So far, the wave of protests jolting the Middle East has targeted mostly regimes friendly to the United States. With the prominent exception of Libya, a country that is rather peripheral to the region’s political life, the uprisings of the Arab Spring have weakened Washington’s friends and, consequently, brought satisfaction to its foes. All of that could change with the events unfolding in the latest country engulfed by reformist protests, Syria. Much like Egypt, Syria stands at the heart of the Middle East. But unlike Cairo, Damascus has remained a very large thorn in America’s side for decades. Run by […]

President Barack Obama’s address explaining the reasons for the U.S. intervention in Libya has already generated a flurry of responses. Some have lauded the speech as setting forth a set of grand strategic principles that will guide the U.S. response to the “Arab Spring.” Others have decried it as lacking sufficient grand strategic vision. In reality, grand strategic principles rarely dictate specific courses of action in complicated situations, and a coherent grand strategy absolves no one from the responsibility of “muddling through.” Even if there is an “Obama doctrine,” it is unclear how that doctrine matters for Libya, or how […]

Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, as well as its pivotal location, make it of strategic importance to the United States and its allies. But in the run-up to Kazakhstan’s presidential election later this week, the country’s contested democratic practices and uncertain transition to the next generation of political leaders leaves its future unclear. Unfortunately, due to Washington’s preoccupation with the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, both Kazakhstan and its upcoming election run the risk of being largely overlooked. Last month, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rejected the idea of using a national referendum to extend his term until 2020, despite […]

While many in the West fret over the challenge of “rebalancing” the global economy after the recent global financial crisis, several trends suggest that the field of supply chain management could offer a key advantage for an America eager to double its exports by 2014. On the surface, supply chain management might not sound too sexy, but understand this: In today’s globalization, neither companies nor countries compete — supply chains do. Companies like Wal-Mart have known this for some time. Thus, positioning America to be the world’s pre-eminent provider of secure, transparent and efficient supply chains will ensure that our […]

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a blunt challenge to President Barack Obama when he arrived in Brazil to kick off his first visit to Latin America this past week: no more “empty rhetoric” about partnership between her country and the United States. Whether Washington can meet this standard, however, remains to be seen. Certainly, during this visit, no major initiatives were unveiled; no dramatic vision of a future U.S.-Brazilian entente was presented; and no grand gesture — such as a compromise on the thorny trade issues that continue to hamper commercial ties between the two countries — was magnanimously offered […]

The young men and women who took over Cairo’s Tahrir Square in late-January electrified the Arab world with their calls for building a new Middle East. When their peaceful protests subsequently toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, they took the first step toward moving their country from decades of autocratic rule into a future of democracy. Six weeks into that future, the forces of liberal democracy have suffered their first major defeat. On Saturday, Egyptians by the millions went to the polls to cast their vote on proposed changes to the constitution. The progressive leaders of the uprising struggled to get […]

The military operation that the U.S., the U.K. and France have launched against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi thus far lacks a clear set of strategic goals. The coalition partners cannot agree regarding whether the operation is intended to remove Gadhafi, to support rebel operations against Gadhafi loyalists or simply to protect civilians from attack by Gadhafi’s military forces. The lack of a strong, well-defined set of strategic objectives means that military operations in and over Libya are likely to be incoherent. All this is bad enough, but perhaps worse is that there is little indication that France, the U.K. or […]

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Recent events in Libya have refocused attention on Libya’s remaining chemical agents, with particular concern over the possibility that Moammar Gadhafi will use them against the Libyan insurgents or against other targets, such as Western civilians. But there are also fears that the Libyan government could somehow lose control of some of the agents, whether due to ongoing domestic chaos or an eventual collapse of the regime, allowing terrorists to acquire them. Leaders of the coalition currently enforcing the U.N.-mandated no-fly zone over Libya need to adopt a strong declaratory policy against any misuse of these agents, even while they […]

For decades now, strategic experts have predicted that our world was on the verge of a break-out in nuclear proliferation that would see us grappling with two- or three-dozen nuclear powers. Indeed, the inexorable spread of nuclear weapons is the closest thing to an unassailable canon in the field of international relations, as one cannot possibly employ the term “nuclear proliferation” without preceding it with the modifier “increasing.” This unshakeable belief, wholly unsupported by any actual evidence, drives many Cold War-era “wise men” to argue that mutually assured destruction (MAD) and strategic deterrence in general are obsolete and therefore immoral […]

