Fight or Flight – By Kenneth M. Pollack March/April 2016 Issue


America’s Choice in the Middle East

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The modern Middle East has rarely been tranquil, but it has never been this bad. Full-blown civil wars rage in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Nascent conflicts simmer in Egypt, South Sudan, and Turkey. Various forms of spillover from these civil wars threaten the stability of Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have risen to new heights, raising the specter of a regionwide religious war. Israel and the Palestinians have experienced a resurgence of low-level violence. Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have weathered the storm so far, but even they are terrified of what is going on around them. Not since the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century has the Middle East seen so much chaos.

Moreover, it is unlikely to abate anytime soon. No matter how many times Americans insist that the people of the Middle East will come to their senses and resolve their differences if left to their own devices, they never do. Absent external involvement, the region’s leaders consistently opt for strategies that exacerbate conflict and feed perpetual instability. Civil wars are particularly stubborn problems, and without decisive outside intervention, they usually last decades. The Congolese civil war is entering its 22nd year, the Peruvian its 36th, and the Afghan its 37th. There is no reason to expect the Middle East’s conflicts to burn out on their own either.

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Unbalanced Alliances – By Sulmaan Khan February 2016


Why China Hasn’t Reined in North Korea

Diplomacy on North Korea has assumed all the comic predictability of a Samuel Beckett play. Leader Kim Jong Un tests a nuclear bomb; the world clucks in alarm. The United Nations lurches into action and hosts talks about having talks. Nothing substantive happens. And in Washington, policymakers and pundits remain mystified as to why China does not do more to rein in North Korea.

The reason is simple: Beijing still needs Pyongyang­—all the more so given Washington’s pivot to Asia. Perhaps more than any other capital, Washington should understand that the relationship between a great power and client state usually gives the upper hand to the latter. A great power can threaten, bribe, beg, and try to reason, but if it is convinced that the survival of a client state is crucial to its own national security, there is little it can do to change the client state’s behavior. The weaker state is usually all too aware of this fact. The United States lived through this when it supported former Republic of China leader Chiang Kai-shek as a bulwark against the spread of communism. Similarly, Washington has little love for Saudi Arabia’s toxic foreign policy or human rights records, but it sees the kingdom as a cornerstone of Middle Eastern stability.

China operates in much the same way with its client states. Pakistani militants attack Chinese workers in Baluchistan and traffic guns to Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, but since Pakistan provides China with a crucial access point to the Indian Ocean, Beijing can do little but lecture and cajole. Myanmar may be responsible for violent clashes and drug smuggling along the Chinese border, but, especially before the recent reform, commercial and geopolitical considerations pushed China to live with the junta. And in North Korea’s case, China has had little choice but to ignore Pyongyang’s excesses for decades.

North Korea’s geostrategic significance is burnt deep into China’s official mind. To be sure, there are other considerations. The two countries are economic partners with a $6.39 billion trade relationship as of 2014. China also fears a flood of North Korean refugees if the Kim regime were to collapse; the deluge, it is assumed, would overwhelm China’s regional resources in the process and possibly spread discontent amongst China’s ethnic Koreans. But these considerations pale in comparison to the geopolitical imperative.

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Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy – By Robert D. Kaplan March/April 2016 Issue


The Risks of Chinese and Russian Weakness

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As China asserts itself in its nearby seas and Russia wages war in Syria and Ukraine, it is easy to assume that Eurasia’s two great land powers are showing signs of newfound strength. But the opposite is true: increasingly, China and Russia flex their muscles not because they are powerful but because they are weak. Unlike Nazi Germany, whose power at home in the 1930s fueled its military aggression abroad, today’s revisionist powers are experiencing the reverse phenomenon. In China and Russia, it is domestic insecurity that is breeding belligerence. This marks a historical turning point: for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, the United States finds itself in a competition among great powers.

Economic conditions in both China and Russia are steadily worsening. Ever since energy prices collapsed in 2014, Russia has been caught in a serious recession. China, meanwhile, has entered the early stages of what promises to be a tumultuous transition away from double-digit annual GDP growth; the stock market crashes it experienced in the summer of 2015 and January 2016 will likely prove a mere foretaste of the financial disruptions to come.

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Lights Out for the Putin Regime – By Alexander J. Motyl January 27, 2016


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Russian President Vladimir Putin used to seem invincible. Today, he and his regime look enervated, confused, and desperate. Increasingly, both Russian and Western commentators suggest that Russia may be on the verge of deep instability, possibly even collapse.

This perceptual shift is unsurprising. Last year, Russia was basking in the glow of its annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas. The economy, although stagnant, seemed stable. Putin was running circles around Western policymakers and domestic critics. His popularity was sky-high. Now it is only his popularity that remains; everything else has turned for the worse. Crimea and the Donbas are economic hellholes and huge drains on Russian resources. The war with Ukraine has stalemated. Energy prices are collapsing, and the Russian economy is in recession. Putin’s punitive economic measures against UkraineTurkey, and the West have only harmed the Russian economy further. Meanwhile, the country’s intervention in Syria is poised to become a quagmire.

