Diplomats at the United Nations experienced something approaching euphoria at the end of last week. The annual gathering of world leaders for the U.N. General Assembly, in most years an exhausting and tedious exercise, had turned into a nail-biting drama. International and official commentators were gripped by two questions. Would the Security Council make a deal on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons? Could the U.S. and Iran move toward rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear goals? Neither outcome was guaranteed, but the week culminated with a pair of diplomatic coups. On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama reported that he had made […]

This week, speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama laid out a U.S. foreign policy agenda for the remainder of his term in office, with particular emphasis on finding a solution to the impasse over the Iranian nuclear program and making a lasting breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute. However, the overall focus of the address, with its emphasis on the centrality of the Middle East, is seemingly at odds with the direction articulated earlier in his administration, most notably by former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: the so-called […]

When heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly arrived in New York two years ago, they shared the spotlight with another group of people massing in the city. Lower Manhattan was becoming the epicenter of a movement that became known as Occupy Wall Street, a manifestation of the wave of people power that was sweeping the globe. Back then, masses of everyday citizens were flexing their muscles worldwide. Demonstrators seemed to have the upper hand—peacefully toppling dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, raising complaints and demands seemingly everywhere. The very meaning of power seemed to be changing. Over the […]

As the U.S. military struggles with severe budget cuts driven by political posturing rather than a strategic vision, the Army is facing a deep identity crisis. As defense expert Nadia Schadlow explained, “After 10 years of fighting two major wars and suffering the brunt of America’s military casualties, the most experienced and powerful ground force in the world now has to justify its value and relevance.” The historical American preference was to keep only a small army during peacetime, creating one only when war came and demobilizing afterward. That would not work during the Cold War, however, so, for the […]

Earlier this month, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held one of its most important summits in years. The SCO faces the task of managing the instability engendered by the Arab Spring and the ongoing NATO military drawdown in Afghanistan. In addition, the organization has the potential to substantially shape the broader China-Russia relationship. Yet besides its traditional joint declarations and bilateral leadership meetings, the summit, which took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Sept. 13-14, was noteworthy mainly for its limited achievements. The most important participant was China’s new president, Xi Jinping, who was attending his first SCO summit. Xi reaffirmed […]

Only a diehard optimist would argue that there will be a sustainable cease-fire in Syria by the end of this year. While Russia and the Western powers are still bickering over the precise terms for the destruction of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons, brutal fighting persists on the ground. The army and rebels continued to clash last week, and the rebels have also been battling one another, with radical Islamist and more-moderate factions struggling over the northern town of Azaz. This sort of fratricidal combat reinforces the fear, previously voiced by United Nations officials, that Syria could fragment into another […]

One of the unavoidable realities in any U.S. administration is that the president himself can only focus on 10 or so pressing foreign policy issues at any given time. Immediate crises and pressing national security threats tend to dominate that list, which has the unfortunate effect of making the top echelons of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus reactive rather than proactive. Thus, most of the attention of the Obama administration’s national security team over the past several weeks has been focused on the crisis in Syria, to the detriment of matters that may be less immediately urgent right now but […]

Global attention has been focused on Syria in the past few weeks, but the most influential country in the Arab world—and historically the one whose political developments tend to be echoed in neighboring countries—remains Egypt. And Egypt is, essentially, being redesigned. The new Egypt could end up looking a lot like the one that existed before the 2011 uprisings. It could also still become something closer to what the pro-democracy revolutionaries aspired to. But it could turn into something entirely different. How Egypt’s story turns out will be greatly influenced by this, the third chapter of the tumultuous era that […]

As the United States, Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria engage in a complicated diplomatic dance, Washington remains fixated on Syrian chemical weapons, leaving what may be a more important issue—America’s relationship with the Syrian rebels—muddled. The U.S. supports one rebel faction but not enough to allow it to win outright, fearing that doing so will inadvertently help extremists affiliated with al-Qaida or taint the United States with the misdeeds of its rebel allies. This is simply the latest example of the confusion and uncertainly that has long characterized America’s dealings with militias. Although the U.S. military itself grew […]

Although welcome, the U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons reached this weekend in Geneva will prove difficult to implement. Some of these problems can be reduced with concerted effort and continued focus. But the Syrian crisis should not be seen in a vacuum—it is the latest in a series of chemical weapons crises that includes Iraq and Libya. As a result, the United States and other countries should respond not only by working to implement the U.S.-Russia deal, but also by strengthening broader nonproliferation efforts as well as their own national instruments for combating chemical weapons use and proliferation. The […]

Early in President Barack Obama’s first term, there were suggestions that the United States and China could forge a new partnership to manage global affairs. Some commentators argued that a Sino-American “Group of Two” could run the world better than the G-20. It is said that the Obama administration made some version of this proposal to Beijing but was rebuffed. Last week, it suddenly seemed possible that the Syrian crisis could trigger the creation of an alternative G-2, this time involving Russia. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov arrived in Geneva on Thursday […]

The U.S.-Russian negotiations over Syria’s chemical weapons, now underway in Geneva, will determine whether President Barack Obama can walk back his threat to launch punitive strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But they will also impact the paradigm for addressing WMD elsewhere, particularly Iran. Depending on the outcome of the talks over Syria, the U.S. could find itself with new options for negotiating a deal to resolve the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program—or find the door to a peaceful outcome firmly shut. U.S. officials have characterized the Russian plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons as “doable but […]

Whatever happens next in the ongoing drama between the U.S. and Syria over the use of chemical weapons, it would be difficult to conclude that President Barack Obama has performed impressively in his handling of the crisis in Syria. Obama’s response to the slow-motion disintegration of that key Arab state has been marked by a combination of neglect, ambivalence and improvisation. The latest chapter, played out over the past couple of weeks, showed the president at long last responding to what by all appearances was a massive use of chemical weapons by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That […]

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A diplomatic initiative triggered by Secretary of State John Kerry’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks has temporarily stopped the clock on U.S. military strikes against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Nevertheless, the previous week’s tumultuous debate over the appropriate U.S. response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria shows that there is no longer a consensus on the purpose of American military power or even the meaning of “war.” But there is equally little agreement over what should replace the old ideas. For most of American history, the purpose of national military power gradually […]

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part investigative series on U.S. and French counterterrorism efforts in Niger. Part I examined Niger’s emergence as a target of terrorist groups active in the Sahel region. Part II examines the growing U.S. security presence in Niger, and the nascent tensions with France over how best to counter terror and bolster Niger’s security. Though much has been made of Niger’s recent ascendance as a key U.S. ally in the Sahel region, the country had already begun to distinguish itself as a useful counterterrorism ally in Department of Defense circles as early as […]

Until today, last week’s G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, looked to be a bust. Although the group, whose members represent 90 percent of the world’s economy, is not supposed to have a traditional military security agenda, the impending U.S. military strike against Syria ensured that the Syrian issue would dominate deliberations. Despite efforts by U.S. President Barack Obama to convince the other leaders in attendance of the need to respond to the Syrian government’s Aug. 21 use of chemical weapons with military force, the group remained sharply divided on the issue. China and Russia but also Brazil, India and […]

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Can Barack Obama ever trust the United Nations Security Council again? And will the Security Council, and the U.N. more broadly, trust the U.S. president? Last week, Obama vented his frustration with diplomacy over Syria at a press conference during the G-20 summit in Russia. Asked why he had called for military action in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resort to the use of chemical weapons, Obama claimed the alternatives “would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus.” This was a sour if pithy turn of phrase from a president who […]

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