On Oct. 18, the foreign ministers of Niger and Nigeria signed a defense pact in Niger’s capital, Niamey, establishing joint border patrols along their 930-mile border. The pact also envisions infrastructure projects, including road construction and potential rail links to connect the two countries, as well as renewed efforts to re-demarcate the border. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger announced the deal in a French-language Twitter post on Oct. 24, declaring that, from now on, “whoever attacks Niger, attacks Nigeria.” In the communiqué launching the pact, both countries’ heads of state, Issoufou and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, expressed their concern about […]

Rarely a week passes without a grim new article, op-ed or newspaper story warning us that al-Qaida is mounting a comeback. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane, for instance, recently declared that al-Qaida is “seeking to take advantage of the opportunities posed by revolutionary change throughout the Middle East” and is “on the rise.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, the RAND Corporation’s Seth Jones argued that, with the Obama administration turning its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, al-Qaida is pushing into the political vacuum created by the Arab Spring and “riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in […]

Tanzania is lobbying to be allowed to make a one-off sale of its ivory stockpile ahead of the annual meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In an email interview, Esmond Martin, an independent wildlife trade consultant, discussed the ivory trade regime. WPR: What is the CITES decision-making process on issues like Tanzania’s request for a one-off sale of its ivory stock? Esmond Martin: The present CITES decision-making process concerning Tanzania’s request for a one-off sale of ivory consists of a panel of experts put together by CITES to visit Tanzania to check how effective the […]

In the most recent presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney attempted to tap into a deep-rooted fear among the American public of instability in the Middle East, and in particular the concern that any resulting oil supply disruption would spike oil prices and trigger a recession. The concern is historically based: Past recessions have been caused or accelerated by such crises, including the 1973 oil embargo, the 1979 Iranian revolution and the 1980 outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. Contrary to received wisdom, however, the chance of an oil crisis caused by a hard-to-manage oil disruption has decreased substantially since the […]

This past week’s 44th annual U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative meeting chaired by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provides an opportunity to benchmark the health of the alliance at a moment when at least one of the presidential administrations, that of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, is certain to leave office soon. At their meeting, the two countries’ defense establishments agreed to continue transitioning wartime operational command responsibilities to the South Korean military, retain 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, expand U.S.-South Korea cooperation in new areas such as outer space and the cyber […]

The Party of Regions, the governing party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is on track to retain control over parliament after claiming victory in elections held over the weekend. The results of the widely criticized polling reflected the persistent fault lines that divide the country’s moderate center, its European-leaning western region and the pro-Russian east. “The good news is that Ukrainians voted in large numbers and that the parliament will now be more diverse,” Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science and deputy director of the Division of Global Affairs at the Rutgers Newark College of Arts and Sciences, told […]

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened last week to allow illegal migrants into the European Union in retaliation for new sanctions the bloc has placed on his country. In an email interview, Jana Kobzova, a policy fellow and coordinator of the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, discussed EU policy toward Belarus. WPR: What is the current state of political and economic relations between the EU and Belarus? Jana Kobzova: Icy is the word that best describes the political relationship between the two today. Relations were mildly better in 2009-2010, when the two sides talked about expanding […]

Editor’s note: Ulrike Guérot’s the Continentalist column will return next Monday. With the U.S. presidential campaign entering the home stretch, it is already evident that foreign policy will not play a major role in the election outcome. As the third and final presidential debate highlighted, the foreign policy discussion has ignored wide swathes of critical issues, including how to respond to China’s rise and the resulting shifts in Asia’s regional balance of power; how to re-establish America’s relevance in an increasingly self-reliant Latin America; how to penetrate Africa’s promising but increasingly competitive economic landscape; and how to balance America’s lingering […]

Critical assessments of Mexico’s oil industry in general and of its state-owned oil company, Pemex, in particular are commonplace, often with good reason: Both face many challenges in overcoming the historical legacies that have long undermined their performance. Nevertheless, when President Felipe Calderon’s term in office ends on Dec. 1, he will be leaving both in better shape than when his presidency began six years ago. True, there have been strategic misfires under his administration. Pemex’s opaque expenditure of almost $2 billion for an increased stake in Spanish oil company Repsol stands out, both for the lack of strategic oversight […]

