On March 25, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) released its annual Military Power of the People’s Republic of China (.pdf) report. Despite the recent change in White House occupants, the text resembles the department’s previous Chinese military power reports, suggesting that holdovers from the Bush administration supervised its composition. As required by the 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual report assesses the current and likely future military capabilities, doctrine, strategies, and operational concepts of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The U.S. and other foreign officials have repeatedly complained about the severe constraints on transparency that the Chinese […]

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After seven years in Afghanistan, it’s back to basics. On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled the results of his comprehensive and long-awaited policy review of the U.S. war strategy in South and Central Asia. Reining in what has become a discombobulated mission, he asked outright, “What is our purpose in Afghanistan?” He then went on to answer his own question: Our purpose is the pursuit of al-Qaida and its leadership, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is little surprise in that decision. Likewise, the new way forward offered few unexpected headlines. The strategy will focus on an approach to […]

MILAN, Italy — ZAPATERO’S DEJA VU: The Italian general commanding part of a multinational NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo learned from a newspaper story last week that he was losing 620 of his troops. They were the Spanish forces under his command, which Spain’s defense minister announced would be pulling out by the summer. The Italian press reported Madrid’s handling of the withdrawal decision as a breach of good manners, but the general was in good company. Turns out Defense Minsiter Carme Chacon and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero even failed to notify members of the Spanish government. The […]

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No one ever accused Israel of having a boring political scene. True to form, its next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pulled a rabbit out of a hat and, in one dramatic move, transformed the shape of his incoming administration. A government that was expected to empower a narrow right-wing coalition will now include the leftist Labor party. As a result, the incoming government will look much more palatable to the international community as well as to Palestinians. In addition, Netanyahu hopes, his coalition will prove much more stable and durable. Netanyahu, a former prime minister and leader of the rightist […]

A 2008 report entitled “World at Risk” garnered global headlines when it warned that, “It is more likely than not that a weapon of mass destruction will be used in a terrorist attack somewhere in the world by the end of 2013.” The report (.pdf), issued by a bipartisan committee established by the U.S. Congress, argued that biological rather than nuclear weapons presents the greatest near-term international terrorism danger. The warnings of the U.S. Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism were underscored by subsequent media reports that dozens of members of Al-Qaida in the Lands of the […]

The U.S.-China naval confrontation in the South China Sea two weeks ago was only the latest in a series of military showdowns between the two countries in the past decade. And like the others before it, the skirmish — which according to initial reports had Chinese sailors stripping down to their skivvies before U.S. seamen — seemed harmless enough. But the quarrel came, if you will, amid tumultuous seas. Not long afterwards, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, troubled perhaps by Washington’s response to the financial crisis and its consequences on the broader U.S. economy, voiced concern about China’s massive economic investments […]

CONGOLESE COURT’S MAI MAI CONVICTION DRAWS APPLAUSE — A Congolese military court found Mai Mai commander Gedeon Kyunga Mutanga and 20 of his men guilty of charges that included crimes against humanity on March 5. The landmark conviction has drawn applause from the rights community as a significant step towards bringing accountability to the war-ravaged country. The court also found the Congolese government liable for failing to disarm the Mai Mai and awarded financial compensation to dozens of victims, setting an important precedent for the scope of responsibility in human rights cases. “This trial has shown the important role that […]

News that former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, hailed as a reformer, would challenge sitting hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in upcoming elections proved oddly short-lived. Just five weeks after sparking jubilation among his supporters by proclaiming his candidacy, the 65-year-old cleric poured cold water on the celebrations with the announcement that he had decided to withdraw, opening a minuscule new window into the mysterious machinations of Iran’s unique brand of theocratic democracy. Iranians, and the rest of the world, are eagerly awaiting the outcome of the June voting to see if Ahmadinejad will manage to stay in power. The electoral process […]

