One of the most intriguing aspects of the new political dynamics of the Arab Middle East is the decision by the tiny Gulf kingdom of Qatar to throw its full support behind the controversial Muslim Brotherhood in the contest for the future of the region. The choice by a monarchy to support a populist movement always looked like a gamble. But now, two years into what some still call the Arab Spring, with Egypt’s Brotherhood-dominated government scrambling to keep the country from spinning out of its control, the bet by Qatar’s emir looks riskier than ever. Evidence of Qatar’s backing […]

More than four years after President Barack Obama’s 2009 Prague speech declared the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide, the nuclear landscape has become more complex and precarious and shows little sign of movement toward abolition. The so-called global zero initiative has arguably been overtaken by countervailing nuclear realities. Yet the administration remains mired in a Cold War paradigm, gearing up for more U.S.-Russia arms control. Instead, the Obama administration should focus on other components of its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review as priorities for advancing nonproliferation objectives. These include securing nuclear materials, institutionalizing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), capping […]

The U.S. Treasury Department asserted earlier this month that informal financial transactions through networks known as hawala are helping Iran evade international sanctions. In an email interview, Roger Ballard, a consultant anthropologist and director of the University of Manchester’s Center for Applied South Asian Studies who has written extensively on hawala, explained the long history of these networks and how they currently operate. WPR: What purposes are the hawala networks in Iran used for, and what volume of transactions passes through them? Roger Ballard: For well more than a thousand years, traders operating throughout the Indian Ocean region have routinely […]

For decades U.S. security policy has followed two distinct tracks. In Europe, the Pacific Rim and the Middle East, the extent of American national interests and the possibility of aggression by hostile states led to a direct approach with formal security treaties and the stationing of U.S. forces. In places like Latin America, Africa and, more recently, Central Asia, U.S. strategy was indirect, focusing on security assistance and the provision of advice and training. Partnerships were the coin of the realm. The idea was that other country’s militaries, helped by the United States, would take responsibility for security in their […]

After a decade of gradual rapprochement anchored by booming bilateral energy ties and close coordination on combating Kurdish separatists, Iran and Turkey are struggling to maintain a veneer of mutual amity and cooperation. In recent months, Iran and Turkey have shown growing signs of estrangement. At the heart of their differences lie the Syrian crisis and Ankara’s gradual alignment with the West’s efforts to check Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The two neighbors continue to be bound, however, by a complex and deepening state of energy interdependence, which explains why both sides continue to exercise a measure of self-restraint in their engagements […]

As the conflict in Syria continues, with the United Nations reporting a dramatic increase in the numbers of refugees fleeing the country, Syria’s economy, too, is a victim of the violence. And its chances of recovery are looking slim. “Syria is now fully a war economy that displays all the features of a country in conflict,” Samer Abboud, assistant professor of history and international studies at Arcadia University, told Trend Lines in an email interview. “There is increased informality and black market activity, an increase in criminality and markets for violence, families trying to cope under these conditions by whatever […]

Amid fears that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will pass weapons systems to the Lebanese military group Hezbollah, Israel apparently carried out an airstrike within Syria last night. Regional officials told news outlets that Israel appeared to be targeting a convoy carrying SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles near the border with Lebanon, though Syria claimed Israel targeted a research facility near the capital, Damascus. “The Israelis have always been sensitive to any increase in Hezbollah’s anti-aircraft capability,” Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Trend Lines, noting that Israel has already suffered some losses due to surface-to-air […]

Though Russian oil production continues to rise and is currently approaching Soviet-era levels, forecasts predict it will soon peak and then decline, causing potential problems both for global oil importers and the Russian government’s budget. Averting this decline will require applying more-advanced production techniques to existing fields and exploiting new ones in the Arctic Ocean and elsewhere. Russia’s oil companies will be unable to accomplish this transformation on their own, however. To do so, they will need to secure greater foreign investment and partnerships offering more-advanced technologies and the exposure to better management skills. The benefits of increased foreign investment […]

