In its spring issue, the venerable Washington Quarterly asked what has become a perennial question, and the central theme of “Under the Influence”: Is the United States entering an age of decline or renewal? But while everyone agrees on the question, it seems that no one can make up their minds on the answer. At first glance, recent events seem to point to the former, or decline. The financial crisis has not only hobbled the U.S. economy, but has discredited the free-market messages it has long propagated abroad. Years of war without decisive victory in Iraq and Afghanistan has added […]

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For a part of the world that doesn’t have a lot of freedom, the Middle East certainly has a lot of elections that matter. On May 16, Kuwaitis elected a new parliament, sending women to the chamber for the first time. On June 7, Lebanese will go to the polls, and five days later, Iranians will have their turn. That Kuwaitis voted four women into office was a surprise even to close observers, who just a year ago had watched all of the female candidates go to defeat. As for the upcoming elections next month, handicappers expect an uneasy tie […]

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On a related note to the previous post about the shifting U.S.-Israel relationship, there’s been a lot discussion in France regarding the shift in France’s posture in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has been accused of essentially adopting a pro-Israeli position that reverses France’s historic sympathy and advocacy for the Palestinian cause. I’d argue that that misses a lot of the context, and some of the finer points, of Sarkozy’s shift. To begin with, France’s historic pro-Palestinian position is no longer as necessary as it once was, for the simple reason that it has become the Western […]

As if to illustrate the challenges facing an integrated European defense market, the French naval shipyard DCNS is suing Spain’s leading state-owned shipbuilding firm, Navantia, for allegedly stealing trade secrets relating to the Scorpène submarine project. The two companies originally developed the Scorpène as part of a joint venture. But DCNS now accuses its Spanish partner of copying Scorpène technology and using it for the new S-80 submarine that Navantia is building both for the Spanish Navy as well as for export markets, where it will compete with the Scorpène. Navantia says the dispute originated in July 2005, when the […]

On June 7, voters in tiny Lebanon will go to the polls. On the surface, the result of the parliamentary elections might seem to make almost no difference at all. But in the peculiar Middle East laboratory that is Lebanon, the outcome of the vote will represent a barometric reading for the entire region. In the end, it may ultimately have serious repercussions that reach beyond the byzantine mechanics of Lebanese politics. Some might consider the elections inconsequential, because the two main factions of Lebanese politics have essentially agreed to grant each other veto power over major decisions. The outcome […]

During the Cold War, U.S. military forces operated in big, firepower-heavy formations, designed to fight equally big and powerful Soviet formations — or what the Pentagon calls “peer” opponents. Times have changed, but the military hadn’t — until now. In recent months, reformers have successfully fought for sweeping changes to military force structure. The changes are meant to boost the Pentagon’s ability to fight in low-intensity, “persistent” conflicts, as opposed to the short, high-intensity major conflicts expected in the recent past. In addition to the structural changes, persistent conflicts demand new ways of thinking about — and training for — […]

Last week was a busy one for Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In one week, the Brazilian leader visited China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, on a tour intended to strengthen Brazil’s diplomatic and economic ties with those three nations. The three days Lula spent in China, from May 19-21, received more attention than the other legs of the trip, in large part due to the close economic ties between the two nations. Spurred by a mutual demand for each others’ exports — with China seeking Brazilian raw materials, and Brazil seeking Chinese manufacturing — China is now the […]

New York and Washington may be separated by only a few hundred miles, but in the last few weeks, they have appeared to be light years apart on arms control and nonproliferation issues. In New York, representatives of more than 100 countries worked from May 4-15 to prepare for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference. Buoyed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s April pledge to seek a world free from nuclear weapons, their work was marked by a spirit of cooperation and compromise that had been noticeably absent during the eight years of the Bush administration. They approved an agenda […]

