ABOARD U.S.S. DONALD COOK — In 2008, Somali pirates hijacked more than 100 large commercial vessels, provoking a massive international response. More than 40 warships from a dozen navies subsequently assembled to patrol the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. At the same time, diplomats forged consensus approaches that included U.N. declarations governing operations in Somali waters, military accords uniting formerly rival navies, and legal frameworks for prosecuting suspected pirates in various national jurisdictions. The result, a year into this “global war on piracy,” is that successful hijackings are way down. In the three months ending in September 2008, […]

In addition to potential effects on Germany’s economic, energy, and foreign policies, the results of the Sept. 27 national elections raise questions about the future of Germany’s longstanding practice of military conscription. Although Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) continues to support compulsory military service more than any other major German party, her preferred new coalition partner, the quasi-libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP), opposes it. Unlike most other NATO countries, Germany stubbornly adheres to the principle of compulsory military service. At present, all male German citizens are subject to nine months of conscription in the Bundeswehr (the German armed […]

President Barack Obama’s performance at the United Nations last week was widely hailed — and condemned — as a clear departure from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. His most telling statement spoke volumes about the limits of U.S. power in an interdependent world: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Subtext? Atlas has put down the heavy globe and has neither the intention nor the wherewithal to pick it up again. If that makes for an uncertain age, it’s […]

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama said, “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 — more than at any point in human history — the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” By this logic, American interests and American power around the world — which this column sets out every week to measure — depend on cooperation. The General Assembly presents an ideal opportunity to consider how much that cooperation is possible. As ever, consensus eludes us. The New York Times, for instance, sided with the argument […]

JERUSALEM — History will record Tuesday’s trilateral summit at the Waldorf Astoria hotel as the moment when U.S. President Barack Obama recognized that his initial strategy for bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table had become counter-productive. Realizing he was on the wrong course, Obama began a gradual shift toward a less dramatic, less public, and potentially more successful route. At the end of the gathering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama sounded impatient and more than a little frustrated. If you listen carefully, there was a most definite change in tone […]

The armored truck came apart in a puff of smoke and debris. It was Aug. 20, election day in Wardak province, Afghanistan, southwest of Kabul. U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan had braced for increased levels of violence on this day. But the massive bomb — constructed of a plastic barrel with a nitrate fertilizer filler — that struck the American truck was more than anyone expected. Of the two U.S. Army soldiers riding in the front of the vehicle when the bomb struck, one was seriously injured. Specialist Justin Pellerin, 21, the driver, died instantly. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are taking […]

In his first major speech as the alliance’s new civilian head, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told an audience in Brussels that the time had come to revitalize security ties between Moscow and the Western alliance. Reflecting the speech’s hopeful title, “NATO and Russia: A New Beginning,” Rasmussen identified several possible areas for deeper collaboration. But the most newsworthy focus of his presentation was on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Rasmussen’s remarks came on the heels of U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement the previous day that his administration would suspend the U.S. missile defense systems planned for Poland and the […]

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As somebody who spends his workdays evaluating investment opportunities in emerging/frontier economies, I receive a lot of business pitches involving new technologies. The time I spend listening to these accounts of how things can ultimately work out for the better balances my work in the national security realm contemplating how everything must “inevitably” collapse into conflict. I find the perspective it offers invaluable, because it reveals how often what we call “realism” tends to be hopelessly trapped in centuries past. Right now the bulk of the pitches I receive focus on alternative energy. No surprise there, but not for the […]

When I was in Ecuador two years ago, a businessman named Ivan excoriated me about the limits Washington placed on business that local fishing firms could do with the U.S. The conversation went on for a while, but when it ended, he promptly introduced me to his teenage daughter and pleaded with me to speak to her so that she could practice her English. In fact, she spoke eloquently and fluently, but the irony was no less striking: The gringos to the north offered little opportunity to Latin America, but the best chance for Ivan’s daughter to succeed — leaving […]

