The deadly conflict in South Sudan, itself the culmination of a long-running power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, is increasingly drawing in neighboring countries driven by disparate security and economic interests, further complicating the crisis and efforts to reach a resolution. The U.N. has accused both sides of South Sudan’s split of committing human rights abuses in the conflict, which has so far claimed an unknown number of lives, displaced an estimated 900,000 people both inside and outside the country and shows no signs of letting up. An agreement to cease hostilities was violated even before its […]

The protests in Ukraine and Venezuela and the unveiling this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Obama administration’s budget request to Congress would appear to be separate and unrelated events. Yet they are linked by the challenge those developments pose to the strategic assumptions that serve as the foundation of the fiscal year 2015 U.S. defense budget. The United States can no longer afford a strategy that hedges against all possible risks. The fiscal crunch, combined with the need to divert an ever-growing portion of the defense budget to personnel, health and pension costs and away from procurement—particularly […]

Last weekend, Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was arrested after spending 13 years as a fugitive since escaping from prison. In an email interview, David A. Shirk,a political science professor and director of the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego, explained the state of Mexico’s prison system today and whether a Mexican prison could hold Guzman now. WPR: What is the overall state of Mexico’s prison system in terms of its ability to humanely and securely house prisoners? David A. Shirk: Like other prison systems around the world, Mexico’s prison system suffers from […]

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez once tried to insult his country’s next-door neighbor Colombia by calling it the “Israel of Latin America.” But the Colombian president said he found the comparison an honor. “I admire the Israelis,” said President Juan Manuel Santos, characterizing the misfired epithet as a “compliment.” Santos made his comments last summer, when he had traveled to Israel to sign a bilateral free trade agreement. The visit, as one might expect, brought a flurry of mutually admiring remarks among the countries’ leaders. But what might have seemed as a one-off burst of flattery has continued to […]

More than anything else, grand strategy is about balancing risk. In a world of limited resources, countries cannot have everything they might like to have, or achieve everything they might like to achieve. They cannot defend perfectly against every threat, or spend robustly on every priority at home and abroad. This is why grand strategy requires policymakers to choose—to make judgments about what risks a country can accept, and what risks it cannot. This is precisely the dilemma illustrated by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s speech on the defense budget on Feb. 24. As Hagel made clear, the armed forces […]

Last November, the United States suspended aid and arms transfers to Egypt in reaction to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In contrast, earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, praising the “unconditional friendship” between Egypt and Russia countries and reportedly working to negotiate a $2 billion arms deal. Although American officials express a continued commitment to the U.S. partnership with Egypt—and the United States is likely to remain Egypt’s top arms supplier—leaders on both sides of the relationship are wondering where it’s heading. The confusion was heightened this week when the interim Egyptian […]

On Feb. 16, the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of Syria’s Western-backed rebel grouping, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), expelled its chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idris. Idris, who had long been seen as ineffective, was replaced by Brig. Gen. Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir, a Syrian army defector and head of the FSA’s Quneitra military council. His deputy is to be Col. Heitham Afeisi, co-founder and deputy commander of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, a large FSA outfit mainly active in the northwest. The move capped a difficult six months for Syria’s rebels. Plagued by divisions and infighting, as well as indecision among their […]

Every day seems to bring news of another nation slipping into political crisis. With Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Egypt and a host of others still not close to restoring stability, Venezuela and Ukraine have followed them into chaos. It’s hard to know what nation will next fall off the cliff, but it’s a sure bet that some will. Democratization was the most important strategic megatrend of the 1990s, but today it has been dethroned by pervasive, persistent and deep political turbulence, as both old dictatorships and new democracies prove unable to meet the mounting demands of a young […]

Last week’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada trilateral summit resulted in a communique that among other things called for increased energy cooperation on the continent. In an email interview, Jed Bailey, managing partner of Energy Narrative, a research and consulting group focusing on Latin America’s energy sector, explained the recent history of and next steps for North American energy integration. WPR: What has been the recent trajectory of energy integration in North America? Jed Bailey: Energy integration across North America has steadily strengthened for several decades as cross-border trade has grown in electric power and natural gas as well as oil and oil products. […]

