BAMAKO, Mali — Al-Qaida-linked Islamist groups took control of northern Mali earlier this year, prompting concerns that the vast desert expanse could become a jihadist safe haven. Since then, U.S. policymakers have openly entertained the possibility of kinetic operations, such as drone strikes in northern Mali, and pundits are asking if the landlocked West African nation now constitutes a new front in the war on terror. Largely overlooked in this discussion, however, is the fact that United States has been heavily engaged in counterterrorism activities in this part of Africa for more than a decade — an engagement that has […]

One of the challenges that President Barack Obama faces in his second term is how to salvage his vaunted reset of relations with Russia. An important assumption in Obama’s attempt to jumpstart what had been a rapidly deteriorating bilateral relationship during the second terms of both George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin was that Obama would be dealing with a younger, more modern, liberalizing Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president. While there was no illusion that Putin, as prime minister, was still an influential figure in Russian politics, the reset was predicated on the hope that Medvedev would, over […]

Editor’s note: Catherine Cheney is reporting on German policymaking this week as part of the German-American Fulbright Commission’s Berlin Capital Program, which is funded by the German Foreign Office. BERLIN — Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced an expensive and accelerated departure away from nuclear technology and toward renewable sources such as wind and solar. The latest step in that transition came yesterday, when the German parliament passed legislation to help prevent blackouts as the country’s reliance on renewables grows. Experts told Trend Lines that Fukushima confirmed Germans’ worries about nuclear energy, forcing the government to rapidly […]

BEIJING — After much fanfare and stagecraft, China’s leadership transition, the most prolonged and pored-over in more than 30 years, ultimately ended with a distinct sense of anticlimax. The seven men who will rule China are, as reported by the South China Morning Post two weeks before the event, largely older, conservative cadres. Their identical suits and coiffures, as well as their stiff demeanor amid the stifling Stalinist décor, underscored the apparent dislocation between them and the society they have been anointed to lead. This is a group unlikely to implement the kind of accelerated reforms to China’s politics, economy […]

Over the weekend, photos and video surfaced of China’s newly commissioned aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, conducting carrier aircraft operations for the first time. The development marked a major milestone in the rapid modernization of China’s armed forces. Across the Taiwan Strait several weeks prior, however, another notable development occurred to less fanfare: Taiwan conducted tests of a new “carrier killer” anti-ship missile that many speculate was intended as a not so subtle signal to Beijing. The missile, according to multiple sources, was tested by the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology and is thought to be an advanced version […]

The past two weeks have brought major political and strategic changes to the Middle East, particularly in Israel, which saw a military confrontation with Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as a feverish pace of political activity in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections. Developments in Israel on both the military and political front have implications for the prospects of a much-discussed war with Iran. The question is whether the changes on the ground make a war with Iran more or less likely. The war with Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza pitted Israel against groups linked and partly armed by the […]

Editor’s note: Catherine Cheney is reporting on German policymaking this week as part of the German-American Fulbright Commission’s Berlin Capital Program, which is funded by the German Foreign Office. BERLIN — After talks lasting more than 10 hours Tuesday, eurozone finance ministers reached an agreement on a bailout deal for the heavily indebted Greek economy this week, agreeing to cut Athens’ debts by $51 billion in return for austerity measures. Other steps to reduce the Greek debt to 124 percent of its gross domestic product by 2020 include cutting the interest rates on loans to the country and helping it […]

When the Cold War began in the late-1940s, the U.S. military entered uncharted waters. Previously, the American tradition had been to mobilize the Army and Navy when war was unavoidable, defeat the enemy, demobilize and then come home. That was clearly inadequate for a dangerous new world where the Soviet Union and its allies threatened fragile U.S. allies with direct attack, subversion or insurgency. The new circumstances called for a new strategy built on sustained global engagement and forward presence. This, in turn, required a different security architecture. In Washington, the newly created National Security Council integrated interagency efforts, and […]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is battling an angry middle class, disgruntled unions and the country’s biggest media group. But despite growing social unrest and her own falling popularity ratings, the defiant Kirchner has vowed not to diverge from her left-wing model. Hundreds of thousands of Argentines protested across the country on Nov. 8 against what they view as Kirchner’s creeping authoritarianism. The mass demonstration, dubbed 8N, was followed by the nation’s first general strike in more than a decade on Nov. 20. Media conglomerate Clarín, meanwhile, is refusing to adhere to an anti-monopoly law […]

