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Showing posts from April, 2014

The Iraqi Kurds' Waiting Game Could Be Near an End

April marks the two-year anniversary of the Kurdistan Regional Government's stoppage of oil exports to protest what many Kurds considered unfair export terms from Baghdad. The Iraqi government responded by severely constraining budgetary allowances for Arbil. But with Iraqi national elections slated for April 30, there are indications that the Kurds' years-long game of brinksmanship with Baghdad could be coming to an end.

In the years surrounding the 2012 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, nervous Kurds were desperate to find a regional backer to support their local autonomy against Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab political forces. Starting in 2003, Turkish firms eager to gain a share of their regional government's energy revenue windfall built roads, schools and power plants with favorable credit terms as part of Turkish foreign policy prerogatives for the region.

Facing rising authoritarianism and a consolidation of political power in Baghdad, the Kurds made a gamble in April 201…

Despite Weak U.S. Sanctions, Russia Plans for the Worst

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin (L), one of the officials targeted in new U.S. sanctions, in October.(ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)


The United States expanded sanctions on Russian officials and companies on April 28 in response to what Washington says is continued Russian aggression in Ukraine. Though the list of sanctions includes many of Russia's most important figures and entities, it remains fairly weak -- particularly in light of recent U.S. government leaks indicating that Washington was considering imposing far more painful sanctions on Russia. The European Union is expected to release its expansion of sanctions on April 29, but these will likely be even weaker than those imposed by the United States. These moves will probably elicit a response from Moscow, but neither side appears to have the appetite to take more forceful action against the other. Nonetheless, efforts by Russian companies to protect themselves from tougher U.S. sanc…

NATO: The Current State of Play

NATO weathered the Cold War significantly better than its Warsaw Pact rivals, but it did not escape unscathed. Without the anchor of the Soviet bloc, NATO was cut adrift from its strategic imperative, suffering diminished budgets and dwindling force levels. Despite this, NATO has conducted more operations since the fall of the Soviet Union than it did during the previous four decades of carefully orchestrated stalemate. A modern NATO has been forced to learn new lessons, forged in the crucible of intervention, global terrorism and numerous Balkan winters. The new, adaptive framework of NATO has enabled members to conserve resources and avoid the associated costs of large standing forces. However, without these large armies the alliance has lost some of its deterrence capability, forcing it to be a relatively slow reactor to world events.


The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 compelled NATO to re-evaluate its reason for being

South Stream Support Could Further Fragment the EU

Workers weld together sections of the South Stream pipeline in Serbia in November 2013.(ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)


EU institutions and some countries in Central and Eastern Europe keep moving in their own directions regarding relations with Russia. In recent months, the South Stream pipeline -- which could bring Russian natural gas to countries in the Balkans and Central Europe, bypassing Ukraine -- has become a source of friction between Brussels and Moscow as well as between the European Union and the member states involved in the project. Bulgaria has been pushing for the construction of the pipeline despite warnings by the EU Commission that it could go against European norms. Austria recently also regained interest in the project.

The Ukraine crisis is deepening existing divisions within the European Union, and the debate over South Stream -- where some member states are putting their national interests ahead of Brussels' policies -- is a perfect illustration. Fr…

Geopolitical Calendar: Week of April 28, 2014

AnalysisEditor's Note:The following is an internal Stratfor document listing significant meetings and events planned for the next week. Stratfor analysts use this to stay informed of the activities and travel of world leaders and to guide their areas of focus for the week.
April 28: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will meet with new Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and other Serbian government officials in Belgrade to discuss Serbia's ties with the European Union and the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.April 28: Slovakia and Ukraine plan to sign a memorandum on the possible reverse flow of natural gas.April 28-29: Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa will visit Paris to meet with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.April 29: The French parliament will discuss the spending cuts proposed by the French government.April 29: The EU Political and Security Committee will meet in Brussels.April 30-May 2: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz…

Palestinian Agreement To Alter Regional Dynamics

Supporters of a Palestinian accord with a poster of Mahmoud Abbas outside the Hamas prime minister's home in Gaza City on April 23, 2014.(SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)


Despite the announcement of a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah that would end the rift between the Palestinian faction that governs Gaza and the one that rules the West Bank, much must happen before a single coalition government rules all the Palestinian territories. Still, the mere fact that the two sides have begun formalizing a path toward political unification of the territories has widespread implications for the region. The impact will fall not just on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also on various regional players and the United States.


