Amidst economic uncertainty and political excitement, academics and diplomats converged in Washington last week to discuss the future direction of the United States’ Southeast Asia strategy. Their assessments, along with broader regional developments, highlight the key challenges, shifts and continuities that will drive the next administration’s policy toward the region. Most of the conference participants agreed that the absence of a serious conventional threat meant that Southeast Asia’s challenges and flash points will continue to remain internal, such as insurgency, abrupt political transitions and economic volatility. Thus, on the security front, Washington must build on its successes in assisting its […]

Since the formation of the Russian Federation in 1991, the Russian government has been careful to limit military spending, hoping to avoid the Soviet error of engaging in a ruinous arms race with the West. As recently as February, then-Russian President-Vladimir Putin reaffirmed that Russia “must not allow [itself] to be drawn into [a new global arms race].” But while Russian defense spending has already been rising in recent years, one long-term effect of the Georgia War could be to accelerate Russia’s military rearmament. On several occasions since the Georgia War began, Russian leaders have made statements that could be […]

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Close to 16 million Indonesians are expected to leave the country’s cities this week in a mass exodus to their hometowns in order to celebrate Idul Fitri and the end of the Ramadan month. But this year, they will be hitting the roads as a broad national debate over a controversial anti-pornography bill continues to rage from the local communities of Bali to the streets of Jakarta. Earlier this month, the government announced that it was close to passing legislation that would monitor not only media, but also behavior — even conversation — that is seen to […]

Missile Defense Moves Forward

These are heady and crucial days for the burgeoning international missile defense system (IMD), which the United States is building in cooperation with its closest allies. Indeed, every week seems to bring with it another validation of IMD’s necessity, viability or practicality. The past several weeks are no exception. On the capabilities front, just this month, the Airborne Laser (ABL) was successfully tested aboard its demonstrator aircraft (though not yet in the air; that comes next year). “We have now demonstrated all of the technical steps needed to shoot down a boosting missile in flight,” explained Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, […]

Corridors of Power: Crisis is in the Eye of the Beholder, EU Translators and More

THE U.S. FINANCIAL CRISIS — Not surprisingly, a wide cross-section of the world press is having a field day with the U.S. financial crisis and its political implications. A couple of typical samples: In the Italian left-of-center newspaper La Repubblica, foreign policy and U.S. specialist Vittorio Zucconi unleashes a scathing commentary on the Bush administration. The roots of the crisis, Zucconi writes, are not financial, nor economic, but political. In his lame address to the nation Bush Wednesday blamed everybody but himself and his government for the crisis, but the reality is that for nearly eight years, “America has been […]

Editor’s Note: Beginning with the next installment on Oct. 6, Rights & Wrongs will appear every other Monday.U.S. RELEASES ANNUAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT — In the latest edition of its annual report on religious freedom, released Sept. 19, the U.S. State Department named North Korea, Eritrea and Iran the worst abusers of religious rights. State Department Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford spoke first of conditions in North Korea at the report’s launch, noting the country “remains among the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom. The cult of personality surrounding the ruling family remains an important ideological underpinning […]

UNITED NATIONS — In his farewell speech to the United Nations this week, U.S. President George W. Bush assessed the utility of the world body in a way that represents a significant departure from his administration’s earlier policy. Bush, now entrenched in nation-building both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, told members of the U.N. General Assembly, “a clear lesson has emerged: The United Nations and other multilateral organizations are needed more urgently than ever.” His Sept. 23 speech came after almost eight years of rocky relations between the United Nations and the Bush administration. It also fueled speculation about the […]

The next prime minister of Israel will face daunting challenges, from pursuing a risky peace deal with the Palestinians and perhaps Syria, to navigating a dangerous confrontation with Iran, whose nuclear program many in Israel consider an existential threat. Before the new Israeli leader can plunge into these life and death foreign policy issues, though, she (or he) will first need to negotiate the treacherous rapids of Israel’s domestic political waters. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is doing just that as she works to secure the office of prime minister. Ironically, the man in the strongest position to affect her […]

