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CFR Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

June 15, 2015 Comments off

CFR Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a Salafi-jihadist militant group and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) operating in the Sahara and Sahel. The group traces its provenance to Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s and has in the past decade become an al-Qaeda affiliate with regional ambitions. AQIM and its offshoots pose the primary transnational terror threat in North and West Africa but are unlikely to strike in the United States and Europe, according to U.S. officials. The flow of militants from the Sahara and Sahel to Syria and Iraq, where thousands of Moroccan and Tunisian citizens have joined terrorist groups, is raising concerns about battle-hardened fighters returning to these relatively stable countries.

CFR Backgrounder: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

June 15, 2015 Comments off

CFR 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 until recently cost-effective 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 oil and gas exporter, reversing a decades-long trend of increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil and gas.

The results have been dramatic. Shale production helped reduce net imports of energy by one-third between 2011 and 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), and by 2014 foreign petroleum imports had fallen nearly 40 percent compared to 2006. These changes hold broad implications for global markets and international relations.

Meanwhile, global energy prices have fallen, and many other countries are studying the U.S. example and plan to tap their own shale resources. But analysts, environmental groups, and governments are concerned about the costs of fracking and the risks to the environment, while falling oil prices have begun to contract investment in the sector.

CFR Backgrounder: Europe’s Migration Crisis

May 13, 2015 Comments off

CFR Backgrounder: Europe’s Migration Crisis
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing turmoil in Africa and the Middle East poses complex challenges for European policymakers still grappling with weak economic growth and fractured national politics. Europe, according to a 2014 report from the International Organization for Migration, is currently the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world, and the Mediterranean Sea the world’s most dangerous border crossing. To date, the European Union’s collective response to its growing migrant crisis has been ad hoc and, critics charge, more focused on securing the bloc’s borders than on protecting the rights of migrants and refugees. With nationalist parties ascendant in many member states and concerns about Islamic terrorism looming large across the continent, it remains unclear if political headwinds will facilitate a new climate of immigration reform.

CFR Backgrounder: Nicaragua’s Grand Canal

May 12, 2015 Comments off

CFR Backgrounder: Nicaragua’s Grand Canal
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

In December 2014, workers broke ground on the Nicaragua Grand Canal, a planned 175-mile-long canal through Nicaragua. Three times the length of the Panama Canal, engineers say Nicaragua’s canal could eventually serve 5 percent of the world’s cargo traffic. Proponents of the canal argue that it will bring much-needed jobs and commerce to the country. However, critics charge that few details of the deal have been made public and say that the environmental and social costs of constructing the canal could be catastrophic.

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.

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