With peace talks engaged for the first time in a decade, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) at its weakest point in history, Colombia’s once-stifled oil and mining sectors have taken off, enabling oil production to reach a record of 1 million barrels per day in late-December. Yet the extractive industry has found itself increasingly targeted by the FARC and other rebels who are seeking to force concessions from the government, putting foreign investment, now at all-time highs, at risk. The FARC are suspected in the bombing of a gas pipeline in La Guajira in Northeastern Colombia on […]

Mexico’s new administration recently announced it would create a new national intelligence agency as part of a broader reform of the country’s security sector. In an email interview, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, explained the need for a new Mexican intelligence agency. WPR: What has been the state of Mexico’s intelligence apparatus in recent years? Agnes Gereben Schaefer: In recent years, Mexico’s intelligence apparatus has been splintered across many agencies, including 1,661 local, state and federal police agencies; the military; the attorney general’s office; the Ministry of Interior; the former Ministry of Public Security; […]

The wars in Mali and Syria have followed very different trajectories over the past month. While Syria has become symbolic of international inaction, France’s use of force in Mali has shown that some Western governments are still willing to launch new interventions abroad. And while there have been no dramatic military shifts in Syria, French troops have pushed deep into northern Mali with growing speed. The crises also have very different geopolitical implications. The situation in Mali is the latest in a long series of French operations to stabilize its former colonies, although Paris enjoys an unusual level of African […]

European Union member states, Canada and the United States have all committed military transport aircraft to move troops and equipment from Europe to West Africa in support of the French offensive to reclaim northern Mali from Islamist rebels. Six American C-17 Globemaster III aircraft are flying missions as part of U.S. Africa Command’s effort to support French operations, while one Canadian C-17 and two British C-17s are also flying cargo to support the air and land campaign. The involvement of North American aircraft in the French-led mission has brought Europe’s long-standing airlift shortage to the fore. Faced with the demands […]

On Jan. 7, Cameroon’s gay rights community received a rare bit of good news. In what activists described as a breakthrough, the Court of Appeal in Yaoundé, the capital, overturned a ruling against two men found guilty of homosexuality in 2011. Jonas Singa Kimie, 19, and Franky Ndome Ndome, 25, were arrested in July 2011 by authorities who accused them of violating Article 347 of the penal code, which explicitly outlaws gay sex acts. The authorities had no proof of the alleged acts, but claimed the men’s clothing, manner of speaking and drink of choice proved they were gay. A […]

It was odd to listen to foreign policy pundits comment on President Barack Obama’s inaugural address. Some announced that the administration had all but conceded that Iran will obtain a nuclear capability, and that Israel is being left out to dry. Others speculated that in his second term Obama will work to catalyze a broad-based Pacific alliance to counterbalance a rising China. There were those who argued that the second inaugural signals an expansion of the so-called drone war and use of special operations forces to deal with threats to the United States. Some read in Obama’s remarks a call […]

A sense of optimism is palpable in Japan as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes the country’s helm for a second time. Yet as his government promises to create more jobs and invest in emerging technologies to get the country back on its feet once and for all, the reality is that Japan cannot afford to spend its way out of lackluster growth. What the country really needs is sweeping social change that will tap into the power of women in the labor market and bold leadership to make painful cuts to welfare spending. The fact that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party […]

Since assuming power in early 2011, Myanmar’s government, led by President Thein Sein, has focused its energies on the domestic agenda: rejuvenating the economy, liberalizing the political system and bringing an end to the decades-long ethnic conflicts along the country’s periphery. In tandem with these reforms, however, Naypyidaw has also endeavored to rebalance its foreign relations, with a particular emphasis on improving ties with the United States and members of the European Union, as well as important Asian neighbors such as Japan and India. China, which forged a close economic and political relationship with Myanmar during the 1990s and 2000s […]

In January, France began military operations to wrest northern Mali from the control of Islamist militants and prevent them from taking over the rest of the country. In an email interview, Rachel Utley, an expert on French defense and security policies at the University of Leeds, discussed France’s broader military posture in the Sahel region of North Africa. WPR: What are France’s overall military capabilities in the Sahel, and where are its regional bases? Rachel Utley: France maintains a long-standing military presence in Africa, as important for its political value — the promotion of French presence and influence — as […]

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