Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units near the entrance to the town of Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014 (AP photo by Jake Simkin).

For the past century, the United States has had a complex, shifting relationship with dictators. On one hand, America’s liberal instincts convinced the public and its elected representatives that democracy was the only stable form of government over the long run. But after the U.S. became a global superpower following World War II, this was counterbalanced by a conservative quest for order, stability and a carefully modulated pace of change. These two sides of the American strategic psyche were often in conflict when it came to dealing with dictators around the world. As decolonization blended with rising Soviet power during […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Tehran, Iran, Nov. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

For years, many Western and even Russian analysts expected that a resolution of Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West would weaken ties between Tehran and Moscow. However, in the months since July’s nuclear deal, relations between Iran and Russia have strengthened, while Tehran’s ties with the West have stagnated. The Syrian war, as well as skillful Russian diplomacy, have short-circuited, at least for now, any anticipated Iranian geopolitical reversal after the nuclear deal. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran in late November, the first visit by a Russian president since 2007, was the latest indication of healthy ties. Although […]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015 (AP/Pool photo by Carlos Barria).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, WPR’s Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein and host Peter Dörrie discuss the major trends that shaped 2015, a year marked by the re-emergence of borders and national approaches to transnational problems. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Trend Lines is produced, edited and hosted by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focussing on security and resource politics in Africa. He can be followed on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

Yemenis condemning airstrikes by the the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

Keeping weapons out of the wrong hands is good policy. In the wake of the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, heightened attention has been paid to the illegal black-market networks that often arm terror groups and stoke conflict around the world. But the international community is not helpless to prevent this uncontrolled arms trade. A year ago on Christmas Eve, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) entered into force, with 130 countries signing on and, at the time, 61 of them ratifying it. One year later, 76 states are party to the treaty. The ATT is the only global, legally binding […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with the National Assembly’s president, Disodado Cabello, at a ceremony for the anniversary of the death of Simon Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Fernando Llano).

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro walks and talks with the swagger of a man who just dealt the country’s opposition a crushing victory in the country’s recent legislative elections. But Maduro’s bravado ignores one telling fact: It was Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition—known by its Spanish acronym, the MUD—that was the victor in the Dec. 6 vote, securing a super-majority of 112 of the National Assembly’s 167 seats. Rather than accepting those results, Maduro talks as if he and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, received a mandate to deepen and broaden Hugo Chavez’s leftist platform, the self-proclaimed […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Mandel Ngan).

International conflict management is not necessarily a rewarding occupation for people who have neat and orderly minds. Well-made plans tend to fall apart in fast-moving crises. As I noted in a chapter in a book on the Security Council published earlier this year, the recent history of United Nations peace operations is basically a story of “one damn thing after another.” U.N. forces have repeatedly been caught off-guard by upsurges in violence and entangled in intractable struggles that they can help mitigate but cannot resolve. This is not only true for the blue helmets. In the United States, analysts once […]

Nepalese policemen disperse ethnic Madhesi protesters in Gaur, on the Indian border, Nepal, Dec. 20, 2015 (AP photo by Gautham Shreshta).

Nepal stands on the brink of an economic crisis, after what it alleges is an India-imposed blockade of its borders for the past three months. Pushing back, Nepali leaders are vowing to work toward economic self-reliance and ease their dependence on India, to the advantage of New Delhi’s rival, China. “Nepal-India relations are at their lowest ebb right now,” says Yubaraj Ghimire, a Kathmandu-based commentator. The blockade of this landlocked nation began on Sept. 23, three days after Nepal officially adopted its new constitution. Critics argue the charter does not give fair political representation to two ethnic groups, the Indian-origin […]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting at his palace, Ankara, Turkey, Dec. 9, 2015 (AP photo by Yasin Bulbul, Presidential Press Service).

More than five years have passed since relations between longtime friends Israel and Turkey unraveled. During that time, diplomats and politicians have made countless efforts to revive what was once a deep and productive bond. U.S. President Barack Obama even interceded personally at one point, a move that seemed to have succeeded in breaking the impasse. That was in 2013, at the end of Obama’s trip to Israel, when he nudged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Erdogan to take the call, in an effort to get the leaders of the two countries […]

Spain's acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, left, with Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez before a meeting at the Moncloa Palace, Madrid, Spain, Dec. 23, 2015 (AP photo by Paul White).

Spaniards went to the polls last Sunday to cap an electoral campaign dominated by the economy, corruption charges and a stand-off between Madrid and the separatist region of Catalonia. The results broadly confirmed what many had predicted: a win for the incumbent government of Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP), but uncertainty over whether Rajoy will be able to form a government. Despite being the clear winner with 28.7 percent of the vote—enough to score 123 out of 350 parliamentary seats—the PP lost its absolute majority. The social democratic Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) came in second with 22 […]

An activist at a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, Dec. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Thibault Camus).

