On March 15, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Obama administration would shift tactics on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Specifically, the U.S. will shift its focus from overseas, regional ballistic missile defense toward greater protection of the homeland. However, while the political symbolism of this switch may be positive, the strategic and military consequences may well be counterproductive. As a result, the move looks more like short-term politicking than a new approach to strategic thinking. To some observers, Hagel’s announcement was a significant and welcome change in policy. Under the new plan, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency […]

Last week, Italy’s Foreign Ministry agreed to send two Italian marines back to India to stand trial for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen while guarding an Italian oil tanker off the coast of India last year, ending a diplomatic dispute that came on the heels of a separate and ongoing scandal over bribery allegations regarding Italian defense company Finmeccanica. In an email interview, Joel Sandhu, an expert on India-European Union relations at the Global Public Policy Institute, explained how these recent problems fit into India’s relations with Italy and the EU more broadly. WPR: What has been the trajectory of […]

While American policymakers are fond of repeating the mantra that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program, the president publicly took one option off the table during his recent visit to Israel: Speaking to college students, Barack Obama reiterated, “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” If the Obama administration has indeed definitively rejected containment as an option, the United States will not develop contingencies for if and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. That means Washington is now committed to […]

AMMAN, Jordan — Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has launched what he says is a third way. His approach, the king maintains, will bring peaceful democratic change, empowering the people and modernizing the country, while averting chaos and preventing extremist parties from emerging victorious. It’s a tall order, and one that has met with doubt among many skeptics and critics. So far, the Arab uprisings have given people of all political persuasions a reason to feel anxious. Arab liberals have not made any significant gains. Islamist groups, the principal winners until now, […]

Experts in national security law watched with interest when France intervened militarily against Islamic extremists in Mali earlier this year. Would France detain individuals that it and Malian forces had seized and, if so, how would it treat them? Would it follow the lead of the United States by holding the prisoners as enemy combatants? If not, how would France, or its Malian partners, treat those captured during the fighting? France has thus far shown no desire to employ a Guantanamo-style solution. But it remains unclear whether prisoners will be prosecuted under Malian criminal law or handled in some other […]

Last week, at least 32 people were killed amid violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar, according to the state news media. It took several days for the military to restore calm. Jason Paul Abbott, Aung San Suu Kyi endowed chair and director at the University of Louisville’s Center for Asian Democracy, told Trend Lines that the events, in particular the military’s lack of haste in intervening to halt the violence, are indicative of the country’s broader power struggle over the ongoing reform process. Myanmar is currently undergoing a transition to civilian government after […]

Last Friday, as the extraordinary session of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly stretched well into the night, Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS Roy Chaderton announced that the balance of power in the hemisphere had shifted. “We’re in rebellion against this corrupt and pusillanimous system,” he said, referring to the Inter-American human rights system, whose fate was — and remains — under discussion. “Spring,” Chaderton declared, “is coming to the OAS.” The rebellion Chaderton referred to has been underway for some time, with Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia pushing for reforms to a human rights system that they […]

On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that his government would resign because of a dispute with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that dominates the Lebanese cabinet. Hezbollah had opposed extending the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, who heads the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and is, like Mikati, a Sunni Muslim. But Elias Muhanna, assistant professor of comparative literature and Middle East studies at Brown University and author of the Qifa Nabki blog about Lebanon, told Trend Lines that Mikati also had other reasons to resign. “There is a lot of polarization in this cabinet, which is typical for […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

A year after an uprising toppled Yemen’s then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, interim President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is struggling to consolidate state authority over a country in which 70 percent of the population resides in tribal or rural areas. In an email interview, Khaled Fattah, a guest lecturer at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and an expert on Yemen’s state-tribe relations, explained the enduring dynamics of Yemen’s tribal politics and how they are likely to influence the course of the country’s transition. WPR: What role did Yemen’s tribes play in the process leading to […]

Over the weekend, the Séléka rebel alliance seized Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). This most recent offensive was the latest development in a rebellion that commenced in December 2012 over President François Bozizé’s failure to implement the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement (.pdf) and the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement (.pdf). In those deals, Bozizé’s government had agreed to provide amnesty for former combatants; to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the rebel forces; to provide compensation for those demobilized and the integration of some former rebels into the official armed forces of the Central African […]

Jordan is reportedly choosing between two designs for nuclear power reactors in part to help address a domestic energy shortage, stoking fears about the spread of nuclear technology in a region still gripped by upheaval. In an email interview, Steve Thomas, director of research at the business school at University of Greenwich and an expert on the economics and policy of nuclear power, explained the significant obstacles to Jordan’s development of nuclear power. WPR: What is the current state of Jordan’s nuclear energy program? Steve Thomas: Reports implying that Jordan will soon order two nuclear power reactors are misleading. It […]

This weekend’s visit by Xi Jinping to Moscow, his first trip abroad as China’s new president, resulted in no revolutionary agreements. The biggest “deliverable” to emerge from the summit — the major oil deal the two sides signed — was overshadowed by their continued failure to agree on a price for Chinese purchases of Russian natural gas. Yet expectations were low for the summit, so the lack of headline agreements came as little surprise. More surprising, however, was the extent to which Xi aligned Beijing’s foreign policy views with those of Russia in his public statements while in Moscow — […]

On March 26, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will gather in Durban, South Africa, for the BRICS grouping’s fifth summit. This collection of non-Western powers has cast itself as a new force in world affairs and a potential alternative to the global order that America and its European and Asian allies have traditionally supported. In reality, though, BRICS is less than the sum of its parts, and the real danger to today’s international order lies elsewhere. The BRICS summit has an unusual origin story. The group’s membership reflects an acronym coined by Goldman Sachs economist […]

Last week, a ceremony was held at the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to mark the mission’s 35th birthday. The operation began in March 1978 to patrol southern Lebanon after Israel mounted an offensive against Palestinian fighters in the area. Since then, UNIFIL’s history has been punctuated by crises. In 1982 and 2006, the peacekeepers were sidelined during further Israeli incursions into southern Lebanon. The mission was heavily reinforced in August 2006 after the inconclusive war between Israel and Hezbollah, and it still totals roughly 11,000 blue helmets. But UNIFIL is currently facing potentially more-serious […]

On March 11, police in Malawi arrested 11 politicians on charges of plotting a coup last year after the death of then-President Bingu wa Mutharika that would have prevented his successor, then-Vice President Joyce Banda, from assuming the presidency. In an email interview, Danielle Resnick, a political scientist at United Nations University specializing in the political economy of development and sub-Saharan Africa, described Malawi’s political landscape and Banda’s presidency to date. WPR: What have been the major milestones of Joyce Banda’s presidency to date? Danielle Resnick: Banda’s main achievement has been to re-establish good relations with the international donor community. […]

Sudan has been pursuing some eye-catching regional diplomacy in recent weeks. In late-February, Sudan’s ICC-indicted defense minister was in Riyadh, while its oil czar was in Tehran. These visits followed a meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Cairo in January, and Bashir’s attendance at the Arab Economic Development Summit in Riyadh earlier in February. Combined, the moves suggest a shift in Sudan’s tactical approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, one guided by Khartoum’s pragmatic concerns for regime survival. Sudan has had difficult […]

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