Syrian rebels from the “Al-Qasas Brigade” or “Justice Brigade” run through an olive grove to avoid Syrian Army snipers, Oct. 20, 2012 (photo by Flickr user syriafreedom licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to counter the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has three central components: pressuring the Iraqi government to change its policies that fuel support for IS and to rebuild its military; conducting U.S. airstrikes to weaken IS and prevent it from gaining an outright military victory; and training and equipping militias to fight IS on the ground, including Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syrian rebels. All of these components are shaky to one extent or another, but the third is the most precarious of all, reflecting the Obama administration’s desperate effort to balance […]

The Islamist Ennahda party holds a large rally in the Mediterranean port city of Sfax in southeast Tunisia, Oct. 2014 (Atlantic Council photo).

Tunisia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday confirm the erosion of trust over the past three years in the Islamist party Ennahda, which failed to live up to its electoral promises and implement an effective post-revolutionary political agenda after the ouster of longtime autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Nidaa Tounes, the secular party led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year old anchor of the country’s old guard, won with 39 percent of votes, while Ennahda, which dominated the 2011 elections under the leadership of longtime dissident Rachid Ghannouchi and governed the country until ceding power to an interim government in January 2014, […]

European, Ukrainian and Russian officials announce the agreement of a gas deal, Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 30, 2014 (European Union photo).

Yesterday, Russia and Ukraine reached a gas deal after months of tense negotiations against the backdrop of violence in Ukraine’s east that has left more than 3,700 people dead. The agreement took place just days after Ukraine’s snap parliamentary elections, which showed surprisingly robust support for pro-European parties. But challenges remain, both in the east, where pro-Russian separatists will stage their own unsanctioned elections this weekend, and in Kiev, where the government must overcome a legacy of corruption and dysfunction. The elections have been hailed as a triumph in the West, and for good reason. Ukrainians resoundingly rejected the far-right […]

South Korea’s Yonggwang Nuclear Power Plant, Feb. 25, 2013 (photo by Flickr user Korea Yonggwang NPP, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Dropping oil prices and alternative sources have resulted in dramatic changes for the global energy sector. As new players and relationships emerge, traditional powers, particularly Russia, still wield energy as a geostrategic weapon. This report covers the politics of energy over the past year. As Oil Prices Drop, Some Seek Hidden Hands Behind Market ForcesBy Frida GhitisOct. 23, 2014 Europe EU Seeks Energy Security Solutions to Russian Gas ChallengeBy Richard WeitzJune 3, 2014 Russia’s Energy Ambitions Explain Putin’s Zigzags on UkraineBy Nikolas GvosdevJune 27, 2014 Russia’s Energy Leverage Over Europe, Ukraine Considerably DiminishedBy Keith SmithMarch 4, 2014 Turkey Positions Itself […]

A Tunisian woman shows her ink-stained finger after voting at a polling station in Ben Arous, Tunisia, Oct. 26, 2014 (AP photo by Aimen Zine).

Years have now passed since one could use the term “Arab Spring” without deliberate irony, or at least quotation marks. Even the sad rhetorical spinoffs from the metaphor—the cold winter, for instance, that followed the spring uprisings—have gone stale from overuse. And yet there is one country where the hopes of the once-euphoric revolutionaries did not turn out to have been misplaced. Dare we say it? Yes, the Arab Spring has bloomed; it has yielded something of a harvest in one country, the country of its birth, Tunisia, whose experience offers some hopeful lessons for a despondent Middle East. Tunisia […]

Women in a field, Almolonga, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Sept. 12, 2006 (photo by Flickr user erik2481 licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

While poverty and violence have pushed thousands of Central Americans to take the long and dangerous trek to the United States, the embattled region now faces another challenge: Droughts and torrential rains have all but ruined the harvests of hundreds of thousands of impoverished farmers in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. And even though climate extremes were exacerbated in recent years by temporary weather phenomena, ill-prepared governments and climate change have put food security in the region permanently at risk. This summer, the most severe drought in over four decades hit the so-called Dry Corridor, a subtropical highland area […]

A man walks past by the al-Wefaq party’s headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Hasan Jamali).

On Tuesday, a court in Bahrain suspended the activities of the country’s main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections. The group, known in Bahrain as a political society, cannot organize rallies, issue statements or use its offices for three months. Al-Wefaq had already announced earlier this month that it would boycott the Nov. 22 poll, so the immediate impact on the election may be limited. The Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit against al-Wefaq seeking its suspension back in July, after the government expelled Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights […]

U.S., Australian and Chinese service members disembark from an Australian Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter at a remote landing zone in Northern Territory, Australia, Oct. 12, 2014 (DoD photo by Cpl. Jake Sims, Australian Defense Force).