JERUSALEM — Last Friday, Sept. 11, Katyusha rockets fired from southern Lebanon landed near the town of Nahariya in northern Israel. Israel retaliated, firing shells into Lebanon and scrambling fighter jets. No one was hurt, but the incident highlighted just how easily and in how many ways fighting could restart across Israel’s dangerous northern border. The episode also brought to mind a mostly quiet rivalry that has lain dormant, but could stir without warning inside Lebanon: Hezbollah and al-Qaida despise one another, and in this part of the world, hatred usually leads to bloodshed. Israel declared that it held the […]

In August, fighters from the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group rampaged through Ezo, a county of autonomous South Sudan that borders the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels burned and looted homes, churches and health facilities, killed an undetermined number of civilians and kidnapped as many as 10 young girls, according to press reports. The LRA, which Washington has officially labeled a terrorist group, often forces children to become soldiers or sex slaves. The violence in Ezo displaced as many as 80,000 people, in a part of the world that’s already over-burdened by an estimated […]

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s latest visit to Moscow resulted in a package of arms and energy deals that highlight the mutually beneficial nature of the current Russian-Venezuelan relationship. Facing declining purchases from traditional arms clients, such as India and especially China, Russia has sought to compensate by expanding arms sales to new markets, including in Latin America. For the most part, however, Russian sellers have not been able to achieve major successes, despite Latin American countries doubling the volume of weapons they purchased between the periods of 1999-2003 and 2004-2008. Although the share of Russian arms exports going to Latin […]

During the last several weeks, Americans have found themselves back in the middle of a fierce debate over our continuing military effort in Afghanistan. What was Bush’s forgotten war had, until recently, seemed quite safely transformed in public opinion into Obama’s “war of necessity.” Now, because of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for significantly more troops, coming on the heels of his public declaration that the Taliban are essentially “winning,” the ruling Democrats have suddenly been thrust back into “quagmire” mode. Predictably, we are once again awash in feverish Boomer analogies to Vietnam, despite the pronounced absence in Afghanistan of any […]

As adaptive and creative as the United States claims to be, one would think that, eight years after 9/11, the foreign policy establishment would have come up with a workable way to communicate its strategic message to the rest of the world. It hasn’t. Call it the $10 billion bungle, because that’s a reliable estimate of how much the U.S. has spent since 9/11 on the effort. Bringing the dilemma to the fore is a scathing indictment issued by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen in the latest issue of Joint Forces Quarterly. Mullen’s broadside goes […]

TEL AVIV, Israel — The announcement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to approve the construction of more housing for Jewish settlers in the West Bank was interpreted by many Western observers as a snub, in light of Washington’s demands for a settlement freeze. In Israel, however, some see Netanyahu’s move not as a rebuff of American policies, but quite the opposite: a sign that Netanyahu is preparing to give in to pressure from the United States and work with U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s decision to approve construction of 455 new settler homes sparked criticism from the Obama […]

The Taliban is running out of money. That was the conclusion some observers reached when the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported last week that Afghanistan’s poppy crop is down nearly a quarter compared to last year. But other experts caution against declaring financial victory. If anything, the behind-the-scenes campaigns to dry up Taliban funding are only now catching up to the extremist group’s sophisticated financial operations. Poppies, the basic ingredient in opium, represent Afghanistan’s biggest export — albeit an illegal one. They “fund the activities of criminals, insurgents and terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” according to the UNODC […]

A study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that U.S. arms sales surged last year, despite the worst global economic downturn in decades. (UPDATE: WPR subscribers can download the CRS report here.) In 2008, U.S. arms dealers signed new weapons contracts worth approximately $37.8 billion, a considerable increase from previous years. The surge was remarkable given that the total volume of new arms orders in 2008, $55.2 billion, was billions of dollars below the comparable figures for 2007 and 2006. The United States also fortified its position as the leading arms-exporting country. Last year, the volume of global defense […]

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