Russian President Vladimir Putin passes by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti).

It is traditional to pen one’s last column of the calendar year as a retrospective of key events that have occurred over the last 12 months, along with predictions for the coming year. I would like to alter tradition to expand the scope of my inquiry—to compare expectations as they stood two years ago, on the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and to contrast that with the situation we face today. U.S. foreign policy has undergone several tectonic shifts, in a seemingly haphazard and unplanned fashion. Yet the fallout will shape the global strategic environment and constrain […]

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Brasilia, Brazil, June 16, 2014 (Agência Brasil photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom).

Relations between Africa and Latin America, which stem predominantly from the post-Cold War period, are incipient but growing, and 2014 saw important developments between the two regions in areas such as trade, diplomatic relations and health cooperation. Their engagement reflects each region’s growing integration into the global economy, rather than a specific prioritization of Latin America-Africa relations. Nevertheless, four key countries—Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and South Africa—have played a leading role in strengthening relations and cooperation. On the economic front, trade between South American and African countries grew 75 percent between 2005 and 2012, reaching $39 billion in 2012. Though the […]

Cambodian riot police officers stand guard in front of Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sept. 26, 2014 (AP photo by Heng Sinith).

In September, the Australian government agreed on a deal to send refugees currently housed on the Pacific Island nation of Nauru to Cambodia for permanent resettlement. The agreement is a new twist in the Australian government’s efforts to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat on its northern shores. The Pacific island nation of Nauru currently hosts some 1,233 asylum seekers transferred there by Australia under a separate, earlier agreement, and they are still awaiting determination of their refugee claims. The Cambodian agreement is important for Australia because it provides a long-term solution for refugees on Nauru that does not jeopardize […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the anti-submarine ship Vice Admiral Kulakov, Novorossiysk, Russia, Sept. 23, 2014 (photo from the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office).

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a revised national military doctrine. The updated text aligns better with recent Russian government statements and policies than the previous version, issued in 2010. In particular, the new doctrine presents a lengthier list of threats while also recognizing Russia’s revived military capabilities. The Russian Security Council directed the writing of a new doctrine in July 2013, well before the current crisis in Ukraine. The Council approved the new text on Dec. 19 and Putin signed it one week later. The document was then posted on the Kremlin website. This iteration is the fourth […]

A man holds a placard as people gather in support outside the Zaman newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Akin Celiktas).

Turkish police raided a newspaper and television station with ties to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement earlier this month, arresting 23 journalists, producers and writers. While freedom of the press has long been a concern in Turkey—which currently ranks 154 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index—the arrests have more to do with growing tensions between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the exiled Gulen. Gulen was an ally of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) until a corruption scandal, which Gulen and his followes deny instigating, broke last year. […]

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel observes a training scenario at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Nov. 16, 2014  (DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt).

In a Nov. 15 speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the creation of a Pentagon initiative to develop new military technologies and operational concepts to counter growing threats to U.S. military supremacy. He noted that potential American adversaries are increasingly able to field advanced weaponry that rivals U.S. capabilities at a time when the Pentagon finds itself in a severely constrained fiscal environment. According to Hagel, the new initiative will seek to produce breakthrough innovations and eventually “develop into a game-changing third ‘offset’ strategy” that will allow the United States to […]

Adoration of the Magi by El Greco, 1568

The Christmas story is full of joy and wonder, but it also includes a cautionary tale about a diplomatic blunder. The blunderers are the three ostensibly wise men from the east who visit King Herod in Jerusalem to ask: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” This query sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in Herod’s decision to massacre the baby boys of Bethlehem and its environs in a failed attempt to kill Jesus. This atrocity ensures that […]

A cargo train is ready to cross an Iranian border in the Turkmen frontier village of Ak-Yayla, Dec. 3, 2014 (AP photo by Alexander Vershinin).

Earlier this month, the presidents of Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan inaugurated a railway that runs from western Kazakhstan to northern Iran. In an email interview, Erica Johnson, lecturer and director of masters studies in global studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill discussed infrastructure projects in Central Asia. WPR: What obstacles, both political and technological, had to be overcome to construct the railway between Iran and Turkmenistan? Erica Johnson: Because of the 2008 global financial crisis, Kazakhstan put the railway project on hold for 18 months. In addition to financing from the three participating countries, the Asian Development […]

Yazidi fighters head to battle Islamic State militants, on the summit of Mount Sinjar, in Iraq, Dec. 21, 2014 (AP photo by Dalton Bennett).

