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 […]

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 […]

Demonstrators rally for fair trade at the Capitol, Washington, May 7, 2014 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the potential impact on members’ economies. Lukewarm industry support in the United States for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has put the ratification of the 12-nation trade deal by Congress into question. In an email interview, Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed the potential benefits and downsides of the TPP for the U.S. WPR: What economic benefits is the U.S. expected to see from its participation in the TPP? Edward Alden: The short-term benefits are likely to be modest. […]

Iraqi security forces at the front line with Islamic State militants, Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, Dec. 2, 2015 (AP photo by Osama Sami).

All wars are tragedies, often victimizing most the people who had least to do with starting them and no ability to stop them. But beyond this common feature, each war is usually very different. This can make it difficult to draw generalizations and prepare for tomorrow’s conflict. Nonetheless it is important to look for the signposts of future war in current ones and prepare as much as possible. This is particularly true for the United States as it continues to try and build or manage global stability. Among today’s violent conflicts, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine seem to […]

Cuban migrants outside the Costa Rican immigration building at the border with Nicaragua, Penas Blancas, Costa Rica, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Esteban Felix).

In an ironic example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, President Barack Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba has triggered a new humanitarian crisis, a serious diplomatic standoff in the Americas, and a renewed sense of panic among many Cubans that, if not addressed effectively, could lead to even greater problems. As soon as Obama and his Cuban counterpart, President Raul Castro, simultaneously announced an agreement to start thawing diplomatic ties back in December 2014, officials in the South American nation of Ecuador noticed something rather curious happening: a sharp upswing in the number of Cubans turning up at […]

Immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the U.S. illegally board a bus after being released from a family detention center in Texas, July 7, 2015 (AP photo by Eric Gay).

In June 2014, headlines sounded the alarm over an influx of unaccompanied minors clandestinely entering the U.S. from Central America. While the story has largely receded from view, the crisis continues. In recent years, more than 100,000 Central American children have undertaken the perilous 3,000-mile journey to the United States, exposing themselves to extortion, kidnapping, rape and murder along the way. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 68,000 unaccompanied minors, ranging in ages from less than 1 to 17 years old, were apprehended at the Southwest border between October 2013 and September 2014. Among them were more […]

Afghan soldiers during a ceremony to mark the security transition from U.S. and NATO forces to Afghanistan's, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Jan. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Abdul Khaliq).

The New York Times reported Sunday that, in the face of significant Taliban gains in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the United States is once again committing troops and air power to the fight. According to the Times, “the extent of the American role has been kept largely secret, with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation.” Pentagon officials are allegedly concerned that the ramped-up U.S. involvement “may suggest” that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, which was supposed to have ended, is going far beyond the “train, advise and […]

U.S. President Barack Obama during a summit on cybersecurity and consumer protection at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif., Feb. 13, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

With the end of his second term in sight, debates about President Barack Obama’s legacy in various policy areas are underway. When it comes to national security, his administration will be the first for which cybersecurity will feature prominently in legacy terms. Although former President George W. Bush focused on cybersecurity more than his predecessor, 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq determined his administration’s national security legacy. Obama entered office intending to make cybersecurity a priority, and it became a major feature of his administration’s national security efforts—just not in the ways he had envisioned. Examining the gap […]

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 […]

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 […]

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House, Washington, Dec. 6, 2016 (AP photo by Saul Loeb).

President Barack Obama’s oval office speech Sunday was intended to show toughness and resolve in the war against the self-declared Islamic State, and to reassure a jittery public in the aftermath of the domestic attack by followers of the group in San Bernardino, California. At the end of his remarks, however, he reminded Americans to not allow their anxieties about terrorism to turn into hostility toward Muslim Americans. This is not sentimental rhetoric. It’s a critical part of the strategy toward defeating the group that can strengthen America’s social capital at home and soft power abroad. From Paris to San […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Manila, Philippines, Nov. 18, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

There is no other area of global governance—not climate change, not management of the oceans, not monetary policy, not peacekeeping—in which the nations of the world have agreed to cooperate more closely than on the rules governing international trade. But over the past half-century, each step toward greater trade cooperation has been a bit harder than the last. The fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement—the recently concluded mega-regional deal linking the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries—will likely decide whether the historic project of building better global rules for trade continues, or collapses under its […]

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, Oct. 27, 2015 (AP photo by Cliff Owen).

After World War II, the United States had to learn how to be a global power. To do this it drew foreign policy and national security expertise from among university academics, civil service workers, senior policymakers, private sector specialists, some influential members of Congress and journalists from major national media. After a few years of debate, the foundational “big idea” for America’s Cold War strategy came from George Kennan, a career State Department official and a top expert on the Soviet Union and Russian history. Kennan argued that rather than bear the costs and risks of direct confrontation with Moscow, […]

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde during a news conference, Washington, Nov. 30, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

On Monday, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) voted to add China’s currency, the yuan or renminbi, to a very short list of elite global reserve currencies. Next fall, the yuan will officially be added to the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket of currencies, which presently includes just the dollar, euro, yen and pound sterling. In part, the decision reflects the undeniable reality of China’s economic rise. However, the decision is also a pragmatic, perhaps even savvy, move by the IMF and the United States to further incorporate China into an international financial order that largely […]

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Manila, Philippines, Nov. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

The military alliance with the United States has been a cornerstone of Australia’s strategic and defense policy since World War II. Recently, however, signs have emerged that Australia might more carefully weigh its options when it comes to dealing with China, the rising great power in Asia and Australia’s most important trading partner. Last month, only days after the U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island near Subic Reef in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China, two Australian Anzac class frigates conducted a live-fire exercise with Chinese warships. Moreover, a […]

President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo at the Bataclan theater, Paris, Nov. 30, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

A somber weariness has settled in across Western democracies in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Defeating and destroying the so-called Islamic State with military force has won broader support. But most realize that the challenge will require a complex set of policy responses, far beyond aerial bombardments to liberate territory controlled by the group in Syria and Iraq. Although there is not yet any consensus about what such a long-term strategy should look like, some new ideas are emerging. To begin with, the old debate over how to distinguish between the threat posed by al-Qaida and the newer one […]