The Fatah-Hamas deal allows for a five-week period to form a technocratic interim government, with new elections in six months. A senior leader from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas' main Islamist rival, said that this structure could der…

NATO: The Evolution of the Alliance


NATO was originally created as a counterweight to the might of the Soviet Union after World War II. The deep yet fractious roots that enabled the alliance to prosper have also presented challenges to its leadership and management. More than an organization, NATO is best envisioned as an overarching structure made up of individual, autonomous parts, each with different thought processes, competencies and imperatives. NATO adapted to survive beyond the Cold War but its continued existence remains under threat.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was conceived and designed as an intergovernmental military alliance, based on the principle of collective defense. At its inception four years after the end of World War II, NATO was primarily seen as a deterrent against Soviet aggression in Western Europe, keeping vulnerable states in a Western orbit and checking the rise of Eurasian power.

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As a core contributor, the U.S. military footprint in Europe was vast, …

As Obama Tours Asia, a Chronology of Issues on the Agenda

U.S. President Barack Obama with Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo before the official state dinner April 24.(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)


U.S. President Barack Obama's weeklong trip throughout Asia, which ends April 29, is largely a media event that will have few implications beyond soothing Asian leaders, who are concerned that the United States is distracted by events in the Middle East and Ukraine. Geopolitically, the trip is of little significance. Topics on the agenda, however, certainly include America's so-called pivot to Asia through the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade issues with Japan and the country's reinvigorated military, growing tensions over disputed small island chains and shoals throughout the region, the renewal of a U.S. military presence in the Philippines, Malaysia's democracy, and the country's missing jetliner.

Below are recent Stratfor analyses of these and related issues.
The U.S…

Chinese Imports From Latin America

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When the 2008 financial crisis seized international trade and sent the European Union and the United States into recession, the immediate effects on Latin America were surprisingly muted. Bouncing back strongly, Argentina and Brazil saw gross domestic product growth rates of 9.2 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, in 2010. While the recovery was brief in both cases, Chinese demand for South American commodities was an important factor. For a range of countries, Chinese demand has been an important external driver of growth. Brazil, Chile and Peru have all seen China rise to become the top customer, particularly for metals.

The primary driver of Chinese demand has been a boom in construction, which has consumed Peruvian and Chilean copper as well as Brazilian iron as building materials. At the same time, population growth and rising wealth have driven demand for soybeans in China. China is the biggest national importer of soybeans, consuming more than 40 percent of …

Military Protests Pose Little Direct Threat to Bolivia's Government

Bolivian military noncomissioned officers march in La Paz on April 24.(AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)


On April 24, several hundred non-commissioned officers marched in the third straight day of protests by military personnel across Bolivia, and more demonstrations are expected April 25. The protesters are demanding talks with Bolivian President Evo Morales to address grievances within the military. Despite the marches, the Bolivian government currently faces no direct threat from the military, and neither do foreign companies operating in the country. The protests would have to become significantly larger and spread across the country for the government to face a notable risk.


Military personnel began demonstrating April 22 after four non-commissioned officers were removed from their posts for insubordination. The officers had presented to the military high command a series of demands, including higher salaries, improved access to health care and better housing. After the…

Iraq's Electoral Reform Will Further Deadlock Parliament

Iraqis walk past election campagin billboards in Kahramana Square in Baghdad on April 13.(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)


Opponents of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have chosen the April 30 parliamentary elections to launch their strongest challenge yet. New electoral laws have created conditions that could reverse the past decade's trend of large powerful coalitions, weaken sectarian alliances and encourage greater infighting within and among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political groups. This means the election process will probably be longer and more divisive than ever before as an unprecedented number of political actors try to create a fragile power-sharing agreement. As a result, the central government will become weaker, and its authority will be further undermined by increased paralysis in the legislature.

This will pose new challenges for Iran as it tries to maintain its influence over a patchwork of political actors leading a new ruling coalition. Iranian infl…