The termination of the European Union embargo on providing military equipment to Syria’s rebels, combined with renewed efforts in the U.S. Congress to goad the Obama administration into providing arms to the anti-Assad opposition, suggests that the West will soon become more directly involved in aiding the fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The shift comes despite the near absence of domestic support in any NATO-member country for inserting troops directly into the fighting, and with concerns that establishing and enforcing any sort of no-fly zone over Syrian airspace might expose Western aircrews to unacceptable levels of […]

Since the start of the Middle East uprisings in early 2011, the region has slipped into a period of uncertainty, with a battle for political influence and legitimacy stretching across state borders. Two rich countries in the Persian Gulf region, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have operated with different and sometimes divergent strategies for trying to shape the political transitions in Egypt and impact violent struggles for power in places like Syria. Understanding this dramatically changed regional context is important in analyzing the approaches of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Since 2011, the competition for power and influence in the Middle East […]

Thailand and France are reportedly set to sign an agreement next month on joint development of high-speed rail in Thailand. In an email interview, Lieven Jacquemyn, founder and managing director of the Singapore-based infrastructure investment and development firm Plektics, explained Southeast Asia’s infrastructure needs and infrastructure’s impact on regional integration. WPR: What are some of Southeast Asia’s most pressing unmet infrastructure needs, and what are the primary obstacles to infrastructure development? Lieven Jacquemyn: The emerging economies in Southeast Asia have seen impressive growth, and in order to sustain this growth, the general consensus is that energy and transportation infrastructure needs […]

On June 26, Mongolians will go to the polls to elect their next president, with incumbent Tsakhia Elbegdorj predicted to return to office with a renewed mandate. His principal challenge comes from B. Bat-Erdene, who maintains a strong base of populist support in Mongolia’s rural areas. The third candidate, Natsag Udval, is a staunch supporter of former President Nambar Enkybayar, currently serving a two-and-a-half year jail term on corruption charges. According to Julian Dierkes, a Mongolia expert at the University of British Colombia, Udval is unlikely to gain more than 5 percent of the vote, but her candidacy is noteworthy […]

AMSTERDAM—When news of economic troubles in Europe started emerging in 2009, the prevailing narrative in the Netherlands, as in much of the northern part of the continent, held that cultural differences, even the weather, could help explain the problem. The troubles in Greece, one often heard the Dutch say, stemmed from a certain lack of discipline, perhaps understandable considering the temptations of leisure along the sunny Mediterranean coast. Almost five years later, Europe’s economic woes have reached the North Sea shores, sending a chill through one of the most disciplined economies of the European Union. The Netherlands is now in […]

In Honduras, the Central American country with the highest homicide rate in the world, the two largest and most dangerous street gangs declared a truce Tuesday. The agreement between MS-13 and Barrio 18 is modeled after one that took effect last year between the same gangs in El Salvador. “The success of the truce in El Salvador, which has reduced homicide levels from 14 per day to five per day since it was negotiated in March 2012, was certainly an important impetus for Honduras to test a similar path,” Rachel Schwartz, program associate at the Inter-American Dialogue, told Trend Lines […]

Prior to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mid-May visit to Washington, the expectation among many observers was that the Turkish leader would be coming to the White House to press a reluctant President Barack Obama to commit to supporting more forceful—that is, military—action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Erdogan’s trip played out quite differently. Rather than Erdogan convincing Obama to change positions, it was the U.S. president who got the normally strong-willed Turkish prime minister to soften his tone and publicly support the Geneva II process, Washington’s effort to convene an international conference next month on […]

Nigeria could be a dominant political force and engine for economic development in Africa and beyond. It has a large population with a highly educated professional class. Its proven petroleum reserves are the world’s 10th largest. And its military is one of the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, with extensive experience in multinational peacekeeping. Unfortunately, though, Nigeria’s problems run as deep as its potential. It has suffered some of the most rapacious and persistent government corruption in the world. Nigerian leaders, both military and civilian, have stolen untold billions while the nation sinks deeper into poverty. Many Nigerians use their impressive […]

