• Turkey’s Syria Assault Halts the Fight Against ISIS

    The Trump administration’s abrupt decision to pull out of Syria has, as expected, led to a pause in the fight against the Islamic State. Leaders of the SDF, the mostly Kurdish group that has done the bulk of the fighting on the ground in Syria, culminating in the defeat of the group’s so-called caliphate earlier this year, said that Kurdish fighters are being reassigned from counterterrorism missions – including guarding more than 10,000 ISIS fighters in detention camps – to the battle against Turkish incursions. The decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the border region, paving the way for Turkey to launch a catastrophic assault on the Kurds, is “the worst foreign policy decision since the Iraq war,” the senior administration official said.

  • The United States Is Done Caring About Syria

    The Syria Study Group (SSG) is a bipartisan commission charged by Congress with “examining and making recommendations on the military and diplomatic strategy of the United States with respect to the conflict in Syria.” It published its report on 24 September. The report details five serious threats the conflict within Syria holds for U.S. national security: First, the self-declared Islamic State remains potent, well resourced, and ideologically committed to achieving its goals despite the pounding it has taken over the last five years. Second, Iran’s presence in Syria threatens a wider regional war, given the shadow war between the Israelis and Iranians in the seams of the conflict. Third, if U.S. foreign policy is destined to be shaped by great-power competition, then Russia is using Syria to build influence at the expense of the United States. Fourth, the violence that Bashar al-Assad and his supporters have unleashed on Syria has had far-reaching effects, including the political destabilization of Europe. The members of the study group recommend that the United States should reverse its plans for a military withdrawal in northeastern Syria and focus on stabilization efforts in that area – but Steven Cook writes that “At a level of abstraction, what the authors recommend is eminently reasonable. But given the political context in which they have been offered, most of them were dead before the report was published.” “America should not stand idly by,” the report’s authors urge, but as “they readily acknowledge, America will almost certainly do just that, perfectly reflecting the transition underway in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East,” Cook writes.

  • Will Abandoning the Kurds Result in the Mass Release of Islamic State Fighters?

    In a series of tweets Monday morning, President Donald Trump, following a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, announced the United States would withdraw its remaining forces from northern Syria, and that he had given a green light to Turkey to enter Syria to deal with Kurdish forces there. These forces had been instrumental in helping the United States defeat the Islamist State in Syria, and are now holding about 11,000 ISIS fighters – about 2,000 of them foreign fighters – in thirty detention centers. The Kurdish forces are regarded as terrorists by Turkey. Robert Chesney writes that the White House statement, issued after Trump’s tweets, “treats [the problem of the ISIS detainees] in a way that is far more alarming than comforting”: “It is possible that all this hand-wringing will prove unwarranted. Perhaps Turkey’s military incursion will be limited, leaving the Kurds capable and willing to continue detaining Islamic State fighters. Perhaps vast numbers of the detainees will be dispatched to Iraq for prosecution after all (a much-touted plan a year ago, about which little has surfaced since). Perhaps Turkey will somehow gain control of and maintain detention operations. Anything is possible. But none of that seems likely. More likely, the biggest beneficiary of all this will be the Islamic State.”

  • Trump’s Use of Sanctions Is Nothing Like Obama’s

    Two and a half years into Donald Trump’s presidency, there is no doubt that economic sanctions are his administration’s foreign-policy weapon of choice. From China to Iran to Venezuela, sanctions and other coercive economic tools are central to Trump’s maximum pressure campaigns against U.S. adversaries. But he is not only rolling out sanctions more aggressively than his predecessors: He is also using them in new ways. Have Trump’s sanctions worked to advance U.S. national security interests? Peter Harrell writes in Foreign Policy that the record so far is mixed, but that the use of economic sanctions as a policy tool should be informed by history. “Studies of sanctions suggest that they are successful in causing regime change or other major policy changes only about one-third of the time.” Harrell writes. “Regimes have historically shown a significant capacity to dig in and resist economic pressure while letting their people suffer if they deem it necessary for regime survival.”

  • Guyana: Ethnic Politics and a Coming Oil Bonanza

    Guyana’s president David Granger on Wednesday announced that the earliest day for the delayed parliamentary elections will be 2 March 2020, around the time that ExxonMobil plans to launch offshore oil production which will transform the country’s economy. The ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) party faces a tough challenge from the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which runs on a platform that promises to toughen the terms of the large oil production contract.

  • Pesticides May Have Caused Cuban “Sonic Weapon” Symptoms

    A strange illness affecting the brains of Canadian and U.S. diplomats in their countries’ embassies in Havana may have been caused by exposure to pesticides, a new study says. From late 2016 to late 2017, some 40 U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana suffered brain damage, and exhibited a range of unusual symptoms, including hearing and vision complications, dizziness, fatigue, disorientation, and headaches. The U.S. government claimed that the diplomats had been attacked by some sort of secret sonic weapon, but a new Canadian study says that the cause was likely an exposure to low-dose exposure to neurotoxins, such as those used in commercial pesticides. From late 2016 to late 2017, Cuban health authorities engaged in an intensive fumigation campaign to block the spread of the Zika virus.

