The international spotlight might be focused on the Obama administration’s efforts to change the tone of its dealings with Iran. But while global attention concentrates on the new U.S. approach, Iran’s regional relations with countries in the Middle East and beyond are undergoing a dramatic transformation, with repercussions that reach across the globe. A growing number of Arab countries have engaged in open diplomatic confrontation with Tehran. To compensate for the loss of friends in its own neighborhood, Iran has increasingly forged ties with leftist governments in Latin America, using its growing presence there to find novel ways to help […]

ABOARD THE U.S.S. NASHVILLE — In his civilian clothes, Dr. Augustus Vogel stood out among the khaki, green and blue uniforms of Nashville’s military crew. As the U.S. Navy’s science liaison for the amphibious ship’s six-month “smart power” mission delivering training, humanitarian and scientific assistance to six West African nations, Vogel’s responsibilities were as unusual as his dress. On April 17, Vogel sat down in the vessel’s plush officer’s lounge to confer with a small team of diplomats and naval officers. The topic of their hour-long discussion: fish — and the catching thereof — in the bustling, anarchic Gulf of […]

MONROVIA, Liberia — A clause in Liberia’s constitution requiring black ancestry in order to hold citizenship has spurred debate on the nature of foreign ownership of land here, and in Africa in general. Many Liberians insist that the clause must be changed, decrying their country for being the only “legally racist” nation in the world. Others claim the clause protects Liberians from foreigners who might otherwise take control of the country’s vast natural resources and pristine land. Article 27(b) of Liberia’s constitution dates back to 1847, when freed American slaves declared the country an independent republic. Fearing their white former […]

The World Health Organization on Monday raised its alert level for swine flu, edging the body closer to declaring a flu pandemic, while the death toll in Mexico, where the disease originated, neared 150. Half a dozen countries, including the United States, have identified swine flu cases, likely vectored by air travel. Governments across the planet are bracing for a full-blown pandemic that could claim thousands of lives. Among U.S. agencies, the Pentagon could arguably play a leading role in combating the disease. Recent emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has prepared the military for a global public health […]

The release of previously classified, Bush administration legal opinions analyzing whether “harsh” interrogation techniques would violate legal prohibitions against torture has reopened a moral and ethical debate about the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It is certainly appropriate to question whether the measures adopted were consistent with the traditions of the nation, or whether they would even work. But there is no criminal charge for acting immorally, for making decisions contrary to our country’s principles or for choosing an ineffective intelligence gathering technique. At its core, then, the underlying issue that advocates for the criminal investigation and […]

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party overcame factional infighting, a splinter party, a spotty governing record and the precarious position of its leader, Jacob Zuma, to win a sweeping victory in the country’s general elections. Voting took place on April 22, with official results released over the weekend. The results clear the way for Zuma to be elected president by the new parliament once it is seated. The ANC fell just short of a two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to change the country’s constitution, and below its historic victory of […]

The Chinese Navy held a birthday party last week, and everybody came. Military observers from around the world attended the April 23 celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), held at the northern port city of Qingdao. The Chinese government put on a lavish display, showcasing 25 warships — ranging from nuclear submarines to a modern amphibious assault craft to an enormous hospital ship — along with 31 naval aircraft. Twenty-one ships from 14 foreign navies also joined the parade. The four-day commemoration included seminars on maritime security issues, a sampan race, and an at-sea […]

Recent reports of a nuclear power station being built in Albania with Croatian assistance generated about as much heat as they did light. Two weeks ago, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serb newspapers all reported — without naming their source — that the governments of Albania and Croatia had agreed to build a 1,500-megawatt power station near lake Skadar, which is divided between Montenegro and Albania. The cost of the project, they said, would be around €5 billion. But the reports are untrue, according to Tomislav Mazal, an adviser to Croatia’s head negotiator on the issue, Vice Prime Minister Damir Polancec. “We […]

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In his weekly installment of Under the Influence today, WPR columnist Andrew Bast argues that in formulating foreign policy, no received wisdom, no matter how seemingly sound, or how widely accepted, should escape scrutiny. That principal is lately being practiced by a number of iconoclasts within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, who are making it a point to question the most sacred cows of U.S. strategy: A growing number of experts are arguing that the core assumptions underlying American foreign policy are backed by scant evidence, or are simply fallacious. Most shocking is that these are not fringe crackpots out […]

QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa resoundingly won re-election with an unprecedented first-round victory in Sunday’s elections. Running on the Alianza PAÍS (Country Alliance) ticket, Correa took an estimated 54 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Lucio Gutiérrez, finished with an estimated 31 percent. Under new electoral rules, a candidate needs either more than 50 percent of the vote, or more than 40 percent with a 10 percent margin over the second-place candidate, to avoid a run-off election. Exit polls also gave Correa a majority — if slimmer than the one he currently enjoys — in the Legislative […]

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — With a U.S military air base in the Ecuadorian coastal city of Manta scheduled to be shut down later this year, it looks increasingly likely that Colombia will step in as a new host for U.S. military assets in the region. Newly re-elected Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa (see Henry Mance’s WPR Briefing) has refused to renew Washington’s decade-long lease when it expires in November, arguing that the presence of U.S troops undermines the country’s sovereignty. With Washington looking for a new hub for its counternarcotics operations in Latin America, speculation has been rife in recent months about […]

Few took issue with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s bold assertion on Wednesday that the Pakistan-based Taliban pose a “mortal threat” to the United States. The stakes, of course, are high. The Taliban provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to the 9/11 attacks, and could very well be doing so now. Since fleeing Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion in 2001, they have mounted stubborn insurgencies on both sides of the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s tribal areas, and have now established footholds in formerly secure parts of Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed power makes […]

BEIRUT, Lebanon — On the surface, the opening of the Lebanese embassy in Damascus last month and of the Syrian Embassy in Beirut in December is a historic milestone, signaling a new era in Lebanese-Syrian relations. But substantive progress in the relationship remains slow and observers say it is unlikely to gain pace until after June’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon. In the past year, Lebanese-Syrian relations have been encouraged by domestic, regional and international influences. Principal among these has been the end of Syria’s diplomatic isolation after the formation of a Lebanese unity government in May 2008 ended a six-month […]

ABOARD THE U.S.S. NASHVILLE — In 2007, the U.S. Navy amphibious ship Fort McHenry sailed on a six-month cruise down the West African coast. Her mission: to deliver training and humanitarian aid to new and emerging U.S. allies, in a bid to foster good will and security in a troubled and rapidly growing region. The Navy called the mission “Africa Partnership Station,” and aimed to make it a regular affair. Two years later, U.S.S. Nashville, a ship similar to Fort McHenry, sailed a similar route, calling at the countries of Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe, […]

IQUITOS, Peru — JUSTICE FLOWED SMOOTHLY FOR FUJIMORI: Here in northern Peru, the compact, luxury cruise ship Aqua glides through the brown waters of the Amazon River, escorted by pink dolphins and serenaded from the surrounding rain forest by birdsong and chattering monkeys. Because this is the high-water season, the typical shoreline lies up to 35 feet below the fast-flowing river surface. While other parts of the globe safeguard every drop of their precious water resources, the Amazon will have discharged millions of tons of fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean by June, as it does every year. Deep in […]

The most publicized image manipulation during President Barack Obama’s recent world travels involved Hugo Chávez, who managed to get a front-page handshake with his North American counterpart and later launched an anti-American book to the top of the best-seller list by theatrically handing it to Obama before the cameras. But the most wounding moment came earlier, during the G-20 summit in London, when Obama — perhaps unintentionally — snubbed the President of Argentina. During the gathering of world leaders, Obama walked in the Argentine’s direction, offering a wide smile and an outstretched hand in preparation for a handshake. President Cristina […]

As an IMF note to the G-20 leaders gathered at the recent London summit put it, “Growth also plunged across a broad swath of emerging economies. Against this backdrop, global activity is expected to contract in 2009 for the first time in 60 years.” In 1998, the Asian financial crisis left a lasting mark on politics in Southeast Asia. The Suharto regime fell in Indonesia and, arguably, ongoing turmoil in Malaysia and Thailand can be traced to the impact of ’98. However, this time around, the region is expected to come through the current recession relatively unscathed, in comparison with […]

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