LONDON — The business of war-fighting just got more difficult. These days, British troops — over-stretched, under-funded and ill-equipped — must contend not only with implacable enemies abroad, but also with a seemingly disinterested Defense Ministry and a sometimes hostile public at home. No surprise, then, that morale has plummeted. The low level of morale was highlighted in a survey — the first ever — that was conducted among more than 24,000 service personnel across the armed forces. It revealed that almost half are ready to quit. The reasons are not hard to find. During October alone, the British government […]

Ten years after al-Qaida declared war against the United States, andseven years after the U.S. followed suit, much of what we know aboutthe group is filtered through the lens of the Global War on Terror, aconcept that hides and distorts as much as it reveals. In reducingal-Qaida to a terrorist organization, we have ignored the broadersocio-cultural movement it represents. The result has been to overlookthe range of its activities on the one hand, while exaggerating itsprospects for success on the other. To formulate a soundstrategic response to al-Qaida, we must first have a clearunderstanding of just what kind of enemy […]

AMMAN, Jordan — Ever since Barack Obama proved to be a viable presidential candidate, news that America might elect a man with an African father, a Muslim stepfather, and a widely multicultural background to the White House has electrified the world. After eight years of the Bush administration, analysts suggested that simply electing Obama, regardless of any subsequent policy changes, would begin solving America’s severe image problems around the globe. Nowhere was this phenomenon supposed to manifest itself more powerfully than in the Middle East. If America elects Obama, the argument went, Muslims will give Washington the benefit of the […]

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A government probe of political dissidents and journalists has caused violent clashes in Nicaragua and concern abroad as the country heads into municipal elections Nov. 9. A statement by U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood criticized Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s verbal attacks against opponents, as well as police raids against two non-governmental organizations in what Ortega’s critics say is a wide-reaching “witch hunt” against the opposition. The European Union, a group of former presidents of the Americas led by Jimmy Carter, Human Rights Watch and the Paris-based Reporters without Borders all released statements in recent weeks expressing […]

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A couple of articles in the French language press (one this weekend in Le Monde, the other today in Le Figaro) indicate that, contrary to what I’d expected, Russia is in fact annexing South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the installment plan. Apparently most of the political leaders installed in the two provinces are Russian (the new South Ossetian prime minister is a product of the Russian security forces), a rail bridge that linked the Abkhazia’s ethnically Georgian populaiton to Georgia has been blown up, and negotiations are under way for pemanent military bases. (I imagine that bargaining will be less […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Venezuela’s strengthening military and diplomatic ties with Russia have led to alarmist headlines announcing the return of a Cold War standoff, and raising questions about the impact of Hugo Chávez’s arms shopping spree on the regional balance of power. But even with the latest arms purchases, Venezuela does not top the list of the region’s biggest military powers. Since 2005, Venezuela has spent over $4 billion on Russian hardware, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets and dozens of combat helicopters. The purchase of over 100 T72 tanks to replace older French models is in the pipeline, say Venezuelan […]

In early October, news and rumors spread through the city of Mosul in northern Iraq that insurgents were targeting the area’s Christian population. The attacks were apparently aimed at driving the Christians out of town — a sort of “religious cleansing.” The anti-Christian campaign reportedly began in September, with “death threats through letters, SMS and e-mails,” according to Mustafa Gundogdu, a researcher from the U.K.-based Kurdish Human Rights Project. (Iraq’s minority Kurdish population, concentrated in self-governing Kurdistan, includes many Christians, although not all Iraqi Christians are Kurds.) Gundogdu told World Politics Review that the threats were signed by a group […]

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — In search of raw materials, China has increasingly used development assistance to court Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, three countries “forgotten” since the Vietnam War. The U.S., too, has stepped up its activities in the region since the Sept. 11 attacks, although its efforts have focused more on counterterrorism cooperation than on directly addressing the growing Chinese influence. But as Southeast Asia increasingly becomes the object of the two powers’ attention, some in the region are expressing discomfort with their growing rivalry. A January 2008 report (.pdf) by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted that China outpaced […]