Two frustrating EU summit meetings last week, with China and Russia, served to illustrate the EU’s well-known difficulties in conducting foreign policy under its presently awkward institutional structure. These problems have propelled efforts to adopt the Lisbon Treaty, which will restructure how the EU manages its foreign policy representation and decision-making. Even with more coherent foreign policy machinery, however, the EU would still find it difficult to achieve its objectives in the case of difficult dialogue partners such as China and Russia. The May 20 meeting in Prague with a visiting Chinese delegation marked the 11th EU-China summit since 1998. […]

It would be nice to think that, when President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, the U.S. leader had a long-term strategy for peacemaking: one that had emerged from months of careful analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the government’s best minds. But though that thought would be nice, it would probably be wrong. There is, in fact, very little long-term strategic planning being performed at the highest levels of U.S. foreign policymaking. The office best known for strategic thinking — the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff — has plummeted in influence and prestige since […]

On May 8, the Czech Republic hosted a long-awaited Nabucco Summit under the auspices of its European Union (EU) presidency. Notably, the meeting convened just as the Bulgarian government finalized its participation in Russia’s competing South Stream pipeline. A little-noticed element of the negotiations in Moscow, however, was Bulgaria’s effort to link its participation in South Stream with Russian financing for a domestic nuclear power program. Pipeline politics may generate headlines, but Bulgarian officials expect nuclear power to generate most of their future electricity. And Bulgaria’s South Stream agreement demonstrates the perverse incentives which arise when EU energy security and […]

When the global financial contagion kicked in last fall, the blogosphere was quick to predict that a sharp uptick in global instability would soon follow. While we’re not out of the woods yet, it’s interesting to note just how little instability — and not yet a single war — has actually resulted from the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Run a Google search for “global instability” and you’ll get 23 million hits. But when it comes to actual conflicts, the world is humming along at a level that reflects the steady decline in wars — by 60 […]

For more than half a century, the United States has held the reins of the world’s most powerful economic institutions. By design, Washington has long dominated decision-making at both the International Monetary Fund and at the World Bank — responsible, respectively, for big loans to states and economic development. At the same time, domestic institutions within the U.S., like the Treasury Department, have also exerted significant influence in the economies of foreign lands. The ideology underpinning much of this leverage — based on free markets and limited government intervention — was for a long time known formally as the Washington […]

Since the eruption of the global financial crisis last fall, the world’s three largest economies — the United States, Japan, and China — have become very generous toward countries in need of cash, opening up a bevy of new bilateral currency swap arrangements. At first glance, this may seem to be a positive example of great-power cooperation in the face of a collective threat: The world’s economic powers are working together to provide liquidity to a global economy dying of thirst. A closer look, however, reveals that the intentions of the parties in question may be far more self-interested than […]

At the London G-20 Summit in April, British prime minister and host Gordon Brown asserted that “The Washington Consensus is over.” With the struggling U.S. economy pulling much of the world down with it, the “Anglo-Saxon model” is now deemed flawed. Dirigiste tendencies are in, with U.S. President Barack Obama embracing a government-funded “stimulus” package whose numbers are well in excess of his high-spending predecessor. Washington itself is moving away from the formula — consisting of fiscal discipline, market-set interest rates, competitive exchange rates, liberalisation of trade and investment regimes, deregulation and privatisation — to which it lent its name. […]

Two months ago, Turkey seemed on the verge of reaching a negotiated solution to its 30-year war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a nationalist, leftist militant group based in northern Iraq and fighting for Kurdish self-determination, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU. The settlement — concocted in the corridors of power of Washington, Ankara, and Irbil — lay at the heart of U.S.-Turkish policy for a stable Iraq following the planned U.S. withdrawal in 2010. The stage was set, with Turkish President Abdullah Gül promising that “very good things” were about […]

When two sides emerge from a diplomatic encounter and both of them can claim to have achieved their goals, we can consider the meeting a success. We don’t know exactly what transpired at the White House on Monday, and short of reading the minds of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or of President Barack Obama, we have no way of knowing how they truly believe their meeting went. Still, there are signs that both sides feel they achieved their objectives. As I predicted, the media focused sharply on the tension over Netanyahu’s reluctance to openly embrace the two-state solution for […]

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