Articles

You would think it’s self-evident that Ukraine’s current crisis and the controversies sparked before its eruption by Iran’s nuclear program, China’s muscle-flexing against Japan and the Philippines over disputed tiny islands, and Syria’s continuing carnage are distinct—that they have little, if anything, in common. Well, you’d be wrong, at least in the eyes of the staunchest critics of American foreign policy under Barack Obama. In their mind, what connects these conflicts, which are so far apart spatially, is that each has been aggravated, perhaps even enabled, by Obama’s fecklessness, which projects to adversaries America’s weakness instead of its strength. In this reading, America’s friends have lost confidence in wayward Washington, while its foes have developed a contempt for American will, which inclines them to brazenness because they believe there’s no price to be paid. In this portrayal Obama is a stick figure evoking memories of Neville Chamberlain.

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History tends to repeat itself (especially if its lessons are forgotten). More than 160 years ago, in 1853, war broke out between France, Britain, Turkey and Piedmont on one side and Russia on the other. In military operations that stretched from the Baltic to the Romanian Principalities and the Crimean Peninsula, Russia was defeated and withdrew its borders northward from the Danube River – but it kept Crimea, thanks in part to a historic defense of its key city, Sevastopol, against a year-long siege by British and French forces.

In World War II, Russian-ruled Sevastopol fought invaders again – the army of Nazi Germany – and was proclaimed by Stalin a “hero city,” its name carved into the polished stone of a somber memorial outside the Kremlin walls. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who had roots in Ukraine, transferred Crimea to the jurisdiction of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic, a declaration of Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood that had no consequence then for the region’s power politics. The consequence is enormous now, as President Vladimir Putin uses the Russians’ emotional sense of ownership over Crimea to win support at home for his seizure of the peninsula from independent Ukraine.

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was on the road to irrelevance. The most successful military alliance in history has lacked a real enemy since the Soviet Union disintegrated a quarter of a century ago.  After a dozen years of war in Afghanistan,  NATO’s role is coming to an ignominious end.

Because of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a Basic Security Agreement (BSA), NATO is now forced to plan for the withdraw of all of its military forces by the end of 2014.  Without substantial coalition forces and, as important, the money and aid Afghanistan receives because of that presence, the Karzai government will be unable to prevent the Taliban, local tribes, warlords and gangs from wresting power and control away from Kabul.  Violence, chaos and instability loom as the legacies of  NATO’s engagement.

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As a Small Nation Faces Russian Pressure, Europe’s Future is on the Line

Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leancă’s meetings at the White House today are a crucial sign of US support for his leadership and for Moldova’s Euro-Atlantic future, especially alongside Russia’s invasion of Moldova’s neighbor, Ukraine. In November, Moldova, alongside Georgia, signed a European Union (EU) Association Agreement, a step toward what Moldovans hope will be their country’s eventual membership in the EU. Russia’s occupation of Crimea is a blunt reminder of the high price – territorial dismemberment – that President Vladimir Putin is extracting for these countries’ desire to be part of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. Leancă is taking a real political risk by adhering to his people’s wishes despite Russia’s coercion.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is part of the highest-stakes gambits of President Putin’s career. Putin is not bent on war or on dismembering Ukraine. Rather, he seeks to reverse his humiliating defeat in failing to intimidate Ukraine into abandoning its return to Europe.

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At the annual Davos World Economic Forum, which convened last month, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe disrupted the conviviality by offering an historical analogy that jarred his listeners. Abe likened the polemics and gunboat diplomacy (he did not characterize it thus) that China and Japan have been using against each other of late to the rivalry between Germany and Great Britain in the run-up to World War I. There was no doubt about which of the two nineteenth-century powers he considered the appropriate latter day stand-in for Britain, the liberal, constitutional polity that emerged victorious from the Great War. It was Japan, of course. China, in Abe’s rendition, represented Imperial Germany, the authoritarian, expansionist juggernaut that plunged Europe into the abyss and was defeated.

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Cities are global leaders whose innovative policies are increasingly transcending boundaries to shape domestic and international trends. The relative power of cities to influence the global agenda will only increase in the coming decades. More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas; by 2050, 70 percent, or more than six billion people, will be urban dwellers.

The Atlantic Council is at the forefront of an emerging global dialogue on urbanization through its Urban World 2030 project, which brings together foreign and security policymakers and urban specialists to address ways to turn global urbanization into a net positive.

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What Will be the Legacy of the 2014 World Cup for Brazil?

From June 12 to July 13, Brazil will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup across twelve cities. During the tournament an estimated 600,000 foreign visitors and 3 million Brazilians are expected to travel across the country of more than 200 million people. Over 3 billion worldwide will be paying attention to all that happens in Brazil.

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While the outcome of Ukraine’s upheaval may not be clear, this much is: Russia has successfully used sanctions, a pile of cash and natural gas discounts to set back Ukraine’s effort to build itself a European future. Even as Russia shifts focus to ensuring the safety and prestige of next month’s Sochi Olympics, the Euro-Atlantic community must prepare for the next time Moscow threatens to inflict crippling trade, financial, and energy sanctions on its ex-Soviet neighbors. That next time will be soon. 

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How might the FARC peace negotiations impact Colombia's presidential election?

President Barack Obama emphasized "the tremendous progress that’s taken place in Colombia" after meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House on December 3. His comments come at a pivotal moment as Colombia enters an electoral season.

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