Last week, the U.S. government completed one of the largest nuclear recovery operations in history when it helped relocate 341 pounds (154.5 kilograms) of highly enriched uranium — enough to construct six nuclear weapons — from a Soviet-era nuclear research reactor in Hungary to a more secure storage site in Russia. The operation was led by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and involved the cooperation of Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Euratom Supply Agency. While lauding the Russian and American governments (.pdf) “for […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” WASHINGTON — At 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 11, 2007, a suicide bomber blew the Moorish-style facade off the building that housed Algeria’s Constitutional Council, which oversees the country’s elections. Ten minutes later, elsewhere in Algiers, a truck containing 1,800 pounds of explosives and another suicide attacker leveled part of a United Nations building. The blasts killed 42 people — including 17 U.N. employees — and injured 158 others. They were also the surest sign to date that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Two months ago, on the seventh anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, dozens of American scholars published articles trying to determine whether al-Qaida is stronger or weaker today than it was seven years ago. Nearly all of the analysis, though, viewed al-Qaida exclusively through the theoretical lens of counterterrorism, an approach that essentially defines the organization by its choice of tactics. But ignoring the many social, cultural and historical factors that effect al-Qaida’s relation to its principal constituency, the “Arab street,” skews […]

Editor’s Note: This article is one of three WPR features on the theme “The Al-Qaida We Don’t Know.” Salim Hamdan was not a typical al-Qaida prisoner. For seven years prior to his capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, Hamdan had been Osama bin Laden’s personal driver and bodyguard. He had been caught red handed on an al-Qaida film carrying an AK 47 while protecting the al-Qaida chief, and as if that weren’t enough, pictures of Hamdan’s car at the time of his arrest showed two SAM 7 heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles there on the backseat. Hardly the normal accoutrement for an […]

A high-profile trial of a shadowy Turkish ultra-nationalist organization dubbed Ergenekon, after the mythic birth place of the Turkic race, got under way in the Silvri Prison Complex near Istanbul on Monday amid fervent demonstrations. The Turkish press has long anticipated the commencement of the trial, which is the culmination of a 16-month investigation and 2455-page indictment that has divided opinion in the country. The Islamist ruling AK Party has long championed the case as the first crackdown in Turkey on “the deep state,” an alleged covert, nationalist cabal of military officers, intelligence agents and policemen acting outside the judicial […]

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING SUMMIT — The Bush administration’s announcement of an emergency financial summit on Nov. 15 in Washington ruffled some international feathers, notably in Spain and France, but in other countries as well. The meeting of global leaders to address the current crisis and bring a measure of control to the unruly financial world was originally proposed last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He pushed for the United Nations as the venue, and encouraged the widest possible participation. That’s not what the White House announced Wednesday. To the more or less private annoyance of the French, the White […]

AMMAN, Jordan — Little more than six months ago, the government of Jordan broke some most unwelcome news to the population. As oil-rich neighbors nearby basked in fantastic wealth from seemingly unstoppable jumps in oil prices, importers such as Jordan could barely cope. The government in Amman decided it could no longer afford oil subsidies. Almost overnight, fuel prices took off, some rising more than 75 percent. Before long, the cost of food followed suit, with some staples quickly doubling in price. The shock has not quite worn off, but suddenly things are changing. Now that oil prices have rediscovered […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A bitter power struggle within South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has not only led to the imminent formation of a splinter party. It has also completely changed the face of South African politics. In the shadows of the struggle for political supremacy, both the country’s economy and its human rights record have taken a beating over the past five months. The struggle for control of the ANC began after the election of a new National Executive Committee (NEC) during the party’s national congress last December in Polokwane, in the country’s northern province of Limpopo. […]

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At the upcoming North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in December, U.S. officials will once again make the case for admitting Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance. Our NATO allies, with Germany and France leading the way, already blocked the two countries’ path to membership last spring, a move that in retrospect might have prevented August’s dustup between Russia and Georgia from escalating into a nuclear standoff. Rather than being grateful to them, U.S. leaders are instead doubling down on folly. If the Bush administration gets its way, NATO will this time offer these nations Membership Action Plans, one of the […]

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