Japan in 2014: Can Abe manage China tensions?
January 7th, 2014
11:33 AM ET

Japan in 2014: Can Abe manage China tensions?

By Shihoko Goto, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Shihoko Goto is the Northeast Asia associate for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Asia Program based in Washington DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own. This is the last in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries

Will Japan assert its own vision for East Asia, or will it continue simply to react to China? That will be the biggest question in 2014 for Tokyo as tensions with Beijing continue to mount.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to beef up military spending and enhance its longer-term security is a game-changer for the region, and while there is a chance the move will strengthen bilateral relations between Japan and the United States, it is unclear how this will impact Tokyo’s relations with Beijing. Whatever happens, though, there can be little doubt that tensions over the disputed islands in the East China Sea will remain in the headlines this year – and the reality is that there is no easy solution to the dispute over who owns what Japan calls the Senkakus and China the Diaoyu Islands.

Tokyo’s decision last month to increase military expenditure to $239 billion over the next five years, coupled with a new 10-year national security strategy, was the clearest sign yet that Japan is serious about strengthening its defense capabilities against a backdrop of China’s surging economic and military power.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • China • Japan
Mexico in 2014: Can Peña Nieto consolidate reform?
January 3rd, 2014
01:05 PM ET

Mexico in 2014: Can Peña Nieto consolidate reform?

By Duncan Wood, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Duncan Wood is the director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Last year will go down as an extraordinary, historic year in Mexico. A number of structural and political reforms that had been pending for 15 years were approved by the country’s Congress addressing education, labor markets, telecoms competition, financial regulation, fiscal affairs, elections rules and energy. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto remained the darling of international investors throughout the year, and received record levels of foreign direct investment in the first year of its mandate, by following through on his promised reform agenda and delivering the legislation needed to prepare Mexico for a more competitive global economic environment. His ruling PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party) showed coherence and unity throughout the year, and the other major parties agreed to work closely with the PRI to secure legislative progress.

The crowning achievement of the year was the energy reform bill that was approved by the Congress on December 15. By opening up Mexico’s hydrocarbons sector to foreign investment for the first time since the 1930s, the reform not only marks a paradigm shift in Mexican thinking about oil and gas, but offers the very real prospect that major investment will result in rising production, strengthened reserves and the direct and indirect creation of hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs for Mexican citizens.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Mexico
Pakistan in 2014: Time ripe for a virtuous cycle?
January 2nd, 2014
11:51 AM ET

Pakistan in 2014: Time ripe for a virtuous cycle?

By Robert D. Lamb, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert D. Lamb is senior fellow and director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are solely those of the author. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

During U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s meetings last month with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and new Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, the two countries traded familiar complaints: for Pakistan, the continuing U.S. drone strikes against targets in Pakistan’s sovereign territory; for the United States, the ongoing use of Pakistani territory as a safe haven for Taliban, Haqqani network, and other militants fighting in Afghanistan.

But they also reaffirmed the importance of the partnership, given their shared concern over the very real threats to Pakistan’s stability: armed militants attacking Pakistani state targets, sectarian and political violence increasing intercommunal tensions, terrorist groups threatening India with cross-border attacks and increasing on-again-off-again tensions with its larger neighbor, and devastating energy and economic crises that keep tens of millions of Pakistanis in poverty and threaten Pakistan’s social cohesion. Pakistan is a country that is too big to fail: its population is large, it has nuclear weapons, and its extremist groups have international connections. Instability there would affect too many international security concerns to ignore.

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Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders
December 27th, 2013
07:45 AM ET

Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

As the U.S. exit from Afghanistan nears, we can expect to hear steadily more about the lessons we should have learned since international intervention in the country back in 2001. But one dimension of the Afghan effort that might get overlooked next year is this: how has the Afghan conflict impacted transatlantic solidarity?