Bush, Zardari Meet as U.S.-Pakistan Relations Deteriorate

When Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, met privately with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York Tuesday, the deteriorating security situation along the Afghan-Pakistani border was certainly a central topic of discussion. But while cross-border attacks from both sides of the frontier are seriously exacerbating relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, they might also paradoxically be driving the three countries to consider ever-deeper levels of cooperation. Afghan officials, and their American and NATO allies, have long criticized their Pakistani counterparts for failing to suppress the numerous Islamist militants […]

KAMPALA, Uganda — As a young bride from a village in Uganda, Annet Nyakisiki never imagined she might one day be the sole breadwinner for an HIV-positive family. But while she was a virgin at the time of her marriage, her husband, 10 years her senior, was not. There is no way to know exactly when he contracted the AIDS virus, but he did. He subsequently spread it to her, and all four of their children would eventually be born with the disease. “When I found out that we were all positive, I thought, We have no future,” admits Nyakisiki, […]

South Africa Holds Its Breath After Mbeki Resignation

South Africa faces an uncertain future in the aftermath of a tumultuous week that culminated in President Thabo Mbeki agreeing to step down sooner than his already announced departure date in 2009. Mbeki’s decision came at the recommendation of the governing body of the African National Congress, the country’s dominant political party, following a scandal surrounding his government’s interference in the attempted prosecution of ANC President (and Mbeki rival) Jacob Zuma on charges of corruption. A South African judge dismissed the case against Zuma last week, prompting Mbeki’s rivals within the ANC to push for his early ouster. While Mbeki […]

NEW DELHI — The series of deadly bomb blasts that shook India’s capital on Sept. 13 has prompted some of the usual finger pointing at Pakistan, but most evidence suggests the attacks were perpetrated by homegrown Islamist militants, and there is growing recognition here that the increasing activity of such groups poses a huge challenge to India’s anti-terror capabilities. A shadowy Muslim group, the Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for the five attacks that left 24 dead and at least 100 injured at commercial and tourist hubs around New Delhi. The serial attacks constituted the fourth separate such incident in as […]

Turkey, Armenia Engage in ‘Football Diplomacy’

In what has been heralded by Armenian and Turkish diplomats as “football diplomacy,” Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan joined Armenian President Serge Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edvard Nalbandian earlier this month to watch the two nations’ teams play a World Cup qualifying match in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. The face-to-face meeting, the first ever since Armenia became an independent nation in 1991, removed “a key psychological barrier” that has existed between the two nations and was a clear first step forward in the process of reconciliation between the two neighbors. Turkey closed the border with […]

In the wake of last week’s power sharing agreement signed by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and rival opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, questions have arisen as to what kind of government this unlikely alliance will produce, who will hold the balance of power within it, and whether it is even workable in the long-term. On the face of it, the three parties — Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai’s MDC and Mutambara’s splinter MDC faction — look irreconcilably split on a number of key issues. The MDC’s economic plan, for instance, calls for changes of leadership in key positions, as well […]

The Russian military intervention in Georgia has imparted a new tension in the Sino-Russian relationship. Earlier this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry made the surprising suggestion that the United Nations could help resolve the Georgia crisis. Spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing that the U.N. might, “through dialogue and consultations . . . help achieve regional peace and stability and should embody the common ground of all the various parties.” In previous U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sessions, the Chinese representative had adopted a low-key position while Russian and Western diplomats deadlocked over proposed UNSC resolutions to resolve their acrimonious […]

U.S.-Nicaraguan Relations Chill as Ortega Faces Domestic Tests

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — U.S. relations with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a former Cold War foe, have become icier after the former Sandinista rebel leader recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions. While the international community condemned Russia for sending troops last month to support the two rebel enclaves South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Nicaragua quickly became the first country other than Russia to recognize the two provinces’ as independent nations. Five days later, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez canceled a planned trip to Nicaragua, with U.S. Ambassador in Managua Robert Callahan saying, “It isn’t the appropriate moment for the […]

A deft diplomatic intervention to shore up Bolivia’s beleaguered government demonstrated Brazil’s newfound willingness to exert strong political leadership in South America, filling the vacuum created by America’s disengagement with the region’s leftist presidents. Bolivia’s domestic turmoil led South American leaders to convene a heads-of-state summit for members of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a body created only four months before. The Sept. 15 summit, held in Chile, was in many ways UNASUR’s trial by fire, and by all accounts it was a Brazilian show, with President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva leading the negotiations. “With the United […]

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