On March 8, five Chinese trawlers surrounded and harassed the USNS Impeccable, a civilian-crewed naval survey ship sailing in international waters on the South China Sea, resulting in a week-long diplomatic tiff. The Chinese government accused the ship of spying on its naval forces. Washington eventually admitted that was true, but insisted it had every right to do so. (See James Kraska’s WPR Briefing.) In the wake of the incident, both sides moved in reinforcements. The U.S. Navy sent a destroyer to escort Impeccable on future missions; Beijing deployed a patrol vessel to the area. Some pundits declared the confrontation […]

Will the worldwide recession actually benefit Chinese arms exports? That’s what WPR managing editor Judah Grunstein speculated last week, citing Chinese defense companies’ ability to reproduce foreign weapons systems and then sell them on third-party markets at lower prices than the original. It is too early to identify a clear trend, but not premature to consider potential unwelcome scenarios. The tremendous diplomatic exertions that the United States and Israel are making to keep Russia from selling its S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran or Syria, for instance, will matter little if China chooses to sell them its HQ-9 surface-to-air […]

Oxymorons rarely work. Sure, people can’t get enough of jumbo shrimp. And there is a good reason why Shakespeare’s, “Parting is such sweet sorrow. . .” still resonates four centuries after it was penned. But on the whole, oxymorons tend to signal an inconsistency that is impossible to resolve. More and more, trends in American foreign policy reflect exactly this kind of incongruity. Take some of the concepts that have evolved over the past few years: warriors as diplomats, for instance, or soldiers as state-builders. Now, Afghanistan’s future, which will likely involve a “surge” of troops, places another seemingly discrepant […]

SLOPPY STAFF WORK — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton burst into raucous laughter when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed out a translation error on the “Reset Button” she gave him as a joke gift. The joke was on her, however, and in private she was less good-natured about the sloppy staff work responsible for the error. For one thing, it started her off at something of a disadvantage, however slight, with her Russian counterpart. For another, it pointed up an unfavorable comparison with her predecessor: Russian-speaker Condi Rice would very probably have caught the error in time. Such snafus […]

When finance ministers of the Group of Twenty nations come together on Friday to prepare for the upcoming G-20 summit, observers, journalists and analysts will no doubt focus on disagreements among the members over how to tackle the ongoing world economic crisis. After all, differing views on the best course of action have already stolen the headlines. To be sure, points of contention do exist and they could make for a tense meeting at West Sussex this weekend, as finance ministers struggle to come up with a productive and forceful agenda at the April summit in London. And yet, the […]

Will Russia supply Iran with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system? That is the most important — and persistent — question regarding Russia’s ongoing arms sales to Iran. The repeated rumors and confusion regarding a possible sale indicate that Russian policymakers are divided over the issue. It also illustrates the degree of mistrust between the Russian and Iranian national security communities over the subject of bilateral arms transfers in general, and disagreement over the extent to which Moscow should support Iranian defense aspirations over American and Israeli objections in particular. The “S-300” family encompasses a range of specific models that […]

Remember the age of globalization, if you can. The world was flat. High finance was king. Swelling economic prosperity had lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. Capitalism, in a variety of configurations, stretched from one end of the earth to the other. Even individual states were fading in importance, and the threat of a great-power war had all but come to an end. How quickly that utopia has been shattered. In short, the world is very much round again. Investment banking has collapsed. The global financial crisis is elbowing the poor aside. Corruption and rampant irresponsibility have resulted in […]

ADVOCATES CHEER AL-BASHIR WARRANT — Human rights groups from around the world cheered the issue of an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir by the Intenational Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity. “The ICC represents the best hope for justice for the victims of Darfur,” Dismas Nkunda of the International Refugee Rights Initiative said in a statement released by the Justice for Darfur coalition. “The international community must ensure that Sudan complies with its obligation to cooperate with the ICC, including by handing over anyone subject to an arrest warrant.” Bashir has long been a […]

Something small but historic happened on the shores of the Red Sea on Monday. As delegates to the Palestinian donors’ conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh gathered for lunch, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem was standing near the door to the banquet room. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked by, and instead of staring straight ahead or finding a reason to turn in the opposite direction as an American diplomat might have done during the Bush era, she walked straight towards Moualem, shook his hand, and held a brief conversation. That was the moment when Washington […]

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