The short answer is that transatlantic relations may well be another long-term victim of the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan operation started as a spectacular demonstration of the solidity of the transatlantic alliance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when NATO activated Article V of its collective defense clause for the first time in its history. But the limits of cooperation were quickly demonstrated, eroding the foundations of transatlantic solidarity. Whether they can be fully restored remains to be seen.

Afghanistan has been a story of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the early disagreements was over the relative importance of military operations versus a broader political approach – while the United States tended to focus on the former, European states emphasized the latter. The resources that each side was capable and willing to engage in Afghanistan played a role in this initial difference, but this doesn’t explain everything. Europeans had a genuine problem with the U.S. approach, which, over the years, kept focusing on security at the expense of politics and a sustained effort at national cohesion. As a result, all Afghan political institutions were created in a way that reflected Washington’s desire for expediency rather than a need to ensure the political system’s sustainability.

Torn between their willingness to demonstrate solidarity with Washington after 9/11 and their perception that the goals of the mission, as defined by Washington, were unachievable, many European countries limited their investment to the minimum and sought instead to bring their troops home. Others, in particular the closest American allies, decided to stick to U.S. strategy even when they knew it was bound to fail. These allies paid a heavy human, financial and political price, but seemed to take some absurd comfort in the fact that the failure would be a collective responsibility.

In parallel, the temptation in Washington to blame the Europeans for the coalition failures in Afghanistan grew as it became increasingly clear that, despite the official rhetoric, the United States had achieved none of its objectives. If al Qaeda has been weakened, none of its local affiliates has been eradicated and its reemergence remains a possibility in 2014 and beyond – the reality is that the Afghan state that is emerging from the reconstruction effort is in no position to prevent this happening on its own once U.S. forces have withdrawn next year.

Ironically the impending exit from Afghanistan has only exacerbated ill feelings on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of the principle “in together, out together,” Washington decided unilaterally to withdraw, but felt let down when some of its partners decided to anticipate its own departure.

The consequences of this mutual frustration are unlikely to be spectacular. European states are too dependent on the United States for their own security to snub Washington. Nor is Afghanistan the sole reason for Washington’s diminishing commitment to European security. With the existential threat of the Soviet Union long gone and given European governments’ dwindling capacity to contribute to collective security, the continent no longer constitutes a strategic concern for Washington. At the same time, the war-weary and fiscally-stressed United States is increasingly reluctant to commit to foreign military adventures. These two phenomena, neither of which is directly or exclusively related to Afghanistan, are pulling the two sides of the Atlantic apart.

Future conflicts may not exactly look like Afghanistan, but there is a good chance they will share some of its characteristics, in particular the primacy of politics and the relatively secondary character of military force. In Afghanistan, most U.S. allies concurred with the perception that the conflict could not be solved kinetically. However, for a variety of reasons, they never really stood against that dominant U.S. paradigm. Instead, they let themselves become part of a succession of U.S. military strategies that all proved short lived.

The result of all this is a collective failure that from next year will very likely translate into a loss of credibility not just for the U.S., but for the entire Western alliance.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Afghanistan
Egypt in 2014: More demonstrations to come
December 26th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Egypt in 2014: More demonstrations to come

By Steven A. Cook, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. The views expressed are the writers’ own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Egypt hasn’t made international headlines for a while, but Egyptians themselves have still been making news. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that began after a coup toppled embattled President Mohammed Morsy in July has extended through the end of 2013, and will likely continue. At the same time, a low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula has occasionally reached into major cities like Ismailiyya and Cairo. The government’s approach to the violence seems to be based solely around bringing as much firepower to bear on the perpetrators as possible. But while there might be some success in killing some terrorists and criminals, the complexity of the situation on the ground means this strategy will likely do little to change an environment where extremist elements thrive.

