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New CFR InfoGuide Explores Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide

July 17, 2014 Comments off

New CFR InfoGuide Explores Islam’s Sunni-Shia Divide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

As sectarian tensions convulse Syria and Iraq, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the roots and consequences of the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Sunni-Shia conflicts have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures in a number of tense Gulf states. Growing clashes between these two largest Islamic denominations have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses dangers beyond the region.

The guide includes expert insight into the extremist groups behind today’s sectarian violence and related flashpoints that threaten international security.

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Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation

June 30, 2014 Comments off

Limiting Armed Drone Proliferation
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Obama administration should pursue a strategy that places clear limits on its own sale and use of armed drones lest these weapons proliferate and their use becomes widespread. These are the central findings of a new report by CFR Douglas Dillon Fellow Micah Zenko and Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow Sarah Kreps.

Although only five countries have developed armed drones—the United States, Britain, Israel, China, and Iran—several other countries have announced their own programs. “India reports that it will soon equip its drones with precision-guided munitions and hopes to mass-produce combat drones to conduct targeted strikes in cross-border attacks on suspected terrorists.Rebuffed by requests to procure U.S. armed drones, Pakistan said it will develop them indigenously or with China’s help to target the Taliban in its tribal areas.” The report also notes that “Turkey has about twenty-four types of drones in use or development, four of which have been identified as combat drones,” while Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Sweden “have collaborated on the Neuron, a stealth armed drone that made its first demonstration flight in December 2012.”

Zenko and Kreps lay out several reasons why armed drones are unique in their ability to destabilize relations and intensify conflict. Unmanned aircraft reduce the threshold for authorizing military action by eliminating pilot casualty, potentially increasing the frequency of force deployment. Because there is no onboard pilot, drones are less responsive to warnings that could defuse or prevent a clash. Furthermore, countries may fire on a manned fighter plane, mistaking it for an armed drone, which could increase the likelihood of conflict.

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria

June 13, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder — Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate—a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Backgrounder: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

June 9, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Cold War cornerstone of transatlantic security, has significantly recast its role in the past twenty years. Founded in 1949 as a bulwark against Soviet aggression, NATO has evolved to confront global threats ranging from piracy off the Horn of Africa to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. But while the modern NATO is generally more recognized for its role beyond rather than within Europe, Russian actions in recent years, particularly its 2008 conflict with Georgia and its 2014 annexation of Crimea, have refocused the alliance’s attention on the continent. Recent developments have also exposed unresolved tensions over NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet sphere.

Backgrounder: The Group of Seven (G7)

May 20, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Group of Seven (G7)
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Group of Seven (G7) is an informal bloc of industrialized democracies—France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States, and Canada—that meets annually to discuss issues of common interest like global economic governance, international security, and energy policy. Proponents say the forum’s small and relatively homogenous membership promotes collective decision-making, but critics note that it often lacks follow-through and that its membership excludes important emerging powers. Russia belonged to the forum from 1998 through 2014—then the Group of Eight (G8)—but the other members suspended their cooperation with Moscow after its annexation of Crimea in March of that year.

Research Links: Cybersecurity Policy

May 16, 2014 Comments off

Research Links: Cybersecurity Policy
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

How can the United States protect cyberspace “control system of our country,” without restricting the open “flow of information on the Internet”? What should countries consider when developing international cybersecurity standards and protocol? What should their citizens know to protect their information and their rights? Cybersecurity Policy Research Links provide news, background information, legislation, analysis, and international efforts to protect government and the public’s information.

Backgrounder: Boko Haram

May 9, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: Boko Haram
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Boko Haram, a diffuse Islamist sect, has attacked Nigeria’s police, military, rival clerics, politicians, schools, religious buildings, public institutions, and civilians with increasing regularity since 2009. Some experts view the group as an armed revolt against government corruption, abusive security forces, and widening regional economic disparity in an already impoverished country. They argue that Abuja should do more to address the strife between the disaffected Muslim north and the Christian south.

The U.S. Department of State designated Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization in 2013. Boko Haram’s brutal campaign included a suicide attack on a UN building in Abuja in 2011, repeated attacks that have killed dozens of students, burning of villages, ties to regional terror groups, and the abduction of more than two hundred girls in 2014. The Nigerian government hasn’t been able to quell the insurgency.

Standard Deductions: U.S. Corporate Tax Policy

April 18, 2014 Comments off

Standard Deductions: U.S. Corporate Tax Policy
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The U.S. system for taxing corporate profits is outdated, ineffective at raising revenue, and creates perverse incentives for companies to shelter profits overseas. It is also, for most U.S. companies most of the time, a pretty good deal, which is one of the big reasons why any serious overhaul will be so difficult to achieve.