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent proposal for a NATO-led peacekeeping operation in Palestine is not a novel idea. Similar proposals were floated by both the Clinton and Bush administrations as well as in NATO’s 2010 “Albright report.” But Abbas’ plan, which calls for NATO troops to be indefinitely deployed to protect the West Bank and Gaza as well as checkpoints within East Jerusalem, is worth considering. There are several reasons why NATO should take the idea seriously. First, and most obviously, NATO could make a significant contribution toward facilitating peace between Israel and Palestine. Without doubt, NATO would offer […]

Although the geopolitical tug-of-war between the European Union and Russia was recognized as a principal factor driving recent events in Ukraine, NATO’s full role in the crisis is not widely understood. Like the EU, the alliance’s pull on Ukraine has long aroused anxieties in Moscow as well as among pro-Russian Ukrainians, exacerbating tensions related to the East-West standoff. But while NATO took no military action in the crisis, its partnership policies toward Ukraine have helped keep the Ukrainian armed forces out of the recent street fighting and could help the country emerge from its recent security crisis. Ukraine is not […]

Three months after Iran reached an interim agreement with the U.S. and its negotiating partners in the P5+1 to limit Iranian nuclear capabilities, the two sides announced last week that they had agreed upon a framework for negotiation of a final comprehensive agreement. In remarks in Jerusalem following the announcement, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said that these negotiations, scheduled to begin March 17, will be “very tough” and “will go on through July.” At the same time, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessed that, in the agency’s judgment, Iran is complying […]

The arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman this weekend was remarkable not only for its images of a long-sought drug kingpin finally captured, but also for its display of close U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. Only last week, the Washington Post was reporting on an apparent pause in the relationship. After Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was elected, Joshua Partlow wrote, “diplomats lost access to Mexican ministries, working groups stopped meeting and U.S.-funded training programs were put on hold.” But behind the scenes wheels were moving, with American agencies working closely with Mexican counterparts in pursuit of Guzman, the head of the […]

When he took office in 2010, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos trumpeted mining as a “locomotive” that would drive the economy forward. Recently though, the Santos administration dealt a series of harsh blows to the country’s No. 2 coal exporter, Alabama-based Drummond Co., in response to a series of legal blunders committed in 2013. Coming down this hard on a company like Drummond is an unprecedented move for Colombia’s government, signaling that from here on out, multinationals that come to mine the country’s natural resources could face a new, hard-line stance when they don’t play by the rules. The Drummond […]

Will the Ukrainian revolution help or harm the Syrian rebellion? The two uprisings currently appear to be on very different trajectories. It is three years since Syrian citizens began protests against President Bashar Assad, precipitating the cycle of violence that would lead to civil war, yet he maintains a brutally tenacious hold on power. By contrast, Assad’s Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from the capital, Kiev, last week after just three months of demonstrations culminating in a sudden spike in violence. Assad may view Yanukovych’s humiliation as proof of the need for utter ruthlessness against his opponents. But the […]

This year started on a particularly pessimistic note in Cyprus. In December 2013, the latest attempt by the United Nations to bring the island’s Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders back to the negotiating table had foundered. The two sides had been unable to reach an agreement on the wording of a joint statement that would have laid down the parameters for a renewed attempt to reunify the island. At the core of the dispute was a disagreement on the nature of sovereignty in any settlement. While the two sides have long agreed that any solution would see the creation of […]

Whenever political violence breaks out anywhere in the world, one can predict the U.S. response without any hesitation. The State Department will: solemnly declare that the United States abhors the use of violence and sends its condolences to the casualties; promise that the U.S. will hold “all sides” accountable for their actions; demand that the government “show restraint”; and call for immediate “political dialogue” to resolve the crisis. This preset script has been followed, with minor modifications, as tensions have escalated in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand, among others; it was the initial response when violence broke out in in Syria […]

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