CARACAS, Venezuela — Known for military strongmen, Latin America has mostly embraced peace since the end of the 1980s era of right-wing dictatorships. Now flush with profits from a commodities boom, however, many Latin American countries are beefing up their military capabilities as they seek to ascend the ranks of regional power players. Brazil, Chile and especially Venezuela have invested heavily in arms purchases. With $4.3 billion in purchases since 2005, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, Venezuela’s recent spending surpasses even Pakistan, at $3 billion, and Iran, at $1.7 billion — major military powers in their own regions. […]

With the results of the first round of France’s presidential election in, the conventional wisdom says the May 6 runoff between Gaullist Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Ségolène Royal will be decided on the merits of two distinct economic and social visions: Sarkozy’s impatient laissez-faire reform vs. Royal’s defense of France’s traditional welfare state. But, trumping policy, the results of the election may actually be decided on the strengths of two very different political styles: the first, Sarkozy’s, rooted in the political machinery of the past, and the other, Royal’s, an as-yet untested strategy tailor-made for the current media age. The […]

WELL-VERSED DIPLOMATS — What would Talleyrand make of next week’s European Union poetry marathon in Washington? The accommodating 19th century French diplomat, who managed to serve in succession the French revolutionary government, Napoleon, and the restored monarchy without missing a beat, advised “Pas trop de zele” (not too much zeal, or don’t go overboard) in his profession. But on May 5, diplomats from the EU’s 27 member states will spout 136 poems from their respective countries, together with translations, over five hours — and that involves a lot of zeal.For those who miss the marathon, the poems will also be […]

BANGKOK, Thailand — The rekindling of formal diplomatic relations between Burma and North Korea this week completes a bizarre circle of skulduggery between two pariah states. The visit by Pyongyang’s deputy foreign minister, Kim Yong-Il, to Rangoon and the half-built new capital Naypyidaw is a formality, and certainly not the first visit by North Koreans since relations were formally severed in 1983. There have been persistent reports in recent years of North Korean technicians working in Burma, including isolated Naypyidaw — which means the abode of kings — 200 miles north of the old capital of Rangoon, a nine-hour train […]

China isn’t comfortable. The country’s spectacular growth over the last two decades has made it ever more thirsty for energy, but policymakers are not sure they can secure their energy supply into the future. Rather than gain confidence as the United States has stumbled in the Middle East, many Chinese take U.S. problems in the region as a sign of Chinese vulnerability as well. Some in the United States feared China would soon stand out as a rival to U.S. influence, but in recent months, the Chinese government has shown an interest in being helpful. That cooperation needs to be […]

Ambassadors from the 15 U.N. Security Council member states have begun a fact-finding mission to assess the current situation in Kosovo. The mission is expected to visit the Serbian capital of Belgrade from April 25-26, the Kosovo capital of Pristina from April 27-28, and then Brussels, where the ambassadors will confer with NATO and EU leaders. Upon returning to New York, they will report their findings to the Security Council. The council is currently deliberating whether to implement the recommendations on Kosovo’s status offered by U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari last month. Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal does not explicitly advocate granting […]

In the past couple of months, news about Turkey has been littered with reports about the spasms of violence between Turkish troops and militants of the terrorist Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) in the rugged, mountainous eastern part of the country. After a decade of cease-fire, old hatreds have resurfaced with a vengeance, costing the lives of more than 250 soldiers in the past year, and 10 soldiers and 29 Kurdish guerillas this month alone. Mothers and wives kneeling and wailing over their sehit (martyr) sons draped in the Turkish flag have become regular images on Turkish television screens and in […]

Sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites continues to dominate headlines, but the latest threat to stability in Iraq — and perhaps the whole region — appears to be mounting tension between the Turkish government and Iraq’s Kurds, both of whom are now reported to be massing troops on the Iraq-Turkey border. While regional experts say the breakout of violence along the border likely is not imminent, recent developments indicate the United States is taking the threat seriously, as the consequences of a conflagration could be dire for the fragile Iraqi occupation. Turkey insists its grievance is with the Kurdistan Workers’ […]

