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CFR Backgrounder: Islamic State

April 8, 2015 Comments off

CFR Backgrounder: Islamic State
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a militant movement that has conquered territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria, where it has made a bid to establish a state in territories that encompass some six and a half million residents. Though spawned by al-Qaeda’s Iraq franchise, it split with Osama bin Laden’s organization and evolved to not just employ terrorist and insurgent tactics, but the more conventional ones of an organized militia.

CFR Backgrounder: Al-Shabab

March 18, 2015 Comments off

Backgrounder: Al-Shabab
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Al-Shabab, or “the Youth,” is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia. The group, also known as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, and its Islamist affiliates once held sway over Mogadishu and major portions of the Somali countryside, but a sustained African Union military campaign in recent years has weakened the group considerably. Still, security analysts warn that the group remains the principal threat in a politically volatile, war-torn state.

Al-Shabab’s terrorist activities have mainly focused on targets within Somalia, but it has also carried out deadly strikes in the region, including coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital in 2010 and a raid on a Nairobi mall in 2013 (PDF). Washington fears the group, which has successfully recruited members of the Somali diaspora in the United States, may strike on U.S. soil. However, many terrorism experts say al-Shabab’s reach is limited to East Africa.

CFR Backgrounder: What Are Economic Sanctions

March 12, 2015 Comments off

Backgrounder: What Are Economic Sanctions
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Governments and multinational bodies impose economic sanctions to try to alter the strategic decisions of state and non-state actors that threaten their interests or violate international norms of behavior. Critics say sanctions are often poorly conceived and rarely successful in changing a target’s conduct, while supporters contend they have become more effective in recent years and remain an essential foreign policy tool. Sanctions have become the defining feature of the Western response to several geopolitical challenges, including Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

The Emerging Crisis: Noncommunicable Diseases

January 15, 2015 Comments off

The Emerging Crisis: Noncommunicable Diseases
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The gravest health threats facing low- and middle-income countries are not the plagues, parasites, and blights that dominate the news cycle and international relief efforts. They are the everyday diseases the international community understands and could address, but fails to take action against.

Once thought to be challenges for affluent countries alone, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have emerged as the leading cause of death and disability in developing countries. In 2013, these diseases killed eight million people before their sixtieth birthdays in these countries. The chronic nature of NCDs means patients are sick and suffer longer and require more medical care. The resulting economic costs are high and escalating. Unless urgent action is taken, this emerging crisis will worsen in low- and middle-income countries and become harder to address.

CFR Backgrounder: The Chinese Communist Party (updated)

November 20, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Chinese Communist Party
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling political party of modern China, boasting more than eighty-six million members. In 2012, the CCP underwent a pivotal once-in-a-decade power transition that saw its fifth generation of leaders set the future agenda for the second-largest economy in the world. While the party has maintained a political monopoly since its founding, the effects of China’s rapid economic growth have triggered increasing social unrest and political destabilization that challenge the country’s rise as a global power. A spate of political scandals has also exposed deep power struggles inside the infamously opaque organization. The changeover has done little to affect immediate party policy and direction, however the implications of new leadership sheds some light on how China plans to position itself on the world stage.

CFR Backgrounder: The Russian Military

November 17, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Russian Military
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Russian military suffered years of neglect after the Soviet collapse and no longer casts the shadow of a global superpower. However, the Russian armed forces are in the midst of a historic overhaul with significant consequences for Eurasian politics and security. Russian officials say the reforms are necessary to bring a Cold War-era military into the twenty-first century, but many Western analysts fear they will enable Moscow to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy, often relying on force to coerce its weaker neighbors. Some say Russian interventions in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014—both former Soviet republics seeking closer ties to the West—demonstrate that President Vladimir Putin is prepared to use military force to reestablish Russian hegemony in its near abroad.

CFR Backgrounder: The Arab League

November 11, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Arab League
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Founded in March 1945, the League of Arab States (or Arab League) is a loose confederation of twenty-two Arab nations, including Palestine, whose broad mission is to improve coordination among its members on matters of common interest. The League was chartered in response to concerns about postwar colonial divisions of territory as well as strong opposition to the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine, but it has long been criticized for disunity and poor governance. Critics also say it has traditionally been more representative of its various autocratic regimes than of Arab citizens.

The organization had the opportunity to advance social interests with the push for Palestinian statehood at the UN and the unrest in many Arab countries in 2011. Some critics see positive developments in the League’s actions in Libya, where it supported a no-fly zone and the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and in Syria, where it orchestrated a fact-finding mission to observe the conflict and called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down after months of deadly clashes with protesters.

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