After months of military gains by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, there is some hope that the tide is turning. Backed by American air strikes, Kurdish fighters broke IS’s four-month siege of Mount Sinjar, freeing thousands of Yazidis who weathered the extremist assault. Meanwhile Iraqi government troops are moving to recapture the Tal Afar military airport, which IS seized last June. As Winston Churchill famously said in November 1942 as Nazi forces in North Africa surrendered, this may not be the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning. During World War II, the […]

A South Korean army soldier walks near a TV screen showing an advertisement for Sony Pictures’ “The Interview,” at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

When they set out to make “The Interview,” a comedic movie about assassinating the leader of North Korea, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco likely did not realize they would spark a massive cyber attack, lead the White House to dub those attacks a national security problem or inadvertently trigger a First Amendment crisis in the United States. When Sony and theater owners bowed to hacker demands that they cancel the movie’s Christmas Day release, followed shortly by Paramount’s refusal to allow movie theaters to run “Team America: World Police”—another comedy made at North Korea’s expense—in its place, they highlighted […]

Oil pump jacks work in unison on a foggy morning, Williston, North Dakota, Dec. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Eric Gay).

In the waning days of 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, roundly castigated by critics for most of the year as being weak, feckless and indecisive, appears to have been vindicated by more recent developments. Eschewing the calls for immediate reactions to a series of disparate events—from anti-government protests in Venezuela to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine—the president opted for diplomacy and sanctions, augmenting his existing approach to perennial problems like Iran and its nuclear program. Now, the story goes, a whole list of U.S. opponents, from Cuba to Iran, are moderating their defiance of Washington and looking […]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Sochi, Russia, Aug. 12, 2014 (Photo from the website of the Russian presidency).

In late November, a report by international audit firm Ernst and Young ranked Egypt’s private sector as the most corrupt in the world. In an email interview, Sahar Aziz, an associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law who teaches Middle East law, national security and civil rights law, discussed corruption in Egypt’s private sector. Professor Aziz is the author of multiple articles on Egypt, including “Revolution without Reform? A Critique of Egypt’s Election Laws,” “Egypt’s Protracted Revolution” and “Bringing Down an Uprising: Egypt’s Stillborn Revolution.” WPR: What is the extent of private sector corruption in Egypt, and what […]

Environmental activists in a boat perform wearing puppet heads representing world leaders during the Climate Change Conference COP20 in Lima, Peru, Dec. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Martin Mejia).

LIMA, Peru—Divisions among governments about how to deal with global warming pushed the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP20, nearly two days past its deadline. But the agreement approved in the Peruvian capital in the early hours of Dec. 14 was groundbreaking in that all of the 196 participating nations promised to formulate a plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. After two decades of negotiations in which developed nations were expected to cut their emissions while the rest got a free pass, that shared commitment is an important step. But it remains to be seen what each […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he gestures towards Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Beijing, China, Nov. 11, 2014 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

This year has seen a remarkable strengthening of Russian-Chinese ties, building on a relationship that even before 2014 was at its historical best. Their growing closeness is evident in their security policies, economic ties and ideological alignment. U.S. policies presume that Russia and China can be successfully managed through a combination of firmness and patience, but there needs to be greater recognition of how these countries jointly present a more challenging environment for U.S. foreign policy. In an underappreciated interview with The Economist this August that focused mostly on Africa and the U.S. economy, U.S. President Barack Obama made revealing […]

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff cries during a speech at the launching ceremony of the National Truth Commission Report in Brasilia, Dec. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

In a Buenos Aires courtroom, three judges listen to Chileans, Uruguayans and Paraguayans testify about how their friends and family were kidnapped and disappeared as part of an international military conspiracy. The case, known as Operation Condor, accuses 25 Argentine military officers, along with one Uruguayan extradited from Brazil, of forced disappearances, kidnappings, torture and murder spanning half a dozen countries during the 1970s and early 1980s. Over 200 witnesses will testify, and the trial is entering its second year. It’s just one of dozens of trials taking place in national courts in Chile and Argentina, which are finally confronting […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall for a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in the Kremlin, Moscow, Dec. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Maxim Shipenkov).

One year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was releasing political prisoners in the run-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, even as protesters were massing in Kiev’s central square to demand the ouster of Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The international spotlight was already on Russia and Ukraine, but no one could have predicted what was to come. The events of 2014 have shaken both countries: Yanukovych’s ouster in February; Putin’s annexation of Crimea in March; the bloody stalemate in eastern Ukraine; the tragic downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner by Russian-backed separatists; escalating Western sanctions against Russian businesses; Ukraine’s steady progress […]

An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, May 9, 2014 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

Last month, seven police officers were arrested in Thailand on corruption charges,part of a wider anti-corruption campaign by the ruling junta. In an email interview, Douglas Olthof, a doctoral candidate at Simon Fraser University, discussed the ongoing corruption crackdown in Thailand. WPR: Who are the main targets of the junta’s corruption crackdown? Douglas Olthof: The targets of the current corruption crackdown in Thailand are by and large the members of the power network of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The period of democratization in Thailand that stretched from the early 1990s to 2006 witnessed an important shift in power […]

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