In an interview with the mass-circulation German tabloid Bild Zeitung, German Chancellor and current EU president Angela Merkel marked the EU’s 50th birthday celebration by revealing that her wish list includes a European Army. What Merkel and other EU leaders want is not a perpetuating of existing arrangements, but a “European fighting force” independent of, but working with, NATO. Given the complexities of existing EU defense arrangements, it is easy to understand the desire of European leaders for the kind of unified command and control structure a European Army would need. While Merkel claimed the prospect had “come closer,” the […]

KATMANDU, Nepal — While thousands of Nepalese gathered to mark the first anniversary of the king’s humiliating capitulation on April 24, 2006, King Gyanendra was, quite literally, praying for survival. At the Dakshinkali Temple, just outside of Katmandu, the king and Queen Komal oversaw the ritual slaughter of five animals — a rooster, duck, goat, sheep and water buffalo — in a ceremony to appease the bloodthirsty deity, Kali. It was on this day last year that King Gyanendra announced he was ending his 15-month autocratic reign, after 19 days of protests in the streets of Katmandu and around the […]

PARIS — The April 11 terrorist bombings in Algiers brought international attention to a radical group that seemed on the verge of extinction before becoming an al-Qaida franchise late last year. But a recent spate of attacks in North Africa belies a broader threat, according to some analysts, who say the real focal point of operations is mainland Europe, where a series of deadly plots have already been interrupted. Responsibility for the twin explosions that killed 33 people was claimed by al-Qaida’s Committee in the Islamic Maghreb, which had been known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) […]

In February of this year, Germany’s influential Bertelsmann Foundation published the results of a new public opinion survey on anti-Semitism in Germany and the view of Germany among Jews in Israel and the United States. The Bertelsmann study made for headlines both in Germany and around the world: among other reasons, because it came to the conclusion that anti-Semitism is on the decline in Germany. The Bertelsmann findings thus plainly contradict the widespread assessment of both academic specialists and journalistic observers, who have pointed rather to a remarkable banalization of anti-Semitic prejudice in Germany in recent years. This process of […]

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LUNATIC FRINGE COULD BLOCK THE ROYAL FLUSH — The French press calls them the “eight little Indians,” and they are the lesser candidates left behind after Sunday’s first round in France’s presidential elections. They could only ever hope to receive a handful of votes — 1 or 2 percent each — but those votes were siphoned off from the main candidates, mainly the Socialist Ségolène Royal. Still, by the May 6 runoff their names will be all but forgotten. Because of the heavy state subsidy, you don’t have to be rich to run for office in France. Olivier Besancenot, the […]

While the war between Israel and Hezbollah raged in Lebanon and Israel last summer, it became clear that media coverage had itself started to play an important role in determining the ultimate outcome of that war. It seemed clear that news coverage would affect the course of the conflict. And it quickly transpired that Hezbollah would become the beneficiary of the media’s manipulation. A close examination of the media’s role during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon comes now from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in an analysis of the war published in a paper whose subtitle should give […]

WASHINGTON — The claim of responsibility by a local organization with ties to al-Qaida for the recent blasts that rocked Algeria unleashed a wave of Western analysis about the extent to which Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network is being bolstered or replaced by regional groups whose activities where not previously global in scale. Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s “bin Laden unit,” contends that while the years since Sept. 11, 2001, have inspired dozens of regional groups to align with al-Qaida’s global movement, there is simply “no evidence” the bin Laden-run mother ship is “any less capable” than […]

IRBIL, Iraq — A guard armed with a machine gun stands at the gate of the compound, which shares a high concrete wall with a prison at the rear. But inside the University of Kurdistan, the only English-language university in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, free minds are at work.Gates open to a freshly laid lawn area. Off to the right, a four-story steel-and-glass facility comes equipped with lockers, air-conditioned computer labs and prayer rooms. Faculty members and students say their college is a break from the Saddam Hussein era, when the curriculum was controlled from Baghdad. “Freedom of expression is the mark […]

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s April 11-13 visit to Japan helped advance the modest détente that has marked Sino-Japanese relations since Shinzo Abe became Japanese Prime Minister in September 2006. Abe has made improving ties between China and Japan — which had deteriorated sharply — a priority. Despite some achievements, however, the summit failed to resolve the underlying economic and especially security tensions between the two countries. Wen’s sojourn represented the first visit by a senior Chinese leader to Japan in seven years. He described his trip as an effort to “melt the ice” that had characterized Sino-Japanese relations in recent […]

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