Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens as President Barack Obama talks about Hagel’s resignation during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel apparently drew the short straw and emerged as the first sacrificial victim dispatched by President Barack Obama in response to his party’s dismal midterm election results, which will cost the Democrats control of the Senate. Beyond that, however, it is clear that the focus of U.S. national security has shifted dramatically over the past two years. Hagel was selected to preside over the American disengagement from the Middle East, to usher through a series of lean budgetary years for the Pentagon and to lay the foundations for the eventual rebalance of American strategic priorities […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia, Nov. 16, 2014 (Flickr photo by user blogplanalto licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has exhibited a more forceful and direct style of governance than his predecessor. That has included an unprecedented domestic anti-corruption campaign, a renewed push at corporate sector reform and a more strident posture in many aspects of foreign policy. Some foreign commentators have interpreted these moves as an attempt to recentralize political power and even re-establish the “cult of personality” around political leaders that prevailed in China for much of the 20th century. An alternative interpretation is that Xi’s government has acknowledged fundamental problems within the Chinese political economy and […]

South Korean farmers hold signs reading “Block, the FTA between South Korea and China” during a rally opposing a free trade agreement with China in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 20, 2014 (AP photo by Lee Jin-man).

Earlier this month, China and South Korea reached a free trade agreement (FTA). In an email interview, Tony Nash, global vice president of Delta Economics, discussed the implications of the China-South Korea FTA. WPR: How comprehensive is the FTA with China compared to other high-profile FTAs South Korea has signed recently, and what explains any differences? Tony Nash: China and South Korea have studied and discussed this agreement for over a decade. The concept of the FTA is quite comprehensive, with more than 90 percent of goods covered as well as interesting modalities around online purchases and government procurement, which […]

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu listens during a security conference in Moscow, Russia, May 23, 2014 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

On Nov. 20, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu visited Islamabad along with dozens of other Russian officials and signed an unprecedented Russian-Pakistan defense cooperation agreement. While in Islamabad, Shoigu also engaged in wide-ranging discussions with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, on Afghanistan, regional security, arms sales and other issues. In so doing, Shoigu became the first Russian defense minister to visit Pakistan since 1969, when the Soviet government made an unsuccessful effort to mediate tensions between Pakistan and India. Since then, relations between Moscow and Islamabad have been atrocious, in part due to the close and enduring defense […]

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the media at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Nov. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Yves Logghe).

Earlier this month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a cache of documents exposing how numerous multinational firms have avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes while maintaining only a token presence in Luxembourg. The so-called Lux Leaks scandal has directly touched Jean-Claude Juncker, who assumed his role as president of the European Commission, the European Union’s legislative body, on Nov. 1. Juncker served as both finance minister and prime minster of Luxembourg, prompting many questions about his knowledge of and role in the scandal. Lux Leaks has confirmed what many already knew, or at least suspected. In fact, […]

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Aug. 25, 2014 (AP photo by Diego Azubel).

Chinese investment and engagement now touches almost every aspect of Africa’s economy, including infrastructure, transport and logistics, trade, manufacture, agriculture, telecommunications and, of course, resource extraction. Because of the vastness of this engagement, commentators frequently fall back on catchall concepts, including an assumption that Africa is essentially passive in this relationship. The reality is much more complicated. Instead of simply imposing Chinese approaches on African realities, Chinese actors frequently try to attain their goals by partially adapting to specific African systems, with varying degrees of success. This article provides examples of this process by looking at China’s relationships with three […]

Displaced South Sudanese women leave a makeshift camp in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in the town of Bentiu, South Sudan, Sept. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Matthew Abbott).

JUBA, South Sudan—South Sudan is in crisis. Following the outbreak of a civil war almost a year ago, the country has been devastated by widespread violence that is both politically and ethnically motivated. The international community’s ability to stop the violence rests in large part on the shoulders of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), a peacekeeping operation with a mandate to use force to protect civilians. In order to protect people under the threat of violence, UNMISS needs to be perceived as neutral so that it does not become a target itself. The stakes could not be […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to Mali President Boubacar Keita on the sidelines of the U.N. Chief Executives Board meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2014 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

Does it matter who runs the United Nations? There was a frisson of excitement at U.N. headquarters at the start of this month when a consortium of advocacy groups launched a campaign to overturn the “outdated and opaque” process for selecting the secretary-general. But at a time when increasing global divisions threaten to reduce the U.N. secretariat’s ability to improve international cooperation, there are questions about how much impact the post can really have. The current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, steps down at the end of 2016. As I have previously argued, Ban took far too long to find his feet […]

Protesters hold up posters that read in Spanish “Pena Out!” during a march to pressure the government into finding 43 missing college students, Mexico City, Nov. 20, 2014 (AP photo by Rebecca Blackwell).