Beyond the security situation, Egyptian politics are likely to remain fraught. After the coup, the military-backed interim government issued a roadmap for the restoration of democracy. Never mind the fact that there was no democracy to restore – Egyptian officials have been faithful to the transition they set up after the military’s July intervention. Since interim President Adly Mansour accepted constitutional revisions that first a committee of ten legal experts, and then a broader group of fifty, debated and further refined, the constitution will be put to a referendum on January 14 and 15. The roadmap calls for parliamentary elections within 15 days of the draft document’s passage, and then finally presidential elections within one week of the parliament’s first session. Mansour is currently studying the idea of flipping presidential and parliamentary elections. Regardless of what he decides, Egyptians will carry out the remaining aspects of the roadmap relatively problem free, but this does little to resolve three core issues that will destabilize Egyptian politics in 2014.

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France in 2014: Another annus horribilis for Hollande?
December 24th, 2013
10:50 AM ET

France in 2014: Another annus horribilis for Hollande?

By James Shields, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: James Shields is professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in the U.K. He is the first winner of the American Political Science Association’s Stanley Hoffmann Award for his writing on French politics. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

How long is France’s presidential term? Five years. How long has President François Hollande been in office? Twenty months. By the laws of simple arithmetic, that should leave him three years and four months – fully two-thirds of his mandate – to pursue his reform agenda at the head of his Socialist administration.

But presidencies don’t operate according to the laws of simple arithmetic. “Can Hollande act anymore?” asked the influential left-leaning daily Le Monde in its front-page headline of October 29. The financial daily Les Echos was more pointed still, pronouncing “The end of Hollande’s five-year term” and declaring the president to have no prospect of proceeding with further reforms.

Though his full term of office and extensive powers remain constitutionally guaranteed, there are two reasons for this rush to bring the curtain down already on Hollande’s performance. The first reason lies in the dynamics of governing within fixed terms framed by elections. As the World Bank noted in its report, Doing Business 2007 – How to Reform, nearly 85 percent of economic reforms tend to take place within the first 15 months of a new government taking office. In other words, the time to implement ambitious reforms is at the start of a government’s term while its mandate is fresh, and before re-election and the temptation to play it safe become increasingly pronounced factors in government strategy.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • France
Iran in 2014: Don't expect Rouhani to transform Iran
December 23rd, 2013
12:05 PM ET

Iran in 2014: Don't expect Rouhani to transform Iran

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin is author of Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, forthcoming in February 2014. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

The past year was a time for change in Iran. Iranians went to the polls and elected Hassan Rouhani who, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s eight year interlude, returned Iran’s presidency to the reformists. Rouhani’s diplomatic charm offensive, telephone call with President Barack Obama, and tentative nuclear deal suggested a new international posture. But just as important were Rouhani’s domestic actions.

During the Ahmadinejad years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had gained unprecedented political and economic power. More parliamentarians, governors and deputy governors, ministers and deputy ministers were veterans of the IRGC than at any time in the Islamic Republic’s history. Ahmadinejad himself was the first president who gained his legitimacy from time spent in the military during the Iran-Iraq War rather than in revolutionary clerical circles. The past became present, as informal networks of battle buddies from the Iran-Iraq War trenches trumped the formal political wire diagram in Islamic Republic decision-making.

Herein lies the challenge. While expectations are high that Rouhani will transform the Islamic Republic at home and on the diplomatic stage, it is not clear that he can or even wants to do so. True, Rouhani quietly moved to unravel the IRGC’s chokehold on Iranian politics, but he has replaced ministers and fired governors whose backgrounds were in the IRGC in many cases with veterans of the intelligence service, equally despised by ordinary Iranians. Indeed, extricating the IRGC from the economy will be difficult: Khatam al-Anbia, the IRGC’s economic wing, controls up to 40 percent of the economy and Ahmadinejad awarded the group billions in no-bid contracts in the energy sector alone during his administration, a position the IRGC is unlikely to abandon and which effectively gives the elite military budgetary autonomy.

