The recent review conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which took place April 8-19, addressed many important issues, including the need to completely eliminate the Russian and U.S. Cold War-era arsenals; states of proliferation concern that have refused to join the CWC; suspected chemical weapons use in Syria; tensions over technology-sharing and export controls; and the growing financial resource constraints on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has the lead responsibility for administering and verifying the convention. But overshadowing all these issues are revolutionary and interrelated changes in chemistry, biology and nano and information technologies. […]

There was a small but striking increase in the chances of a Western intervention in Syria last week. The Obama administration not only confirmed that it is “very likely” that the Syrian military has “used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria” but also added that “the United States and international community have a number of potential responses available, and no option is off the table.” Secretary of State John Kerry privately briefed Congress on options ranging from diplomatic actions to a no-fly zone. All this has been in line with previous U.S. warnings to the Syrian government against […]

In his recommendations for the United States to become more actively involved in determining the outcome of the Syrian civil war, Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has fallen victim to one of the more seductive temptations that regularly befall American policymakers: that with enough aggressive leadership and a healthy application of technological acumen, Washington can get other actors to align themselves with and then execute U.S. policy objectives. Summed up, Corker’s policy strategy is to locate the elusive Syrian moderates who, once armed, trained and equipped by the United States, will in […]

When authorities revealed the identity of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, the news that the two men, Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, were of Chechen origin might have put a smile of satisfaction on Vladimir Putin’s face. After all, the Russian president might have concluded, a terrorist attack by Chechens in America would go some way in vindicating his hard-line approach to Chechen rebels. The fact, however, is that the evidence so far does not support that view. Judging by what we know at this point, while the Tsarnaev brothers came from a Chechen family, their ideology had little […]

Before the modern era, most nations didn’t spend much time speculating about where their next war would be or who it would involve. Geography largely determined who would fight whom. With the rare exception of invaders from afar, enemies often remained at each other’s throats for decades, even centuries. States knew who they would fight — the only question was when. But the United States is different. With no major enemies nearby, America’s wars have been fought around the world against a wide range of opponents. This meant that U.S. policymakers and military leaders needed to anticipate the location and […]

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The significance of the ethnicity of the two Boston Marathon bombers is still unclear, as are the reasons for the Tsarnaev brothers’ transformation into Islamist terrorists, but the latest evidence seems to suggest that the elder brother’s trip last year to the North Caucasus played a key role. Many of the family’s friends and relatives still live in the North Caucasus, which includes the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. The region has been a hotbed of radicalism and militarism for at least a century. The North Caucasus became radicalized after Czarist Russia conquered the previously independent Muslim peoplesin the […]

The United Nations may be on the verge of launching a new wave of peace operations, beginning with a blue helmet force in Mali in July. Further deployments to Somalia and Syria are also on the horizon. Yet the U.N. still has a huge amount of unfinished business to complete in countries where peacekeepers are already deployed, ranging from Haiti to Liberia and Lebanon. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his advisers look for the resources for a new generation of missions, they will face pressure to cut costs and downsize existing missions — even if that means leaving some fragile […]

Even without the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon this week, it is unlikely that the visit of U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon to Moscow would have generated front-page news. But his meetings — including direct contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to whom Donilon handed over a personal letter from President Barack Obama — could end up being quite significant. After a year in which U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated, Donilon’s visit, which had already been postponed twice, was intended to reverse this decline and break the deadlock created by disagreements over Syria and human rights. Unfortunately, Donilon arrived […]

Few people expected Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles to defeat the handpicked successor to the late Hugo Chavez. The larger-than-life former president’s chosen heir, Nicolas Maduro, was, in fact, named the winner of Sunday’s election. But the election results still managed to stun. The two candidates received almost the same number of votes. The opposition is demanding a recount, and Maduro has emerged from the election surprisingly weakened, despite his victory. It is a risky turning point for the country, a challenge to Maduro’s untested skills and a perilous time for Chavismo. Venezuela went to the polls within weeks of […]