Autumn has been a difficult season for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Public furor has erupted into sustained and sometimes violent protests over the disappearance of 43 students in the rural southwestern state of Guerrero. Long one of Mexico’s poorest, most crime-ridden and isolated states, Guerrero had not been a priority for Pena Nieto’s administration, which has focused tirelessly on promoting the image of a modern and efficient Mexico to foreign investors. But as Guerrero’s longstanding economic and security problems became headline news across the world in the past month, that crafted image of a Mexico open for business after […]

Demonstrators demand the impeachment of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff over an alleged scheme of corruption that siphoned money from the state-owned oil company Petrobras, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Nov. 15, 2014 (AP photo).

Earlier this month, while Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rubbed shoulders with other global leaders at the G-20 summit in Australia, her justice minister, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, announced the arrest back in Brazil of 15 people for arranging kickbacks on contracts from state-owned oil company Petrobras. Shortly after hearing the news, two more executives from a major Sao Paulo construction company turned themselves in to police. The second round of the corruption investigation known as Operation Carwash was underway, and by Nov. 16, 23 people would be arrested, including Renato Duque, former head of services at Petrobras. As word of the […]

Then-Mongolian Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag speaks during the International Labor Conference, Geneva, Switzerland, June 9, 2014 (AP photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott).

Last week, Mongolia’s parliament appointed Chimed Saikhanbileg prime minister, two weeks after Norov Altankhuyag lost a no-confidence vote. In an email interview, Julian Dierkes, associate professor at the University of British Columbia, discussed Mongolian politics. WPR: What factors explain the recent no-confidence vote against former Prime Minister Norov Altankhuyag? Julian Dierkes: Surprisingly, Norov Altankhuyag was the longest-serving prime minister from the Democratic Party (DP). However, during the two and a half years that he was in office, Mongolia came to face an economic crisis that was largely government-made through strict foreign investment regulation and poor fiscal decisions. Altankhuyag did not […]

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

This week, military planners from more than 30 countries are gathered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to plot their approach against the so-called Islamic State (IS). On the other side of the world, IS is probably mulling its strategy as well. It is easy to imagine how different the two sessions must be, yet the two groups do have one thing in common: Both know that if their strategies are to work, they must first try to get inside the mind of their enemy. Anticipating what the enemy will do—what security experts call “red teaming”—is never easy, […]

Smoke rises from burning garbage as an Indian woman looks for recyclable material at a dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

The United States and China surprised other G-20 members when they announced a new agreement last week on curbing greenhouse gas emissions just a few days prior to the group’s summit in Australia. But the G-20 member who perhaps noted this development more than others is India, currently the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. India was taken off guard by what amounts to China’s first step back from its previous ironclad refusal to make any binding commitments on limiting overall emissions. New Delhi is now preparing to fend off greater pressure directed its way to make similar pledges in the […]

FARC Commander Pastor Alape talks to the press in Havana, Cuba, Nov. 18, 2014 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Instead of resuming occasionally promising peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Havana earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos abruptly called them off after the rebels kidnapped an army general, along with a soldier and a government attorney. According to Colombian media, it was the first time in half a century of fighting that the guerrillas had taken an army general captive. FARC rebels later agreed to release Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate, but the status of the two-year negotiations between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebels remains uncertain. Intermittent fighting has flared amid […]

Demonstrators protest the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico City, Nov. 16, 2014 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

In the months after Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took office almost two years ago, he impressed even the skeptics with his dynamism, tackling the seemingly immovable forces that had been blocking his country’s progress. For a time it seemed as if the new administration was about to usher in Mexico’s long-awaited revolution, one that vowed to replace poverty and hopelessness with a sense of equality and a measure of social justice, even if he was crafting that transformation through legislation rather than Molotov cocktails. Now, however, that impression has been shattered. Outraged Mexicans have been throwing real Molotov cocktails […]

A police officer searches a man during a drug raid at the “21” slum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 2014 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

Compared to some of its neighbors, Argentina has been relatively unscathed by the effects of drug trafficking. But a recent increase in drug-related problems, including a spike in the trafficking of cocaine from Bolivia and Peru to the United States and Europe, has exposed some of Argentina’s key structural weaknesses, underscoring the need for comprehensive reform. While the cocaine and other drugs being transited through Argentina are mainly produced elsewhere, processing laboratories were also recently found in the country itself. The trade in methamphetamines is growing as well. Between 2004 and 2008, 48 tons of ephedrine—a precursor chemical used in […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, France, Nov. 20, 2014 (State Department photo).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s last-minute whirlwind tour of European capitals in the run-up to the Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with Iran calls to mind the old aphorism about diplomacy: The hardest part isn’t getting the other side to agree to the deal, it’s convincing your own side to agree to it. In this case, Kerry’s stopover today in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is illustrative. In November 2013, Fabius played a high-profile—and high-stakes—role in toughening up the initial interim framework accord that was extended once already and is now set […]

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