Counterinsurgency theorists and stability operations specialists concur that developing competent local police forces is an absolute imperative to stabilize a fragile state. Yet, the U.S. government frequently seems to honor this principle in the breach. Indeed, the United States lacks the ability to effectively train and develop what is arguably the most important component of a state’s internal security forces. This gap was clearly illustrated by the American experience with police-building during the decade-long interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, with significant consequences in both countries. A survey of those efforts makes it clear that the development of effective indigenous police […]

Central America has returned as an international battleground, not against communism but against organized crime. With successive crackdowns against drug traffickers in the Caribbean, Colombia and, most recently, in Mexico, the countries of Central America’s northern triangle—Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras—have become a center for illegal narcotics transshipment. Beyond their geographic location and extensive coastlines, the combination of weak institutions, political instability and corrupt police in these countries makes the region an ideal base for traffickers. And with astronomical crime rates—Honduras officially has the world’s highest murder rate, at more than 80 homicides per 100,000 people, with El Salvador close […]

Bolivian President Evo Morales’ successful push to clear the way for a potential third term in office has reinforced the fears of many observers who, ever since he was first elected president in December 2005, have lumped Morales in with the wave of populist, anti-democratic leaders in Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Morales joined ALBA, the alliance of leftist countries assembled and underwritten by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; he engaged in the time-honored tradition of leftist “yanqui” bashing; and he has whittled away institutional checks and balances on executive power. But in important economic and political ways, Bolivia was and […]

The May 23 Moscow European Security Conference gathered government representatives, defense officials and analysts from Russia, Europe and elsewhere to discuss the range of issues confronting policymakers for European security today. Sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which covered my expenses as well as those of other nongovernmental participants, the speeches and debates displayed an interesting admixture of standard post-Cold War rhetoric and genuinely innovative thinking. While the conference highlighted the many areas of divergence between Russia and the West on matters of European and global security, it also offered some opportunities for renewed engagement and dialogue on these […]

The Arab Uprisings were principally sparked by the brutality of the security sector in almost every single country where they occurred. In Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation following an insult by the police in December 2010 triggered the revolution. In Egypt, the June 2010 murder by two policemen of Internet activist Khaled Said, followed by the brutality of police during the fraudulent parliamentary elections of November-December 2010, set the revolution’s context. In Libya, the arrest in February 2011 of Fathy Terbil—a human rights lawyer who had represented the families of the victims of the June 1996 Abu Selim Prison massacre, in […]

This month, Iceland’s new conservative coalition government announced it would suspend talks to accede to the European Union, pending a referendum on whether the talks should continue. In an email interview, Maximilian Conrad, an assistant professor of European politics at the University of Iceland, discussed this decision and the recent history of Iceland’s relations with the EU. WPR: What were the reasons behind Iceland’s EU accession application, and what is driving the coalition government’s decision to suspend accession talks? Maximilian Conrad: The Icelandic decision to apply for EU membership can only be understood against the backdrop of the “kreppa,” Iceland’s […]

In his speech yesterday at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama offered a detailed and comprehensive vision of how he plans to wind down the global war on terrorism. Perhaps inspired by the continued and growing criticism from his political base that his maintenance—and expansion—of executive powers inherited from the George W. Bush administration was setting troubling precedents for future chief executives, Obama announced his interest in limiting the legal basis for any future president’s ability to wield vast national security powers. He also outlined a “second go” at closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay; his first effort, heralded […]

The Libyan city of Benghazi saw a string of bombings early this month, highlighting Libya’s remaining internal security challenges two years after the fall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. In an email interview, William Lawrence, director of International Crisis Group’s North Africa project, explained the landscape of Libya’s armed groups and the international role in security sector reform. WPR: What are the main armed groups currently operating in Libya, and what are their goals? William Lawrence: As reported by Small Arms Survey in June 2012 and in Crisis Group’s “Holding Libya Together” and “Divided We Stand,” there are four types […]

At the conclusion of his first year in office, French President Francois Hollande is facing criticism from all sides. Hollande was elected as an almost accidental president in May 2012 in the post-crisis wave of government changes across Europe. His promises to renegotiate German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hard-fought European Union budgetary pact—and to counter austerity measures by increasing public sector expenditures and imposing sharp tax hikes on business—made a deterioration in the French-German partnership, clearly visible over the past year, all but inevitable. Despite his campaign rhetoric, however, Hollande’s first year in office has been marked by conflicting policy messages. […]

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