Looking back on the past year, it would seem from merely scanning the headlines that the world is becoming a deadlier, more violent place. The year began with a series of bloody massacres by the Nigerian terrorist/insurgent group Boko Haram, which has become the deadliest such group in the world. Next came the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks in Paris, after which the violence seemingly continued without pause. The Sanaa mosque bombing in Yemen killed 142 people; the al-Shabaab attack on a university in Kenya took another 147 lives; the massacre perpetrated by the self-declared Islamic State in Kobani, […]

Burkina Faso's now President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kabore during a campaign rally, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Nov. 27, 2015 (AP photo by Theo Renaut).

According to virtually all participants and observers, Burkina Faso’s election on Nov. 29 was the most democratic and competitive in its history. The crowds of voters and party workers who celebrated in the streets cheered the winner, President-elect Roch Marc Christian Kabore. But they also applauded the electoral process itself, coming as it did after nearly three decades of former President Blaise Compaore’s autocratic rule and a year and a half of exceptional turbulence that saw both his ouster in a popular insurrection and a failed coup attempt by his military supporters. For many Burkinabe, the advent of a freely […]

Demonstrators rally for fair trade at the Capitol, Washington, May 7, 2014 (AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the potential impact on members’ economies. Lukewarm industry support in the United States for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has put the ratification of the 12-nation trade deal by Congress into question. In an email interview, Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed the potential benefits and downsides of the TPP for the U.S. WPR: What economic benefits is the U.S. expected to see from its participation in the TPP? Edward Alden: The short-term benefits are likely to be modest. […]

Tribal fighters prepare to take their positions during fighting with the Houthis, Taiz, Yemen, Nov. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Abdulnasser Alseddik).

Five days of peace talks in Switzerland between Yemen’s warring parties wrapped up Sunday with no breakthroughs, making it increasingly clear that the Arab world’s poorest country is teetering on the brink of semi-permanent chaos. With the deeply polarizing civil war rumbling on, the local branches of both al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State are gaining territory and influence. The war has seen the country fragment, with divisive sectarian rhetoric, hitherto minimal in Yemen, playing an increasingly prominent role. As the Houthis—Zaydi Shiites from the northwest—have advanced in the south and east of the country, areas where the population is […]

Representatives at the meeting of the International Syria Support Group, New York, Dec. 18, 2015 (U.N. photo by Cia Pak).

The United Nations should be pleased by recent progress in three of its hardest conflict-resolution efforts. It’s not yet time for a victory lap in Yemen, Syria and Libya: All three conflicts continue to rage on the ground, and the prospect of international peacekeepers enforcing a negotiated settlement remains distant at best. But peacekeeping is always the final stage of a lengthy diplomatic process, and some deeper appreciation for the work of the U.N.’s high-level diplomats in defining a process for resolving the three conflicts, among the world’s nastiest, is warranted. In quick succession in the final weeks of the […]

Brazilian Pataxo men protest against a proposed constitutional amendment that would threaten their land rights, Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 10, 2015 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

In June 2014, a video released by FUNAI, the Portuguese acronym for Brazil’s Department for Indian Affairs, captures the moment seven members of an unnamed, previously uncontacted tribe from the Amazon rainforest made their first voluntary contact with the modern world. The video shows the men emerging naked from the forest onto the banks of the River Envira in the western Brazilian state of Acre, close to the Peruvian border. After calling out, singing and signaling with their hands, they crossed the river to a small indigenous settlement of the local Ashaninka people on the other side. The men told […]

Protesters at an anti-corruption demonstration, Nairobi, Kenya, Dec. 1, 2015 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the impact of corruption and various countries’ efforts to combat it. Last month, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called corruption a national security threat and announced a series of measures to help in the fight against corruption. In an email interview, Samuel Kimeu, the executive director of Transparency International-Kenya, discussed corruption in Kenya. WPR: How big of an issue is corruption politically in Kenya, and what are the obstacles to reform? Samuel Kimeu: Corruption is a big issue in Kenya for the general public, government and the private sector. […]

Hundreds of demonstrators at a protest, Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Denis Farrell).

Last week, thousands of protesters took to the streets of South Africa’s major cities, demanding that President Jacob Zuma step down. Controversy has mounted over his Dec. 9 decision to sack the country’s widely respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, who he subsequently replaced with an unpopular former mayor. The shakeup immediately sent shockwaves through South Africa’s economy and the rand, the country’s currency, falling. That prompted Zuma to rescind the initial nomination and instead appoint Pravin Gordhan, a well-regarded former finance minister who served from 2009-2014, assuaging some fears. Many saw Zuma’s decision to remove Nene as strategically shortsighted, but […]

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