This is the fourth progress report and scorecard from CFR’s Renewing America initiative. Previous progress reports and scorecards have evaluated transportation infrastructure, federal education policy, and trade.

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide

April 14, 2014 Comments off

Emerging Arctic Explored in New CFR InfoGuide
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has released a new interactive guide examining the economic opportunities and environmental risks emerging in the Arctic. Climate change, technological advances, and a growing demand for natural resources are driving a new era of development in the Arctic region. Many experts assert that Arctic summers could be free of sea ice in a matter of decades, opening the region up to hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, most notably in energy production and shipping.

Backgrounder: Ukraine in Crisis

March 10, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: >Ukraine in Crisis
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Ukraine’s most prolonged and deadly crisis since its post-Soviet independence began as a protest against the government dropping plans to forge closer trade ties with the European Union and has since spurred a global standoff between Russia and Western powers. The crisis stems from more than twenty years of weak governance, a lopsided economy dominated by oligarchs, heavy reliance on Russia, and sharp differences between Ukraine’s linguistically, religiously, and ethnically distinct eastern and western halves. After the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich in Feburary 2014, Russian moves to take control of the Crimean Peninsula signaled Moscow’s intent to retain its sphere of influence and raised serious questions about the ability of the state’s new leaders to provide stability and a path to meaningful reforms.

The Rise of Islamic Finance

February 24, 2014 Comments off

The Rise of Islamic Finance
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Global Islamic financial assets have soared from less than $600 billion in 2007 to more than $1.3 trillion in 2012, an expansion rooted in the growing pool of financial assets in Muslim-majority countries driven by consumer demand for products that comply with religious codes. Assets are concentrated in Muslim countries of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but the sector appears poised to enter Western markets and complement conventional financing. Prime Minister David Cameron announced in 2013 that the United Kingdom will issue a £200 million ($327 million) Islamic bond, or sukuk, making it the first non-Muslim country to tap into Islamic financing. Companies in the United States are also considering Islamic finance to fund business ventures and infrastructure projects. Demand for new Islamic investments is expected to outstrip supply by as much as $100 billion by 2015, an imbalance that could translate to much-needed liquidity in some tight markets. But the industry remains small and will need to expand considerably to have a significant impact on global financial markets.

Issue Guide: Crisis in Ukraine

February 21, 2014 Comments off

Issue Guide: Crisis in Ukraine
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The latest eruption of violence in Ukraine has brought its protracted political unrest—rooted in a dispute over strengthening ties with the European Union—to its bloodiest phase yet. Some analysts are concerned that further bloodshed will end the chance for crucial power-sharing compromises seen as the best path for resolving the dispute and restoring stability. This roundup of expert analysis examines the conflict and consequences for regional stability.

Reorienting U.S. Pakistan Strategy

January 22, 2014 Comments off

Reorienting U.S. Pakistan Strategy
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

As U.S. and coalition forces prepare to draw down troops in Afghanistan, this new report urges Washington to view Pakistan not solely or even principally in the context of U.S.-Afghanistan policy, but rather to reorient the relationship toward Asia. “A U.S. strategy for Asia that does not contemplate Pakistan’s role is incomplete, and a U.S. strategy for Pakistan that primarily considers its role in the context of Afghanistan is shortsighted,” writes the report’s author, Daniel S. Markey, CFR senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia.

Afghanistan After the Drawdown

December 15, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan After the Drawdown
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The United States has now been at war in Afghanistan for more than a decade. The sacrifice in blood and treasure has been substantial. Some 2,300 American servicemen and women have lost their lives, more than 19,000 have been injured, and nearly $650 billion has been spent over the course of the United States’ longest war. The results, however, can only be described as inconclusive. The reach and effectiveness of the Afghan central government remain circumscribed, challenged by various armed groups and undermined by pervasive corruption. The economy has grown rapidly, albeit from a low starting place, but remains largely dependent on international aid flows that will certainly shrink.

The combination of high costs and middling returns has left the American public increasingly skeptical of the utility of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. The 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that brought the American military to Afghanistan in 2001, only reinforced that perception. Yet the United States retains interests in Afghanistan, including preventing the reemergence of a terrorist safe haven and promoting stability in the region, which could be further undermined by a total withdrawal of American military forces.

As this Council Special Report explains, 2014 will be a pivotal year for Afghanistan. An election will, presumably, bring a new president to Kabul. The U.S. military will complete its transfer of responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces, making the war effort Afghan-led. And, as donor financing begins to come down, the Afghan economy will need to find sustainable, internal sources of growth.

