After a period of relative calm, the two recent attacks in the Russian city of Volgograd serve as a reminder that, despite the government’s pre-Olympic crackdown, Russia’s heartland remains vulnerable to militants from the Muslim-majority North Caucasus region. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings of the city’s main train station and a crowded trolleybus, which together killed at least 30 people, Volgograd has suffered from years of bombings, typically carried out by Islamist terrorists from the nearby North Caucasus. Russia’s Muslim militants are especially irritated by President Vladimir Putin’s decision to hold the February Winter Olympics in […]

After two weeks of slaughter in South Sudan, UNMISS, the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, faces three possible scenarios: fragile success, prolonged agony and decisive failure. In the first and best scenario, the mission will manage to hold together militarily long enough for more-or-less sincere political talks to end the violence. In the second, it might muddle through in the face of half-hearted negotiations and spasmodic but serious violence, trying to save as many lives as possible. The third, worst-case scenario would involve the fragmentation and rout of UNMISS after repeated attacks on its bases, personnel and convoys. […]

Recent developments have led some commentators to worry that China and the United States may stumble into a shooting match. Two events in particular have heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington: Last month, China proclaimed an air defense identification zone covering disputed territories in the East China Sea; then, on Dec. 5, a collision was narrowly avoided between the USS Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel that was accompanying the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, on its maiden excursion into the South China Sea. Aware of the possibility of a clash that neither country wants, Chinese and American spokesmen have […]

Last Sunday night, a Lebanese soldier opened fire, killing a 31-year-old Israeli sergeant who was driving along the Israeli side of the border that separates the two countries. The initial reports of an exchange of fire in that area immediately brought to mind the events of 2006, which started with a cross-border raid and turned into an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah. That conflict started after Hezbollah’s Lebanese Shiite militias cut through the border fence, killing three Israelis and taking two others as hostages into Lebanon. The incident this week, as it quickly became apparent, was not a Hezbollah […]

Last week’s execution of Jang Song Thaek, who was widely seen as offering a modicum of adult supervision to North Korea’s impetuous young ruler, Kim Jong Un, was an ominous turn in a dangerous place. Kim Jong Un, already “the most dangerous man in the most precarious nuclear state in the world,” as Patrick Cronin put it, just became even more menacing. While purges are nothing new in North Korea, executions of someone as senior and well-connected as Jang are unusual. Married to Kim Jong Un’s aunt, Jang was often seen as the state’s second most powerful official. North Korea’s […]

The Obama administration’s decision last week to continue the dual-hatted arrangement whereby a single military officer runs both the Cyber Command (Cybercom) and the National Security Agency (NSA) is the latest indication that the administration plans to make only modest changes in how the United States conducts offensive and defensive cyber operations in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA data collection. Instead, the administration’s aim will be to tighten security procedures to prevent yet another massive leakage of sensitive information from a rogue contractor such as Snowden, as well as to minimize further friction with friendly governments. Although […]

Does Ban Ki-moon fall prey to the sin of envy when he thinks of Pope Francis? The two men are arguably the leaders of the two most significant global institutions, and idealists have dubbed the secretary-general of the United Nations a “secular pope.” Ban does not subscribe to this grandiloquent self-description. But he may wish he could communicate moral themes as effectively as the new pontiff. Francis impressed even nonbelievers last month with a deeply felt attack on the rising “economy of exclusion and inequality.” Ban, who hopes to forge a new international deal to end extreme poverty by 2030, […]

A concerted effort to portray the protests in Ukraine as a pivotal moment pitting the Euro-Atlantic community against a resurgent Russia has not gained much traction among the American public in general or the Obama administration in particular. Washington apparently has little interest in matching the Russian “bid” for Ukraine, despite dire warnings that a failure to do so will imperil the security of the Western world. Some of this may be due to “revolution fatigue” engendered after a decade of watching the promise of popular uprisings to usher in new eras of freedom, democracy and pro-American governments fade away. […]

