German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the German Bundestag, Berlin, Germany, Feb. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Michael Sohn).

Could Angela Merkel become the next secretary-general of the United Nations? The notion that the German chancellor, now at the epicenter of Europe’s refugee crisis, could replace Ban Ki-moon at the helm of the U.N. is suddenly curiously widespread. “No candidate could magically restore the United Nations’ prestige,” Mark Seddon, a former adviser to Ban, noted in The New York Times earlier this month, “but there is a compelling logic in favor of a Merkel candidacy.” Or, as Gideon Rachman observed less charitably in the Financial Times, Merkel’s critics in Berlin could use this as “a graceful way to ease […]

A municipal health worker sprays insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Joao Pessoa, Brazil, Feb. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Andre Penner).

The Zika virus is not new, but its spread and possible connections to microcephaly—a birth defect in which a baby has an abnormally small head—have caught the international community’s attention. Zika is not the same kind of challenge as Ebola, but it will require some similar measure of international cooperation to adequately address. While the World Health Organization’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Feb. 1 is a good start, there are still fundamental questions that could complicate the international community’s response. Why is Zika spreading now? The virus, which emerged out of its relative geographic […]

A Somali soldier walks near destroyed buildings after a suicide car bomb, Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 27, 2016 (AP photo by Farah Abdi Warsameh).

Two suicide bombs went off Sunday in Baidoa, Somalia, leaving at least 20 people dead and 60 injured, in an attack claimed by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. In an email interview, Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson University, discussed the fight against al-Shabab and the security situation in Somalia. WPR: What is the current security situation in Somalia, and how much does it vary locally across the country? Ken Menkhaus: The security situation across Somalia is harder to generalize than one might expect. Most media reports give the impression that Somalia is uniformly dangerous, but actual […]

U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).

Many nations have the luxury of a tightly focused security strategy. They face a single threat or a small number of them. This determines what type of equipment, personnel, concepts and technology, as well as how many troops, they need. But great powers are different. Far-ranging commitments force them to prepare for diverse threats and missions. The stakes are great: Preparing for the wrong type of war can be as dangerous as not preparing at all. During the Cold War, the bipolar global security system meant that the United States also had the luxury of a focused, if expansive, strategy. […]

Bolivian President Evo Morales at a press conference at the government palace, La Paz, Bolivia, Feb. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

On Sunday, Feb. 21, Bolivians rejected a referendum that would have allowed long-serving President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in office, continuing a recent trend across Latin America of citizens voting for change. As the country’s first president of indigenous descent in a nation where between 40 percent and 62 percent of the citizenry self-identify as indigenous, Morales remains popular but is term-limited and must leave office in 2019. The president anticipated victory. What he did not factor in, apparently, was being overtaken by Latin America’s anti-incumbency wave. Since his first election in 2006, Morales has assiduously […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Supporting Syria and the Region conference, London, Feb. 4, 2016 (U.N. photo Eskinder Debebe).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, Ellen Laipson, president emeritus of the Stimson Center and a WPR weekly columnist, joins host Peter Dörrie for a discussion on current trends in the international system, including the changing roles of the United Nations, regional powers and the United States in crisis management and conflict resolution. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant WPR articles: For Gulf States, Forging National Identity Trumps Regional Integration In War Against the Islamic State, U.S. Values Must Not Be a Casualty U.N. Peacemakers Wind Up Tough Year With a Flurry of Progress Can Regional Powers Mediate the […]

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the inaugural session of parliament, Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Aung Shine Oo).

Earlier this month, on Feb. 1, Myanmar’s first democratically elected parliament in more than half a century held its first session since landmark elections last November. Dominated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won nearly 80 percent of its seats, the parliament faces a host a challenges, from internal ethnic conflicts to the plight of the minority Rohingya Muslims. But when it comes to international affairs, no issue is perhaps more delicate and consequential than dealing with Myanmar’s powerful neighbor and patron, China. Beijing signaled its interest […]

Christian families living in a refugee camp in Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic, Feb. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

Faustin Touadera, the newly elected president of the Central African Republic, has a big job on his hands. Elected comfortably last weekend with almost 63 percent of the vote against his rival Anicet-Georges Dologuele’s 37 percent, the former math teacher, who served as prime minister in the years preceding CAR’s 2013 descent into violence, has been given a strong mandate to tackle the country’s immense problems. But even that may not be enough, given the scale of CAR’s recent history of conflict and ongoing mistrust between religious communities. Touadera’s victory in the second round of presidential election is expected to […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the COP21 U.N. climate talks, Paris, France, Nov. 30, 2015 (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP).