United States and Afghanistan’s Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement, November 2013

November 22, 2013 Comments off

United States and Afghanistan’s Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement, November 2013
Source: Council of Foreign Relations

Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Karzai agreed on a draft text regarding the U.S.-Afghan security partnership after international combat troops withdraw. The agreement is set to take effect on January 1, 2015 and remain in force through 2024.

Backgrounder — Governance in India: Corruption

November 13, 2013 Comments off

Backgrounder — Governance in India: Corruption
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

With a booming economy throughout the 2000s, India was touted as one of the most promising major emerging markets. But that breakneck growth sputtered to a decade low in 2012, with many observers pointing to the corrosive effect of endemic corruption—including a spate of scandals under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—as a culprit. Perhaps more than India’s weak currency and rising inflation, the graft problem has undermined institutions and thwarted efforts to reduce poverty and catalyze sustainable growth in the world’s largest democracy. Public revelations of corruption, including major scandals in the telecommunications and coal industry, have galvanized a rising middle class with increased demands for better governance. The tide has spurred new political movements, and forced Prime Minister Singh’s Congress Party to address transparency and marshal reforms. As the country enters a busy political season, culminating in the 2014 general elections, corruption is expected be a cornerstone issue—and one with big implications for India’s development.

Quarterly Update: Foreign Ownership of U.S. Assets

October 17, 2013 Comments off

Quarterly Update: Foreign Ownership of U.S. Assets
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Foreign ownership of U.S. assets has increased significantly since 1945, growing especially quickly over the past two decades. This growth is the result of a general increase in cross-border investment, with rising foreign ownership of U.S. assets nearly matched by rising U.S. ownership of assets abroad.

Backgrounder — Foreign Investment and U.S. National Security

October 8, 2013 Comments off

Backgrounder — Foreign Investment and U.S. National Security
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The United States is both the world’s largest foreign direct investor and the largest beneficiary of foreign direct investment (FDI). But like every sovereign country, it has sought to temper its embrace of open markets with the protection of national security interests. Achieving this balance, which has shifted over time, has meant placing certain limitations on overseas investment in strategically sensitive sectors of the U.S. economy.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States was established in 1975 to review acquisitions of U.S. firms by foreign entities that could erode national security. Recent political opposition to some high-profile foreign investment activity, including the 2006 Dubai Ports World controversy, has fed a perception among some that the United States has stepped back from its open-door policies. The federal government, however, reviews only a small fraction of the hundreds of annual foreign acquisitions, and it blocks transactions in only the rarest of cases. In a record-setting deal, CFIUS approved the sale of Smithfield Foods to Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. in September 2013, the largest Chinese purchase of a U.S. company in history.

Washington has traditionally led international efforts to bring down barriers to cross-border capital flows, with the goals of expanding investment opportunities for U.S. multinational businesses and creating a more stable, efficient international system. At the same time, the United States relies greatly on foreign inflows to compensate for a shortage of savings at home. The United States routinely ranks among the most favorable destinations for foreign direct investors. Foreign direct investment—the ownership or control by a foreign entity of 10 percent or more of a domestic enterprise—plays a modest but growing role in the U.S. economy.

Backgrounder — Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

October 7, 2013 Comments off

Backgrounder — Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Geologists have known about vast reservoirs of natural gas and oil trapped in shale formations across the United States for decades, but extraction techniques weren’t available and the resources remained untapped. Shale didn’t factor into most serious analyses of U.S. energy prospects until the combination of two old technologies—horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking—was perfected. A drilling renaissance over the past five years has transformed the United States into a leading natural gas producer and potential energy exporter, reversing a decades-long trend of increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil and gas. Shale production helped reduce net imports of energy by one-third between 2011 and 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heralding a new era of U.S. energy security with broad implications for global markets and international relations.

Meanwhile, Americans are benefitting from lower energy prices and jobs are being created in the oil and gas sector and related industries. Many other countries are studying the U.S. example and plan to tap their shale resources. But analysts, environmental groups, and governments are concerned about the costs of fracking and the risks to the environment.

Trends in U.S. Military Spending

July 31, 2013 Comments off

Trends in U.S. Military Spending
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Military budgets are only one gauge of military power. A given financial commitment may be adequate or inadequate depending on the number and capability of a nation’s adversaries, how well a country invests its funds, and what it seeks to accomplish, among other factors. Nevertheless, trends in military spending do reveal something about a country’s capacity for coercion. Policymakers are currently debating the appropriate level of U.S. military spending given increasingly constrained budgets and the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following charts present historical trends in U.S. military spending and analyze the forces that may drive it lower.

These charts draw on data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Both data sets include spending on overseas contingency operations as well as defense. This distinguishes them from data used in the U.S. budget, which separates defense spending from spending on overseas operations.

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