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North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge
December 19th, 2013
04:07 PM ET

North Korea in 2014: A country on the ledge

By Matt Stumpf, Special o CNN

Editor’s note: Matt Stumpf is director of the Asia Society’s Washington office.  The views expressed are his own. This is the fourth in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

If diplomacy is at times the act of building ladders for your opponent to climb down, rarely has a country needed it more urgently than North Korea today.  The leadership in Pyongyang spent 2013 destroying the last rungs of the teetering ladder built by the Six-Party Talks in the mid-2000s.  So, it enters 2014 on a ledge, and there are no obvious ways down.

North Korea finds itself in an ever-more precarious international situation after a disastrous series of decisions in 2013. Not long ago, reasonable analysts saw inklings of North Korean interest in economic reform.  As early as the first days of the new leadership in January 2012, North Korean officials reportedly said: Kim Jong Un was “focused on a ‘knowledge-based’ economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.” As late as January 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit suggested that North Korea might believe the country could not prosper while isolated.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Asia • North Korea • Nuclear
South Africa in 2014: Mandela and elections
December 18th, 2013
04:51 PM ET

South Africa in 2014: Mandela and elections

By John Campbell, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: John Campbell is the Ralph Bunch Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007. The views expressed are his own.

South Africa and the world have, since his death on December 5, been in the grip of a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy. Yet the country will be moving quickly on, with the nitty gritty of national elections in March 2014. This process, and the formation of the resulting government, will dominate the first half of the year. Mandela was the public face of the governing African National Congress (ANC), which has always benefited from his halo effect. President Jacob Zuma no doubt hopes that will continue.

The ANC is the dominant element in a ruling coalition with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). SACP and COSATU contest elections under the mantle of the ANC, not as separate political parties. Throughout his life, Mandela was an unstinting ANC party man. In the aftermath of his death, some mourning events have had the coloring of a party rally. The party and President Zuma are doing all they can to maintain an association between Mandela and the ANC. But Mandela’s death also highlights the gulf between his ideals and current South African reality. When he appeared on the screens during the memorial service, Zuma was booed.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • South Africa
Russia in 2014: Sochi key to Putin legacy
December 17th, 2013
01:29 PM ET

Russia in 2014: Sochi key to Putin legacy

By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew C. Kuchins is a senior fellow and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C. The views expressed are his own. This is the second in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

The eyes of the world will be trained on Russia when the Sochi Winter Olympics open on February 7. The Olympic Games have already attracted tremendous controversy over concerns about discriminating Russian LGBT legislation and massive corruption in preparing the games (which at an estimated cost of more than $50 billion are already the most expensive in history). In addition, there are political and security concerns about the site itself, which borders Georgian sovereign territory of Abkhazia, which Russia has recognized as independent since its five-day war with Georgia in 2008, and also borders the volatile North Caucasian republics of Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin views the Games as reflecting Russia’s return as a great power since he first took office on December 31, 1999. But although he could possibly remain Russian leader for another ten years, until 2024, it is hard not to look at these Olympics in terms of his legacy.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Human Rights • Russia • Sports
China in 2014: The three Rs
December 16th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

China in 2014: The three Rs

By Robert Daly, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the first in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Three stories dominate American coverage of China at the close of 2013: the recent plenum that outlined China’s direction for the next decade, China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s delayed issuance of visas to American journalists. The common thread in these stories is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s vision and political acumen are the driving force behind reform proposals that could reshape China. Xi would have had to sign off on an ADIZ that has deepened suspicion that China seeks regional hegemony. And Xi has spearheaded a year-long campaign against freedom of information that may culminate in the closing of the China offices of Bloomberg and the New York Times.

Xi’s program to date is Reform, Resurgence, and Repression.  What China becomes under his leadership in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether this modern strongman is truly modern and truly strong, or whether he is cultivating an image of strength in an attempt to rein in a dynamic but fragile nation which an anachronistic CCP can no longer control.

Reform. The policy goals Xi set at the plenum demonstrated that he shares the Chinese people’s concerns for social welfare, sustainable growth, a cleaner environment, and cleaner government. Xi’s self confidence and specificity gave plenum documents the feel of a new social contract. They were a populist’s promise to the masses.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • China • Human Rights • Media
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