Last week, the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, where I am an assistant professor, conducted its annual crisis simulation, which has traditionally attempted to put students in critical decision-making situations under conditions of stress, asymmetric information and lack of sleep. This year’s scenario saw Mexican cartel gunmen attacking the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, where Brad Pitt, George Clooney and the rest of the cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” had gathered for a reunion. Unfortunately for Pitt and Clooney, there was no Hollywood ending in the Patterson School’s script — suffice it to say at least Andy Garcia managed […]

In January, when a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker escorted a Russian tanker carrying essential fuel to Nome, Alaska, it served as a reminder that the U.S. and Russia have many reasons to continue pursuing a thaw in relations. Unfortunately, beyond the New START agreement and a few other deals, the U.S.-Russia reset, which was announced with fanfare in 2009, seems to have descended into bureaucratic obscurity. While it is essential that the United States maintains a constructive relationship with the Russian federal government, there is much more to be gained in developing working relationships that extend to regional governments, nongovernmental […]

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In the first high-level meeting between the United States and Cuba since former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban President Raul Castro in 2010, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby traveled to the island last week to discuss the case of imprisoned American Alan Gross. Though the case has strained relations between the two countries, and though the U.S. remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere without normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, there have been improvements in the relationship, particularly over the past three years. Geoff Thale, who oversees research and advocacy for the Washington Office on Latin […]

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon selected his predecessor Kofi Annan last week as his envoy to mediate the ongoing crisis in Syria, most observers thought it was an obvious choice. But Ban’s decision represents an important twist in a sometimes complex relationship between the two men — and a high-stakes attempt to maintain the U.N.’s role in the Middle East, where it has been active since the 1940s. Ban had reportedly looked for an Arab envoy, but divisions in the region over how to deal with Damascus made it hard to find a consensus candidate. By contrast, Annan is […]

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The U.S. and Singapore held their first strategic partners dialogue in Washington in January. In an email interview, See Seng Tan, the deputy director of the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, discussed the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Singapore. WPR: What motivated the recent push to step up bilateral ties? See Seng Tan: The most significant recent development in bilateral ties are the negotiations between the U.S. and Singapore to allow the U.S. Navy to base a number of littoral combat ships in Singapore. The move has been seen, especially by China, […]

This month marks the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and the post-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, a country that is currently playing a vital role in sustaining NATO forces in Afghanistan, supporting Georgia and other U.S. friends in Eurasia, and helping to moderate Iranian and Russian ambitions in the energy-rich Caspian Basin region. But Washington needs to prioritize its ties with Baku to strengthen the partnership and to make sure that Azerbaijan and its fragile neighbors in the geopolitically vital South Caucasus region remain strong and stable. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Azerbaijan was among the […]

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The European Commission published a document earlier this month to defend the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in the face of large public demonstrations against the proposed agreement. In an email interview, Axel Metzger, a professor of intellectual property law at the University of Hanover, discussed ACTA in the context of European Union intellectual property norms. WPR: What is the background of ACTA, and what gaps in the global intellectual property regime is it meant to address? Axel Metzger: The goal of ACTA is to achieve a higher level of enforcement of intellectual property rights. The provisions, for the most part, […]

Where is the positive vision for U.S. foreign policy in this election? President Barack Obama and on-again, off-again “presumptive” GOP nominee Mitt Romney now duel over who is more anti-declinist when it comes to America’s power trajectory, with both slyly attaching their candidacies to the notion that “the worst” is now behind us. On that score, Obama implicitly tags predecessor George W. Bush, while Romney promises a swift end to all things Obama. Halftime in America? Indeed. But what’s the animating vision, besides rebounding? What course are we setting, besides up? So far, all the candidates’ visions seem negative — […]

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Noting an improvement in Zimbabwe’s political situation since the signing of a power-sharing agreement in 2008, the European Union last week eased its targeted sanctions against the country’s leadership even as it encouraged further political reforms. With the goal of pushing further progress toward fair and peaceful elections, the EU removed visa bans and asset freezes on 51 individuals and 20 companies with links to the ruling party, ZANU-PF. But it kept an arms embargo in place, extended a freeze on aid for another six months and kept more than 100 party officials, as well as Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, […]

