Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category


By Stephen M. Walt

You may have noticed that there is an active campaign underway to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. In fact, the real goal is to prevent Iran from having even the latent capacity to build a weapon if at some point it decided it wanted one. This is why the United States and other countries have imposed increasingly draconian economic sanctions on Iran, launched covert actions such as the Stuxnet virus, and made repeated threats to use military force.

One of the background elements in this campaign has been repeated warnings that Israel’s leaders believed “time was running out” and that they were getting ready to launch a preventive strike on their own. This recurring theme has depended heavily on cooperation from sympathetic journalists and compliant media organizations, who have provided a platform to disseminate these various dark prophecies.

In September 2010, for example, The Atlantic published a cover story by Jeffrey Goldberg (“The Point of No Return”) based on interviews with dozens of Israeli officials. Goldberg concluded that the odds of an Israeli attack by July 2011 were greater than 50 percent. Fortunately, this forecast proved to be as accurate as most of Goldberg’s other writings about the Middle East.

Then, in January of this year, the New York Times Magazine published an article by Israeli journalist Ronan Bergman entitled “Will Israel Attack Iran? The piece essentially replicated Goldberg’s earlier article: once again, various Israeli officials were quoted as saying that Iran’s nuclear program was nearing a critical stage and that Israel was going to take action if Iran did not agree to end all enrichment. Despite a few caveats about the risks of an attack and the possibility that it wouldn’t halt Iran’s progress for very long, the overall tenor of the piece made it clear that Bergman thought war was very likely. Read more…

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

As pubished in on August 10, 2012.


Is anyone prepared for the unintended consequences of the war for Syria?

By Daniel L. Byman & Kenneth M. Pollack

The Syrian civil war has gone from bad to worse, with casualties mounting and horrors multiplying. Civil wars like Syria’s are obviously tragedies for the countries they consume, but they can also be catastrophes for their neighbors. Long-lasting and bloody civil wars often overflow their borders, spreading war and misery.

In 2006, as Iraq spiraled downward into the depths of intercommunal carnage, we conducted a study of spillover from recent civil wars in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere in order to identify patterns in how conflicts spread across borders. Since then, Iraq itself, along with Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, have furnished additional examples of how dangerous spillover can be. For instance, weapons from Libya have empowered fighters in Mali who have seized large swathes of that country, while al Qaeda-linked terrorists exploiting the chaos in Yemen launched nearly successful terrorist attacks on the United States.

Spillover is once again in the news as the conflict in Syria evinces the same dangerous patterns. Thousands of refugees are streaming across the border into Turkey as Ankara looks warily at Kurdish groups using Northern Syria for safe haven. Growing refugee communities are causing strain in Jordan and Lebanon. Meanwhile, the capture of 48 Iranians, who may be paramilitary specialists, could pull Tehran further into the conflict. Israel eyes developments in Syria warily, remembering repeated wars and concern over the country’s massive chemical weapons arsenal. For the United States, these developments are particularly important because spillover from the civil war could threaten America’s vital interests far more than a war contained within Syria’s borders. Read more…

Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack are, respectively, the director of research and a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Daniel Byman is also a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. They are the co-authors of the 2007 study Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War.

As published in on August 10, 2012.


Europe’s Summer Reading List

Written on August 11, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Europe, Globalization & International Trade, Political Economy

By Barry Eichengreen

This illustration is by Chris Van Es and comes from, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.

In August, Europeans head for the beach. The continent shuts down on the assumption that nothing of consequence will happen until everyone returns, suitably tanned, in September. Never mind the subprime crisis of August 2007 or, closer to home, the European monetary crisis of August 1992: the August holiday is a venerable tradition. So, what should Europeans be reading beneath their sun umbrellas this year?

Milton Friedman’s and Anna Schwartz’s A Monetary History of the United Statesbelongs at the top of the list. At the center of their gripping narrative is a chapter on the Great Depression, anchored by an indictment of the US Federal Reserve Board for responding inadequately to the mounting crisis.

Friedman and Schwartz are generally seen as reproving the Fed for failing to react swiftly to successive waves of bank failures, first in late 1930 and then again in 1931 and 1933. But a close reading reveals that the authors reserve their most scathing criticism for the Fed’s failure to initiate a concerted program of security purchases in the first half of 1930 in order to prevent those bank failures.

That is a message that the European Central Bank’s board members could usefully take to heart, given their announcement on August 2 that they were ready to respond to events as they unfolded but were taking no action for now. Reading Friedman and Schwartz will remind them that it is better to head off a crisis than it is to rely on one’s ability to end it. Read more…

Barry Eichengreen is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley, and a former senior policy adviser at the International Monetary Fund.

As published in on August 10, 2012.


By Nicholas D. Kristof

Syrian rebel fighters in Aleppo on Monday

President Obama’s finest moments in foreign policy, like the Osama bin Laden raid or the Libya intervention, resulted from close engagement and calculated risks.

His lapses come when he’s passive or AWOL — as in Syria. I’m generally a fan of Obama’s foreign policy, but on Syria there’s a growing puzzlement around the world that he seems stuck behind the curve.

The United States shouldn’t invade Syria. But we should work with allies to supply weapons, training and intelligence to rebels who pass our vetting.

I’m in Aspen for the annual meeting of the Aspen Strategy Group, a bipartisan group looking at international affairs, and I’m struck by how many strategists whom I respect think it’s time to move more aggressively.

William Perry, a secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, told me that if he were in the Pentagon today, he would be recommending a military intervention in Syria — conditioned on Turkey’s participation and without ground forces. Specifically, he said he would favor imposing a no-fly no-drive zone in northern Syria.

“This isn’t a full strategy, but it could facilitate the overthrow of Assad and have a real humanitarian benefit,” Perry said. “And if successful, it could help us influence the post-Assad government. If we sit by, we’ll be in no position to influence it.” Read more…

As published in on August 8, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 9, 2012, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Obama AWOL In Syria).


By Shlomo Ben-Ami

The Cold War is long over, but superpower rivalry is back. As a result, the international community’s capacity to unite in the face of major global challenges remains as deficient as ever.

Nowhere is this more clearly reflected than in the case of Syria. What was supposed to be a coordinated effort to protect civilians from ruthless repression and advance a peaceful transition – the plan developed by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan – has now degenerated into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Russia’s leaders (and China’s) seek to uphold an international system that relies on the unconditional sovereignty of states and rejects the Western-inspired, humanitarian droit d’ingérence. Concerned that the Arab rebellions would radicalize their own repressed minorities, they refuse to allow the UN Security Council to be used to promote revolutionary changes in the Arab world. And Syria, the last Russian outpost of the Cold War, is an asset the Kremlin will do its utmost to maintain.

But Russia and China are not the only problem. Major emerging democracies like Brazil, India, and South Africa have been especially disappointing in their response to the Arab Spring. All are outspoken paladins of human rights when it comes to condemning any Israeli defensive attack in Gaza as “genocide,” but are equally united in opposing Security Council action on Syria, even as the repression there grows ever more appalling. The Arab uprisings either clashed with their commitment to the inviolability of national sovereignty, or stoked their fear that “humanitarian intervention” would merely be another tool of Northern dominance. Read more…

Shlomo Ben-Ami is the Israeli foreign minister who came closest to devising a viable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

As published in on August 6, 2012.

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