Although Russia and China are the only countries that have the capability to conduct a large-scale ballistic missile attack on the U.S. homeland, neither one is the focus of U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts, due to the unlikelihood of such an attack. Nevertheless, both Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly expressed their concerns that U.S. missile defenses will negatively impact their own strategic capabilities and interests. While China shares some of Russia’s concerns and responses regarding U.S. missile defenses, Beijing’s objections also differ in certain respects. Both countries fear that U.S. BMD systems threaten to weaken their nuclear deterrents and undermine […]

The leaders of the Pacific Alliance, comprised of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, held a summit meeting earlier this month to consider membership applications from Panama and Costa Rica and to ratify observer status in the trade group for four other countries. In an email interview, Gian Luca Gardini, a lecturer in international relations and Latin American politics at the University of Bath, discussed the Pacific Alliance’s trajectory. WPR: What are the main priorities for the Pacific Alliance in terms of trade and integration, and how successful has it been so far? Gian Luca Gardini: The Pacific Alliance has three […]

When Air Force One touched down at Yangon’s Mingaladon Airport on Nov. 19, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Myanmar. Though the visit only lasted six hours and was bookended by longer stops in Thailand and Cambodia, it was critical not only for maintaining Myanmar’s momentum toward reform but also for solidifying its place in the U.S. regional strategy in Asia. Despite the symbolism, the Obama administration insisted that the president’s visit was not intended as a premature “victory lap” to celebrate Myanmar’s reforms, as critics claimed it risked being perceived, but only to sustain a […]

Turkmenistan announced earlier this month that it would begin production on its Galkynysh gas field, the world’s second-biggest, next year. In an email interview, Luca Anceschi, a lecturer at La Trobe University and the author of “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime,” discussed Turkmenistan’s energy sector. WPR: What is the state of Turkmenistan’s energy sector in terms of outputs, estimated reserves and infrastructure? Luca Anceschi: Natural gas represents the core of the Turkmenistani energy sector. At the end of 2011, Turkmenistani gas reserves were estimated at approximately 8.4 trillion cubic meters, or 11.5 percent […]

In 2006, after Israeli forces performed poorly in combat against Hezbollah’s hybrid asymmetric-conventional tactics, some observers wondered whether Israel had lost its deterrent power against its enemy in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s subsequent tacit apology to the Lebanese people for the destructiveness of the month-long conflict should have offered a clue that such a conclusion was erroneous. “Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it,” he said in a television interview following the fighting. The initial proof of Israel’s renewed deterrent came two years later, […]

A series of major political developments on the Afghan front this month all point toward new cooperative efforts by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. to bring the Taliban leadership into the negotiation process. The renewed push for a negotiated settlement to the conflict comes against the backdrop of the looming withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. Though major questions remain as to whether the effort will bear fruit, it represents what many fear is the last chance to avert a bloody fight for control of Kabul once foreign troops have left the country. On Nov. 14, during the […]

After a successful appeal at a United Nations tribunal, Croatian national hero Gen. Ante Gotovina, who led a 1995 offensive to retake a region of Croatia from Serbian militant control, was acquitted of war crimes last week. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia reversed the convictions of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Gotovina and Mladen Markac, a more junior general. Gotovina’s conviction in 2011 had dealt a blow to the image of Croatians as victims, rather than perpetrators, of the atrocities committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia. The successful appeal now provides Serbs with another example […]

All roads in the conflict between Iran and the United States may not lead to war, but the one both sides are currently on certainly does. The two are at loggerheads, their relationship ossified into a zero-sum strategy that leaves almost no room to maneuver. Since Israel’s security, as the Israelis define it, shapes U.S. strategy toward Iran as much as America’s direct security does, there are rigid limits on what Washington can do or even propose. It is hard enough to reconcile the vital interests of two nations, much less three. Compounding the problem, the United States does not […]

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