The Oval Office meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Jan. 30 has already been chalked up as a major victory by Tbilisi. Obama and Saakashvili discussed a range of topics, including the development of Georgia’s democracy, the country’s future transition of power and a possible free trade deal. For the Georgian government and their allies in the media, however, increased defense ties were the centerpiece development. Yet aside from an oblique reference by Saakashvili to “elevating our defense cooperation further,” details on any changes in the military relationship have been scarce. Several figures in […]

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The British government approved arms sales to Bahrain last year, despite ongoing unrest in the Persian Gulf state. In an email interview, John Louth, deputy head of the defense industries and society program at the Royal United Services Institute, discussed the U.K. defense industry. WPR: What is the current size and scope of the British defense industry, and how has it evolved in the past decade? John Louth: The U.K. defense market represents between about 1 percent and 2 percent of U.K. GDP annually, with the government spending about $28 billion each year on defense equipment and services from the […]

Over the past several months, the rapid changes in Myanmar have underlined the remarkable political skill of the government that came to power after the country’s 2010 elections. With its initial steps toward embracing a domestic reform process, the Myanmarese leadership has obtained approval from the other nine Association of South East Asian Nations members to chair the regional bloc in 2014. The domestic opening has also allowed Myanmar to forge economic and political relationships with other Asian countries such as Japan, India and South Korea. Perhaps most importantly, the dramatic thaw in relations with the U.S. has encouraged greater […]

Iran’s decision this week to bar International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from visiting the Parchin military base, which Tehran allegedly used to test components needed to create a nuclear weapon, may prove to be a turning point in the diplomatic standoff over the country’s nuclear program. Up to this point, the “rising democracies” — especially Turkey, India and Brazil — have been unwilling to support efforts by the United States and Europe to further isolate Iran, in part because they have a much narrower definition of what constitutes a “nuclear weapons capability,” which the U.S. says is an unacceptable […]

The moment Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called Henrique Capriles “a low-life pig” last week, he dispelled any hopes that the ailing, firebrand president would behave graciously or even with something resembling dignity toward his opponent in the country’s upcoming presidential election. The crass language, and what followed, also made it clear that Chávez will pull out all the stops in pursuing Venezuela’s top job for the fourth time, doing everything within his considerable power to remain in office for life. Had the opposition shown its traditional signs of weakness in advance of the October elections, Chávez might have had the […]

On Jan. 5, Turkey’s Defense Industry Executive Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, authorized the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries to open negotiations with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of two F-35 multi-role combat fighters by 2015. Though Turkey’s defense minister today clarified that Turkey still intends to follow through with its intention to acquire 100 F-35s, the small initial purchase represents yet another setback for the troubled program.* It was followed by Britain’s declaration in February that it will postpone making any formal commitment to the F-35 until 2015. Australia, too, is currently reconsidering plans to buy 12 […]

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Representatives from more than 50 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, have gathered in London for an international conference on Somalia, chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron. In the words of Philip Barton, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Washington, the conference will focus on “the underlying causes of instability and its symptoms, such as famine, piracy and terrorism.” With piracy increasingly threatening international shipping, and the militant Islamist group al-Shabab developing closer ties to al-Qaida, problems that have plagued Somalia for two decades are posing a growing […]

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In late-January an influential member of the European Parliament urged the European Union to reject a deal with the U.S. on sharing information about air travellers for anti-terror programs. In an email interview, Rocco Bellanova, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Facultés Universitaires Saint-Louis, and Paul De Hert, a professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Tilburg University, discussed the EU-U.S. passenger data-sharing agreement. WPR: What is the background of the U.S.-EU passenger data-transfer deal? Rocco Bellanova and Paul De Hert: The 2011 iteration of the so-called passenger name record (PNR) agreement currently under discussion at the European Parliament […]

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