As China’s once-in-a-decade political transition nears, the announcement this week of the promotions of five generals has brought the parallel transition in China’s military leadership into focus. The appointees are widely expected to become members of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the ultimate source of military authority in the country, according to the New York Times. Two experts who spoke with Trend Lines said these individuals are a piece of the larger puzzle of China’s military modernization. “These individuals are going to bring a worldview, a set of experiences, that will shape how China becomes a regional and global military,” […]

On Monday, during the final presidential debate, President Barack Obama proclaimed that his defense budgets were “driven by strategy. [They’re] not driven by politics.” In theory, Obama is correct. Defense budgeting is supposed to be a rational exercise that assesses threats and needs, and then fills in the gaps. As Sean Sullivan, a leading expert on defense resource allocation issues at the Naval War College, told me in a conversation on the subject, “Defense planning processes are specifically designed to use strategy as guidance for force programming and budget decisions, thereby linking the ends with the means.” In practice, however, […]

Since it was founded in 1982, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has been many things: a terrorist group, a sectarian militia and, most recently, a legitimate political actor in Lebanon. Today, the so-called Party of God faces challenges on all sides. Its archenemy and raison d’être, Israel, is as strong as ever; its Syrian and Iranian patrons are struggling; and a regional Sunni ascendancy threatens its regional popularity and domestic legitimacy. At near-peak strength just a few years ago, Hezbollah now finds itself in dangerously uncertain waters. Hezbollah has […]

A splinter group of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement announced this week that it would implement a cease-fire and enter into talks with the Sudanese government, scheduled to be held in Doha. In an email interview, Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and the author of “Compromising with Evil: An Archival History of Greater Sudan, 2007-2012,” reviewed the current state of violence and humanitarian efforts in Darfur. WPR: What is the current state of hostilities — what groups are engaged, and how extensive is the current level of violence? Eric Reeves: Violence is pervasive in Darfur, although it […]

When Mitt Romney vowed during the last presidential debate that, if elected president, he would push for an indictment by the International Criminal Court of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, some of the most powerful people in Tehran surely flashed a smile. Romney argued that Ahmadinejad’s long history of provocative statements regarding Israel and the Jews “amount to genocide incitation,” an indictable offense under international conventions. Of course, the Republican presidential nominee was really trying to convince American voters that he would be tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama. The tactic of targeting Ahmadinejad, however, would only please much of […]

Following considerable speculation that it would be postponed or even cancelled, the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene in Beijing on Nov. 8. The meeting marks the beginning of the final leg of China’s extended leadership transition process and should give greater clarity on China’s direction in the coming decade. Over the past two years, China’s intricate and opaque leadership structure has been shaken to the core by a series of high-profile political scandals amid elevated economic uncertainty. Major disagreements on how to respond to these challenges have riven elite groups, and the factional coalition […]

Having already overseen a spectacular warming of ties with mainland China, with 18 signed cross-strait agreements to show for it, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou took the latest step in his National Day speech on Oct. 10, approving a plan to allow both sides to set up representative offices on each other’s soil. But permitting Chinese officials to have a permanent presence on the de facto independent island is a controversial step, drawing inevitable comparisons to Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, which is widely seen as meddling in politics there. On Sunday, Lin Join-sane, the new chairman of the Straits […]

In a meeting in Paris last week, President François Hollande of France and President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico pledged to move their countries’ battered bilateral relationship beyond the controversial case of Florence Cassez, a French citizen imprisoned in Mexico, with Peña Nieto promising to respect the Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling on the case. In an email interview, Roberto Domínguez, a Jean Monnet researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, discussed France-Mexico relations.* WPR: How extensive are relations between France and Mexico in terms of trade and diplomatic ties? Roberto Domínguez: Relations between France and Mexico take place against […]

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