The American military is led by some of the most educated professionals in the world. It’s not unusual for a retiring commissioned officer to have spent more time learning in the classroom than a physician, attorney or professor. All commissioned officers and a surprising number of career noncommissioned officers have a four-year college degree; many add an advanced civilian degree — or several of them. This is bolstered by what is called the “professional military educational system,” which is made up of specialized schools operated by the military services themselves. The most important are staff colleges, whose students have 12-14 […]

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently undertook a week-long visit to Japan and South Korea, highlighting NATO’s growing role in Asian security in partnership with nonmember governments. Rasmussen is convinced that NATO needs to deepen cooperation with partner states to address global security issues that can negatively impact NATO members’ security. Conversely, NATO has unique capabilities and experience in leading multinational military campaigns, as in Afghanistan and Libya, which can be applied to joint efforts among NATO and partner states to address security concerns in Asia and beyond. Since taking office in August 2009, Rasmussen has tried to induce alliance […]

Five Indian soldiers serving with the United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan were killed in an ambush last week that also left seven civilian U.N. staff dead and four more troops wounded. Such casualties are grimly familiar for the Indian army, which has lost more personnel on blue helmet missions than any other country’s military. But the attack capped off a difficult few weeks for India at the U.N., marked by diplomatic disputes over the rules of peacekeeping and the new Arms Trade Treaty. Cumulatively, these episodes may reinforce doubts about New Delhi’s commitment to the U.N. system. Although […]

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The announcement this week that Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front), one of the main armed groups battling to take down the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has formally announced its allegiance to al-Qaida could signal a major shift in Syria’s two-year-long civil war. It certainly complicates matters for the United States. Over the past several months, Washington has concentrated its efforts on two parallel but complementary tracks: forging a broad-based, secular-leaning, pro-Western provisional government that could take over the administration of areas where the government in Damascus has lost control; and encouraging different rebel military groups to develop a […]

The Arab-Israeli conflict has never lost its power to conjure visions of Nobel Peace prizes among world diplomats, even as it has repeatedly thwarted the efforts of even the most skilled among them. Despite the occasional success, well-intentioned plans have also backfired disastrously, triggering new waves of deadly violence. As the Obama administration launches a new push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the watchword must be, “First, do no harm.” Forging a successful peace process that brings results would obviously create tremendous benefits for the local population and for America’s strategic interests. It is undeniably a worthy goal. But […]

Under North Korea’s former dictator Kim Jong Il, crises followed a well-choreographed pattern. There would be provocation and sometimes outright aggression accompanied by paranoid, hostile and even hysterical rhetoric from Pyongyang. Eventually Kim would be mollified by some diplomatic concession or more assistance to keep the ramshackle North Korean economy from collapsing altogether, and things would return to normal — such as it was. However much this game frustrated the United States, Washington was fairly confident that it would not escalate into accidental war. Kim knew how far to push and when to back off. Unfortunately, the young Kim Jong […]

The new South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye finds itself in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it must respond to North Korea’s missile threats to avert more serious ones. On the other, it must do so without provoking Pyongyang or Beijing. Chinese officials are already concerned by South Korea’s strengthening security ties with the U.S. as well as by Seoul’s recent decision, supported by Washington, to acquire longer-range offensive ballistic missiles capable of reaching Chinese territory. But responding to the urgent North Korean threat requires bold action, and, despite Beijing’s complaints, the added pressure that closer U.S.-South […]

Policy discussions about peacekeeping frequently get bogged down in technical details, such as the wording of United Nations resolutions, rather than tackling big strategic questions. This has been true of most commentary on the U.N. Security Council’s decision in late-March to mandate an “intervention brigade” to “neutralize and disarm” armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There has been a lot of talk about the council’s unusually aggressive language, and less about the new brigade’s role in the complex political struggle for access to the DRC’s natural resources. Peacekeeping experts are excited that the council has directed […]

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