  • New EU Office Criticized by Liberals, NGOs as Conveying a "Xenophobic Message"

    EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen was accused by liberal and leftist members of the European Parliament, and by several international organizations, of creating a new position which conveys a xenophobic message. The new office – the official name is The Office for Protecting Our European Way of Life — has been the subject of bitter criticized within Brussels and throughout the EU. von der Leyen defended he decision saying: “Our European way of life is holding up our values,” she told reporters. “The beauty of the dignity of every single human being is one of the most precious values.”

  • The Shocking Paper Predicting the End of Democracy

    Democracy is hard work. And as society’s “elites”—experts and public figures who help those around them navigate the heavy responsibilities that come with self-rule—have increasingly been sidelined, citizens have proved ill equipped cognitively and emotionally to run a well-functioning democracy. As a consequence, the center has collapsed and millions of frustrated and angst-filled voters have turned in desperation to right-wing populists, says Professor Shawn Rosenberg. His prediction? “In well-established democracies like the United States, democratic governance will continue its inexorable decline and will eventually fail.”

  • In a World of Cyber Threats, the Push for Cyber Peace is Growing

    Digital conflict and military action are increasingly intertwined, and civilian targets – private businesses and everyday internet users alike – are vulnerable in the digital crossfire. But there are forces at work trying to promote peace online. It will be a tough challenge.

  • The Once and Future Threat of Nuclear Weapon Testing

    The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is the central security instrument of the United States and the world community. It is based on a strategic bargain between the five nuclear weapon states in the NPT (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) and the 185 non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty. The current worldwide moratorium on nuclear weapon testing and the intended ultimate conversion of that ban to legally binding treaty status by bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force are essential to the long-term viability of this strategic bargain.

  • Let’s (Not) Make a Deal: Geopolitics and Greenland

    Trump’s offer to buy Greenland may have once again demonstrated his lack of diplomatic knowledge and his tendency to offend his allies unnecessarily, but it is not a wild-eyed fluke. Instead, it reflects a steadily increasing American interest in Greenland that is spurred by fear of Chinese and Russian encroachments. At the same time, however, a quest to purchase Greenland is not the optimal way to achieve American security interests, as it is unlikely to succeed, and even if it did, it would be far more expensive than other, more sensible approaches. Instead, the United States should engage with Denmark and Greenland to find common ground on shared concerns.

  • Risks Grow as Countries Share Electricity Across Borders

    Increasing interconnection of electricity systems both within and between countries has much promise to help support clean energy power systems of the future. If the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing in one place, an electricity grid with high voltage transmission lines can move electricity to where it is needed. This shared infrastructure and increased trade can possibly serve as a basis for peace between neighbors in conflict, but it may also serve as a tool of coercion if the electricity can be cut off by one party.

  • Drone Rangers and GPS for Fish: The Tech Weapons U.K. Could Deploy to Stop European Rivals Plundering U.K. Seas Post-Brexit

    Figures from the Pew Research Centre, a U.S. think tank, suggest that one in five fish are caught by breaking the law and the illegal fishing industry is now worth $23.5 billion. As the U.K. prepares to leave the EU’s fishing regime, illegal trawling in British territorial waters is expected to increase. Some think technology can solve the problem of illegal activity, with new solutions in the form of satellites, drones, facial recognition and autonomous boats emerging to tackle the issue of illegal fishing head on. These technologies will need to be deployed quickly.

  • Refuting the Theory of Collective (Non-)action

    The theory of collective action, which has been held for over 50 years, states that there is no incentive for individuals in large groups to participate in the provision of work for public benefit such as democracy, environmental protection, or peace. The main issue is the free-rider problem: Climate protection and the right to personal freedoms benefit all, regardless of whether everyone contributes to them or not. It is therefore a perfectly rational strategy for the individual solely to be a beneficiary.

  • America Should View China as a Hostile, Revolutionary Power

    Like cholesterol, great powers can be good, in that they accept the present international order, or bad, in that they do not. China does not, and seeks to overturn the contemporary order the West created.  This is the source of what is already the great conflict of 21st century. China is not a status quo great power. But as important as these developments are, there is a greater concern. This is the intellectual framework that China is creating under the guise of ‘a community with a shared future for mankind,’ most recently expressed in the July 2019 defense white paper. This shared future is certain to be dystopian. Any community that the CCP creates will be totalitarian and oppressive by its nature. Any shared future that it seeks to create will be one in which the rest of the world adapts to serve the interests of Beijing.