: The next U.S. president, whether Democrat or Republican, will need to take early action to dispel the misperception that Washington is either unwilling to defend […]

A Kurdish fighter walks through rubble in Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Jake Simkin).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to defeat the so-called Islamic State (IS) only deals with half of the problem. That militant organization grew powerful in part because the Iraqi government led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was more interested in entrenching Shiite control than in building a stable, inclusive political system. This alienated Sunni Arabs and allowed the Iraqi military to decay through sectarianism and corruption. But IS was also born out of armed resistance to the parasitic dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In a very real sense, it took not one but two repressive, inept governments […]

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

Fifty years from now, when historians look back at 2014, they will likely be struck by how many seemingly contradictory trends co-exist in today’s world. The crisis in Ukraine suggests a fraying of the liberal international order and its consensus against territorial conquest, even as relatively robust international crisis-management mechanisms manage to deter or contain conflict elsewhere. A global rise of anti-pluralist populism has led to the resurgence of nationalism at the same time that national sovereignty is increasingly embedded in a globally integrated and largely supranational economic order. In Asia, historical grievances at times slow down but cannot derail […]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden smile during their statement to the media at the Presidential Administration Building in Kiev, Ukraine, Nov. 21, 2014 (AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky).

I have a modest proposal: I would like to see all U.S. government representatives cease and desist from any further use of the phrase, “all options are on the table.” Initially, these six words did serve a useful purpose: During a crisis situation, assuming an administration practiced strict message discipline without being beset by leaks and second-guessing by anonymous officials in the media, they introduced sufficient doubt among adversaries and challengers as to what the U.S. response might actually be—raising the possibility that the United States might choose to react more forcefully than anticipated. Over the past few years, however, […]

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