Things are probably  much worse for Russia than this cursory survey of negative trends suggests. The country is weathering three crises brought about by Putin’s rule—and Russia’s foreign-policy misadventures in Ukraine and Syria are only exacerbating them.

First, the Russian economy is in free fall. That oil and gas prices are unlikely to rise much anytime soon is bad enough. Far worse, Russia’s energy-dependent economy is unreformeduncompetitive, and un-modernized and will remain so as long as it serves as a wealth-producing machine for Russia’s political elite. Second,

NETFLIX MAY NEVER BREAK INTO CHINA – JULIA GREENBERG 01.12.16. 4:11 PM


In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping came to the United States to meet with politicians, corporate executives, and tech leaders. In a speech where he addressed claims that his administration’s crackdown on corruption was related to an internal power struggle, President Xi surprised Americans with a sly cultural reference. “We have punished tigers and flies. It has nothing to do with power struggles,” he said. “In this case there is no House of Cards.”

Xi’s claim, of course, has real geopolitical implications. But it also speaks to the power of Netflix’s first original show, House of Cards. The drama enthralled Western audiences, ushering in a new era of original programming from Netflix. But the show also found a sizable audience in a surprising place: China. After its release in 2014, the second season of the Kevin Spacey-led series became the number one American show streamed on Chinese service Sohu, according to The Washington Post.

As other tech giants have learned the hard way, China is a market all its own, and Netflix will have to play by Chinese rules.

Finding such a huge audience in the world’s largest nation might seem like nothing but good news. But when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced last week that his company had launched in almost every country around the world, his list contained one glaring omission. Along with North Korea, Syria, and Crimea, Netflix is still not streaming in China.

“In China, you need specific permission from the government to be able to operate, so we’re continuing to work on that and we’re very patient,” Hastings said when announcing Netflix’s worldwide expansion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “I think we’re going to be a success there, but it’s going to take some time.”

Maybe a lot of time. For Netflix, getting into the Chinese market—let alone succeeding in it—will not be an easy feat. The country’s government has strict rules dictating what kind of content can be distributed. Netflix also faces fierce competition from domestic streaming services—many of which have close ties with, or even funding from, the government. As other tech giants have learned the hard way, China is a market all its own, and Netflix will have to play by Chinese rules. But it’s not clear that even then Netflix will have a real chance.

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http://www.wired.com/2016/01/netflix-may-never-break-into-china/

Russia, France Agree To Cooperate In The Fight Against ISIS – AVIE SCHNEIDER November 26, 20156:18 PM ET


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to French President Francois Hollande as they leave their news conference in Moscow on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) listens to French President Francois Hollande as they leave their news conference in Moscow on Thursday. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

In the last leg of his diplomatic tour to win support for a coordinated effort against ISIS, French President Francois Hollande on Thursday secured a pledge of cooperation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports for our Newscast unit:

“With both countries still reeling from ISIS-claimed attacks that killed hundreds of their citizens, Hollande traveled to Russia to ask President Vladimir Putin to focus his offensive against ISIS, and not other opposition groups to President Bashar al Assad.

“The two leaders agreed on three major points: to share intelligence, intensify and coordinate strikes and not to strike any group fighting ISIS. Obtaining the last point is seen as a victory for Hollande.”

In the wake of the Nov. 13 terror attacks on Paris, which killed 130 people and injured hundreds of others, Hollande met separately with President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

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http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/11/26/457526125/russia-france-agree-to-cooperate-in-the-fight-against-isis

 

Turkey downs Russian warplane near Syria border – Kareem Shaheen in Beirut and Shaun Walker in Moscow Tuesday 24 November 2015 04.21 EST


Turkish military official says fighter jets destroyed plane after it violated country’s airspace, which Russia denies

Russian fighter jet shot down near Turkey-Syria border

Russian fighter jet shot down near Turkey-Syria border

Russian fighter jet shot down near Turkey-Syria border

Nato-member Turkey has shot down a Russian warplane in the first time the alliance and Moscow have come to blows directly over the crisis in Syria.

Ankara and Moscow gave conflicting accounts of the incident, which appears to have occurred in an area near the Turkish-Syrian border straddling Iskenderun and Latakia.

The Turkish military said it scrambled two F-16 fighter jets after a plane penetrated Turkish airspace in the province of Hatay at 9.20am on Tuesday morning, warning it to leave 10 times in five minutes before it was shot down.

It was unclear if the plane was shot down by the fighter jets or by ground-based defence systems.

Russia’s defence ministry, in a series of tweets, confirmed a Russian SU-24 had been shot down, but insisted the plane had never left Syrian airspace.

“At all times, the SU-24 was exclusively over the territory of Syria,” the defence ministry said. “The SU-24 was at 6000 metres and preliminary information suggests it was brought down by fire from the ground. The circumstances are being investigated.”

The ministry said preliminary information suggested that the pilots managed to successfully eject from the plane. The Turkish network CNN Turk said that one of the pilots had been captured by local Turkmen tribesmen in the area.

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http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/24/turkey-shoots-down-jet-near-border-with-syria