Writing in his World Politics Review column this week, Thomas P.M. Barnett warned that the United States’ response to the Libyan uprising risks turning Ian Bremmer’s and David Gordon’s prediction of a “G-zero” world into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Specifically, Barnett argued that by failing to take the lead in organizing an intervention to tip the scales in the Libyan civil war on behalf of the opposition to Moammar Gadhafi, the Obama administration was “purposefully abdicat[ing] its global leadership role.” Another reading is that the administration’s reaction to the Libyan uprising reflects the degree to which it allowed itself to be […]

If there is one thing we have learned from the events of the last few weeks, it is to expect the unexpected and to at least consider the possibility that worst-case scenarios will materialize. No one could have predicted that in a matter of a few hours the world’s third-largest economy would suffer a triple disaster — a massive earthquake, a devastating tsunami and a slow-motion nuclear nightmare — just as no one expected that a fruit salesman in Tunisia would trigger a chain reaction of uprisings in the Middle East. Nassim Taleb called these high-impact, low-probability events Black Swans, […]

For the authoritarian leader, holding onto power is both an art and a science. Much depends on crafting a strategy to deal with the unique social and political characteristics of a given country. However, autocrats also take cues from events in foreign countries and build their institutions accordingly. Many observers of global politics are watching China and North Korea to see if protests and unrest currently roiling the Middle East will spread there. The leaders of China, Myanmar, North Korea and other authoritarian states are watching North Africa just as closely, in order to learn what to expect next. One […]

The Russian government recently announced its goals for Russia’s rearmament, with a shopping list that includes 100 ships, 600 airplanes, and 1,000 helicopters over the course of the coming decade. Although these figures make for spectacular headlines, they give a misleading impression of the extent of Russia’s likely military buildup. First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin, who is in charge of arms procurement, confirmed that the Ministry of Defense (MOD) envisages spending roughly $650 billion from 2011-2020 for its new State Armaments Program (SAP), which also includes more than $100 billion for the other Russian security services outside the MOD. […]

If President Barack Obama’s handling of the events in Libya exemplifies his own definition of a “post-American world,” then we have moved past a G-Zero reality, which is how Nouriel Roubini and Ian Bremmer described a G-20 that can’t agree on how to rebalance global power, and into what I would describe as the “G-Less-Than-Zero” world, where America purposefully abdicates its global leadership role. A realist reading would present Obama as having committed himself to economic renewal at home while contenting himself with just nudging events abroad. Indeed, that’s basically what the buried headline of his 2010 National Security Strategy […]

The CNN effect is alive and well in 2011, even if its 2.0 incarnation might now be labeled the Al-Jazeera effect. The fact that U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are now talking about a “full spectrum of possible responses” to support the opposition to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and NATO is considering endorsing a “no-fly zone” over the embattled North African state — even as the war in Afghanistan rages and Iraq is far from settled — testifies to the ongoing power of the global media to drive even a superpower’s foreign policy agenda. But […]

When Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi reacted to popular demonstrations by shooting protesters, he triggered a torrent of international condemnation. Gadhafi and his harsh crackdown became the target of pointed denunciations by the international community and by top government officials on every continent. There was, however, one region where Gadhafi found words of support from a number of powerful leaders: Latin America. The reaction to events in Libya and other Middle Eastern country from leftist leaders in Latin America says much about their worldview, about the way they define themselves and about their commitment to their political principles. Consider Nicaraguan President […]

The battle against piracy off the coast of Somalia is not going well, with pirates continuing to attack and seize vessels and, in some cases, becoming more violent. The recent deaths of four American missionaries at the hands of pirates served to highlight the helplessness of the world navies gathered in the Gulf of Aden: Four American warships, including the USS Enterprise, monitored the situation, but none were able to prevent the tragedy. While the multinational naval flotilla — primarily CTF-151, but including some other navies — off Somalia has seen some notable successes, it has not defeated the pirates […]

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