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has canceled a March trip to Australia in order to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow instead. In an email interview, Michael Koplow, a policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, discussed Israel-Russia relations and the impact of the Syrian conflict. WPR: What has been the recent trajectory of Israel-Russia political, economic and security ties? Michael Koplow: The recent trajectory of Israel-Russia ties has been on the upswing. Vladimir Putin was the first Russian president to visit Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated ties with Russia for a number of reasons. Israel […]

A delegate gives an unmarked ballot to a voter at a polling station during the constitution referendum, El Alto, Bolivia, Feb. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

Last weekend, Bolivian voters went to the polls and did something remarkable: They told their sitting president—a popular and successful one—that they will not allow him to remain in power for as long as he wishes. The voters’ rejection of a constitutional amendment that would have allowed President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term came as a painfully unexpected blow to a politician grown accustomed to landslide victories and popular adulation. The vote sent shockwaves across Bolivia. More importantly, it sent an important message to other politicians with autocratic tendencies in the region: Latin American democracy is […]

An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters of parliamentary election candidates, Tehran, Iran, Feb. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

On Friday, Feb. 26, Iranians will take part in a complicated and contradictory drama in their country: voting in elections. They will cast ballots for candidates in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, where all 290 seats are contested every 4 years, and the Assembly of Experts, in which its 88 members—all senior religious scholars—are elected every 8 years. The Majlis race is of short- and medium-term importance, mainly affecting President Hassan Rouhani’s ability to enact his political agenda. Whether the new parliament will work with him or not has implications for developing Iran’s post-sanctions economy and other key domestic issues. The […]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Revolutionary Guard officers who were involved in the detention of U.S. Navy sailors in Iranian waters, Tehran, Jan. 24, 2016 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader photo via AP).

The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran has raised concerns that Tehran will use its newly released funds on vast military spending, threatening stability in the Middle East. Given escalating tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors, the presence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State along its borders and ongoing military operations in Syria, Iran is indeed likely to spend a significant portion of its unfrozen assets and the unknown billions generated from renewed foreign trade on its military. Even so, it faces an enormous modernization bill and a host of bureaucratic, political and military-doctrinal challenges before it can effectively turn cash […]

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats, Washington, Feb. 9, 2016 (AP photo by Bill Clark).

On Feb. 7, much of America tuned in to watch the national sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl. Two days later, the country was treated to a different kind of annual ritual, what can be thought of as the Super Bowl of threat-mongering. Every year, in January or February, the nation’s top intelligence officials venture to Capitol Hill to brief Congress on the intelligence community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. And while the Super Bowl is a parade of expensive commercials, over-the-top musical performances and occasionally riveting football, the worldwide threat assessment is a procession of hyped-up threats, scary […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit, Rancho Mirage, Calif., Feb. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The growing closeness between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sends some very mixed messages. The California venue for last week’s first-ever U.S.-hosted summit with ASEAN heads of state—the Sunnylands Resort at Rancho Mirage—seemed to illustrate the essential confusion: Is the relationship bright and hopeful, or just illusory? Prior to the summit, U.S. State Department officials were at pains to declare that it was “not about China,” which became more difficult to maintain with the revelation, late in the summit’s proceedings, that Beijing had placed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the South China Sea. […]

A locked iPhone, Washington, Feb. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

The standoff this past week between the U.S. government and the global tech behemoth Apple underscores an enduring condition of our age: Technological innovation is at once a powerful tool to enhance our security, but maximizing its consumer benefits requires resisting government regulation and control. The private sector and government will have to find a more satisfactory partnership if they are to achieve the necessary but difficult balance that entails. The fascinating struggle between the U.S. national security establishment and Apple over unlocking the cellphone of Syed Rizwan Farook—the San Bernadino, California, terrorist—captures many of the dilemmas of the fraught […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Moscow, Russia, Feb. 23, 2016 (AP photo by Pavel Golovkin).

Russia’s bold military interventions in both Ukraine and Syria have put Moscow’s geopolitical ambitions back at the center of analysis and debate. Despite last year’s confident claims in Western capitals that Moscow would be unable to sustain its efforts in both countries, there is no indication that the Kremlin plans to alter its policies in 2016. To the contrary, Russian President Vladimir Putin, having decided that core national interests are at stake, has made it clear that he will stay the course. At the same time, however, Russia continues to pay a heavy economic price exacted by international sanctions and […]

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza during a meeting, Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb. 23, 2016 (AP photo).

Violence has enveloped Burundi since last April, when protests broke out following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial announcement that he would run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit. On Tuesday, after meeting with Nkurunziza in the capital, Bujumbura, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Nkurunziza had agreed to hold talks with the opposition. Nkurunziza also said that he would release 2,000 people detained by authorities amid the unrest. The president’s decision last year to run again was met with outcries from Burundi’s opposition, which called the move unconstitutional. In May, rogue military officers attempted a coup, which the […]

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