Exactly one year ago, Egyptian liberals took the streets driven by anguish and anger. The first elected government since the Tahrir Square uprising was stealing the revolution from them. In the dead of night, the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly had approved a draft that many viewed as laying the path to an Islamist state. One year later, with the Islamists out of power and the military firmly in control, a new panel has approved major changes to that constitution. Just as the old constitution revealed the Islamists’ ambitions, the new document offers a window into the long-term aspirations of those holding […]

The Middle East has played such a pivotal role in U.S. national security over the past few decades that it’s easy to forget this is a recent phenomenon. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that America’s growing dependence on Middle Eastern oil, concern about expanding Soviet military power and an intensification of the U.S. relationship with Israel elevated the region to the first tier of American security concerns. With the end of the Cold War, the Middle East became paramount in America’s global strategy. Now, in a shift of potentially historic impact, that may be coming to an end. The coming […]

During his recent visit to South Asia, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel focused on securing a formal agreement to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and an informal accord to continue drone strikes in Pakistan. These are both important topics, but U.S. policymakers need to devote more attention to other issues that could have an even greater impact on U.S. interests in the South Asian region in coming years. While in Kabul, Hagel did not even try to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been adding new conditions for a renewal of the Afghan-U.S. status of forces agreement […]

Is there a lonelier or more poorly understood warrior than Francois Hollande? Last week, as French troops prepared to intervene in the Central African Republic (CAR) to stem pervasive disorder, there was praise from abroad for the domestically unpopular French president. The Economist characterized Hollande as a “strident neocon” and “decisive war leader” whose willingness to send soldiers to Mali and the CAR this year has been in contrast to his “shaky” performance at home. Noting that France’s recent interventions have enjoyed widespread African support, the Guardian announced the emergence of a “Hollande doctrine” involving a “benign form of armed […]

Much American analysis of the past week’s events in Ukraine has tended to focus on the advisability of removing President Viktor Yanukovych and getting Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement, including a free trade pact, with the European Union. But little attention has been paid to what might happen the day after. This thinking echoes the prevailing line a decade ago during the Orange Revolution, which assumed that everything would be fine once the protesters’ demands were met. Instead, the absence of a coherent, sustained Western approach in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution led to its unraveling. Ukrainian Deputy […]

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It took just a few days after the agreement between Iran and world powers was announced in Geneva before evidence started to emerge of a significant strengthening of Iran’s position against its rivals. The interim agreement has not gone into effect yet, but the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is already changing. The so-called Joint Plan of Action, signed on Nov. 24, is meant as a temporary measure, ostensibly freezing conditions in place for six months while negotiators hammer out a permanent deal over Iran’s nuclear program. And yet, the very fact that Iran […]

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Hamid Karzai is playing a dangerous game with the security of both Afghanistan and the United States. With NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan ending soon, the Afghan president negotiated a bilateral security agreement with Washington to leave a small U.S. counterterrorism and advisory force in his country. But after convening a national assembly of elders known as the Loya Jirga and gaining their endorsement, Karzai announced that he would not sign the agreement, leaving that to the winner of April’s presidential election. When U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice explained to Karzai that the United States needs the agreement in […]

Throughout the Syrian civil war, Moscow has refused to turn its back on one of its few remaining allies in the Middle East, despite the tensions this stubborn support for Damascus has caused with Turkey, some Arab states and the West. The Syrian civil war has presented Moscow with two major challenges. First, the collapse of the Assad regime would likely result in a sharp decline of Russian influence in Damascus, as Syrian opposition leaders have warned that, if they come to power, they will punish Russia and other foreign governments that stood by President Bashar al-Assad. A change of […]

The European Union is notorious for producing reams of official documents. Does it need to churn out another one on the state of the world? In last week’s column, drawing on a new paper published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), I argued that the EU needs an overarching strategy to respond to escalating challenges both on its periphery and at the global level. The existing European Security Strategy, completed 10 years ago this month, remains a pithy analysis of the problems the bloc faced in 2003. But its age shows: It contains just two extremely brief references […]