Earlier this month, Australian, U.S. and Chinese troops took part in a survival training exercise in northern Australia. In an email interview, Benjamin Schreer, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, discussed Australia’s military and strategic partnerships. WPR: What is the extent of Australia’s military engagement, in terms of joint exercises and dialogue, with China? Benjamin Schreer: In recent years, Australia’s military engagement with China has gradually increased. In 2012 both countries agreed on a “strategic partnership,” which included a commitment for an annual high-level dialogue. In September, the second Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue was held in Sydney. […]

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai walks with his Chinese President Xi Jinping outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Oct. 28, 2014 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

As a former World Bank official, Columbia University academic and Afghan minister of finance, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani faces high expectations to turn his country’s war-torn economy around. Having actually written the book on fixing failed states, he now faces the challenge of putting theory into practice. Ghani’s deep skepticism of the merits of foreign aid and extractive industries positions him well to avoid the pitfalls of putting either at the economy’s helm. While aid levels will likely decline as foreign troop numbers continue to dwindle, Ghani’s real challenge will be nurturing Afghanistan’s fragile minerals sector while managing […]

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the U.N., United Nations, New York, Sept. 19, 2014 (U.N. photo by Amanda Voisard).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Vladimir Putin and Samantha Power both grumbled about the state of the international system last week. It is hard to know who is the more displeased. The Russian president told foreign dignitaries that American policy toward the United Nations and international law threatened to make the whole system “worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.” But the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., embarking on a tour of the Ebola-ridden countries of West Africa, targeted other states for not fulfilling promises to fight the disease. Too many […]

A woman marches with leaflets with the images of missing students attached to her body, during a protest against the disappearance of 43 students from the Isidro Burgos rural teachers college, in Mexico City, Oct. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).

Just over a year ago, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto celebrated the first victory of his lauded “Pact for Mexico” coalition after the country’s Senate passed an education reform bill aimed at wresting control of the education system from Mexico’s most powerful union. In subsequent months, he and his team passed a series of other reforms in telecommunications and energy, promising to kick-start a new era of investment and economic growth. This past August, after signing into law the secondary legislation implementing energy reform, Pena Nieto penned an op-ed in the Financial Times declaring that “Mexico’s reform agenda is now […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo in Washington, D.C., Oct. 24, 2014 (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz).

The first so-called 2+2 meeting of the U.S. and South Korean foreign and defense ministers since Park Geun-hye became South Korea’s president took place last week in Washington. At the meeting, the two sides reaffirmed their global partnership and also made progress in walking back a commitment to transfer wartime command from U.S. to South Korean forces by the end of next year. However, South Korea and the United States have yet to overcome their differences regarding missile defense and how to counter North Korea’s new missile capabilities. After years of tense talks on the issue between the two countries, […]

An Iranian police officer stands behind drugs which were seized on the border with Afghanistan, June 1, 2014 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Iran has long had one of the world’s biggest drug addiction problems, but the government’s attitude toward the drug war remains rife with contradiction. Iran has taken drug addiction very seriously, as evidenced both by its extensive and heavy-handed law enforcement efforts and by the resources it puts toward prevention, treatment and harm-reduction programs. However, officials have at times downplayed the extent of the problem, as politicians have sought to paint a positive picture of the state of drug addiction in Iran. In a June speech, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that Iran was home to 1.35 million addicts, […]

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Brussels, Belgium, April 2, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Italian President).

After a several weeks of back-and-forth with the European Union over France’s 2015 national budget, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin announced yesterday that he will cut France’s budget deficit by an additional $4.6 billion to fall in line EU budgetary rules. The European Growth and Stability Pact (GSP) requires that all member state budget deficits fall under 3 percent of GDP. The original budget the French submitted to the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, estimated that France’s deficit would rise to 4.4 percent of GDP. It is understandable that French President Francois Hollande, facing slow economic growth […]

Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherje and Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg, Oslo, Norway, Oct. 14, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Indian President).

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Norway in mid-October, the first by an Indian head of state, was a signal of India’s rising profile in the Arctic. Mukherjee signed 13 agreements with Norway, including one exploring avenues for joint military research between India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and Norway’s Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, known as FFI. Mukherjee also visited neighboring Finland, where he signed an additional 19 agreements, on everything from civilian nuclear cooperation to education and fishing. But the trip, coming a year after India gained observer status in the Arctic Council—an intergovernmental forum that includes eight member […]

President Barack Obama walks over to greet people after arriving in the snow at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H., March 1, 2012 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Editor’s note: Due to travel, Richard Gowan’s column will appear Wednesday this week. Nikolas Gvosdev’s column will appear Monday. How three presidents—Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin—and one institution—the European Union—grapple with and navigate the political challenges they will face this winter will have a profound impact in shaping global politics in the years to come. The decisions that are taken, or deferred, will determine whether current assumptions about the international order are reconfirmed or discarded. Those assumptions include the belief that most countries, including the rising and resurgent powers, still prioritize their relationships with Washington over bonding together […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Astrakhan, Russia, Sept. 29, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Russian president).

While Iran is normally seen as a regional power, its influence extends beyond the Middle East. In an email interview, Jeffrey Lefebvre, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, discussed Iran’s relations with countries in the Horn of Africa. WPR: How extensive are Iran’s ties with countries in the Horn of Africa? Jeffrey Lefebvre: Iran has maintained “proper” diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti despite their close political and strategic ties with the United States. In particular, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti has served as a base for U.S. military forces and the launch pad for U.S. […]

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