At the heart of the U.S. war in Afghanistan lies a striking and unresolved contradiction. While the U.S. has sent approximately 100,000 troops to this impoverished, landlocked country to combat a fearsome local insurgency, the actual focal point of U.S. policy in the region largely revolves around protecting and stabilizing a country just across Afghanistan’s eastern border: Pakistan. It’s an ironic but not altogether surprising strategy. After all, Pakistan remains home to Osama bin Laden, his key lieutenants and other terrorist organizations intent on striking American targets. The country maintains a significant nuclear capability, and its ongoing conflict with India […]
The Obama administration has been transmitting a relatively clear set of signals regarding its policy toward Afghanistan ever since the strategic review was completed in December 2010: Progress has been made, but it is “fragile” and “reversible.” According to this argument, since U.S. and allied efforts are showing the first green shoots in terms of being able to train and deploy Afghan security forces that could end up holding territory on their own, it would be irresponsible to change course now. The current strategy must be given sufficient time to play out, even if that does not neatly dovetail with […]
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed an agreement with his counterparts in Acre, Brazil and Chiapas, Mexico, to cooperate on efforts to counter climate change. In an e-mail interview, Harriet Bulkeley, a professor in the Department of Geography and the Durham Energy Institute at the University of Durham, discussed subnational cooperation on climate change. WPR: How extensive is subnational cooperation on climate change? Harriet Bulkeley: Perhaps surprisingly, there is no clear answer to this question. We know that city and regional governments have cooperated in developing responses to climate change since the early 1990s, but the level and extent of […]
With the U.N. Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) preparing for its Jan. 15 exit, few were surprised by the head of the mission’s final, stern warning. In a statement, UNMIN Chief Karin Landgren warned (.pdf) that “growing differences within the major political parties add to the mistrust between them, and the failure of the peace process to advance had strengthened the hand of those on all sides who derided it as unproductive.” Landgren, like several experts, also warned that a return to war is possible. But will UNMIN’s departure exacerbate the risk? UNMIN was established in January 2007 to support the […]
When Brazilian voters went to the polls last year, they voted for continuity. In electing Dilma Rousseff, a 63-year-old technocrat who had never run for office before, they responded to the pleas of their popular outgoing president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula, as he is known, had made his preference clear. “A vote for Dilma is a vote for me,” he told them, with both leaders promising that she would continue moving Brazil down the same path. When it comes to foreign policy, Dilma, as Brazilians call their new president, has also said she will follow her predecessor’s line. […]
China has confirmed that it has conducted a successful flight test of a new stealth fighter jet. The news was announced while U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is on an official visit to the China. Chinese President Hu Jintao stated the tests were pre-planned and the timing was a coincidence.
As the 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) opens in Hanoi on Jan. 12, the country is at a crossroads in terms of its future development trajectory and, possibly, its international posture. During the nine-day gathering, the congress is to discuss, revise and approve the document that sets the guidelines for Vietnam’s 2011-2020 national socio-economic development strategy as well as the CPV Central Committee’s political report. In addition, the nearly 1,400 delegates, representing more than 3.6 million party members in 54,000 grassroots organizations, will elect the new Central Committee. The 160 full members and 21 candidates […]
We have long known that retired military officers have a cozy relationship with the military-industrial complex. A recent article in the Boston Globe fleshed out the nature of this relationship, detailing the extent to which retired senior officers have moved to private-sector defense companies in the last decade. Indeed, this career path has become considerably more common: “From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.” […]
In the ongoing saga of Russian energy diplomacy — intimately tied to Moscow’s attempts to consolidate its influence in its “near abroad” — the Dec. 9 oil-trade agreement with Belarus goes down as an important marker of Russia’s reinvigorated authority in its immediate neighborhood. With President Viktor Yanukovych now exercising increasingly authoritarian control in Ukraine, and Belarus no longer flirting with the West, Moscow can safely assume that the two-decade era of Western institutions and influence expanding eastward has been put on hold indefinitely. This turning point is concurrent with a thawing of relations between Russia and many Western countries, […]
Bangladesh police fired tear gas and water cannons to break up violent protests by investors earlier this week, as stock prices went into a freefall and authorities halted trading on the country’s stock market for a second day. The country’s stock exchange has been down more than 25 percent since December.
One thing I’d add to my remarks on France 24’s The World this Week regarding social media as tools for political protest. As I said on Friday, I’m an agnostic with regard to how decisive these emerging communication technologies are when it comes to defying authoritarian power. Certainly they facilitate information-sharing, which is one component of effective resistance. But it’s not the only component, and it’s far from the decisive one. Organizational networks, physical acts of contestation and/or the cooptation of existing centers of power — whether the police, the military or some other determinant of social order — remain […]
As Argentines enjoy the final summer before electing a new leader later this year, uncertainty surrounds the direction of the country’s domestic and international policies. High levels of inflation, social unrest, growing insecurity, a dissatisfied and powerful agricultural sector, a continued spat with the U.K. over the Falkland Islands and accusations of being a haven for laundering drug money are but a few of the challenges the next Argentine leader will face. Four years ago, on the eve of presidential elections in 2007, much of this uncertainty did not exist or had not yet become apparent. At the time, the […]
Although the referendum in South Sudan appears to be occurring without major incident, the main challenges lie ahead on the way to an independent South Sudan, the universally expected outcome of the voting and subsequent six-month transition period. The referendum was a key component of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended decades of conflict between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) based in the South, and the Sudanese government in Khartoum, led by Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who seized power in a coup in 1989. Unfortunately, the CPA and subsequent rounds of talks have failed to resolve several important […]
I had the pleasure of participating on France 24’s panel discussion program, The World this Week, on Friday. The other guests were Matthew Saltmarsh of the IHT, Paul Taylor of Reuters, and Régis Le Sommier of Paris Match, and the topics we discussed included the Republican takeover of Congress, the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, and the protests in Tunisia and Algeria. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here.
It has been depressing to watch the reaction of the American foreign-policy establishment to the Wikileaks debacle. Visceral rage has predominated, of course, but it has been mixed with a misplaced pride in the quality of State Department diplomacy. The leaks, we are told, provide reassuring evidence that all is working as it should be. Fareed Zakaria, for example, praised the insight and breadth of the analysis on offer. The cables, he wrote, are “well wrought” and reveal “clever minds” at work, with the best of them resembling something “straight out of Evelyn Waugh.” Such complacency comes as no surprise. […]
A central theme of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was the need to revitalize the institutions of governance for 21st-century problems. “We cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy,” he declared in one notable stump speech, and the sentiment was repeated throughout his campaign. Once in office, President Obama made the same claim regarding international order and governance. The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) (.pdf) acknowledged that in a world facing transnational threats, and one where “new centers of influence” would shape diplomatic options, international cooperation was a necessity. But it recognized that outdated institutions are as much an […]
Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in December 2009, President Barack Obama expressed his concern that the existing global “architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats.” Part of the problem is that there is no true global-security forum. In the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, Amitai Etzioni suggested that the resulting ad hoc anti-terrorism coalition might evolve into what he termed a “Global Safety Authority,” but this has not occurred. The U.N. Security Council, which according to the United Nations Charter is supposed to take up this function, has several problems. First, its membership is […]