June 23, 2017 Cooperation among Southeast Asian states has never come easy, but the surge of Islamist militancy in the region is encouraging Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to give it another try.
Recently, the three countries formally launched trilateral patrols in the Sulu and Celebes seas — a vast expanse that has become a hub of piracy, militancy and smuggling. They have discussed the possibility since 2016, when the Abu Sayyaf, a jihadist group aligned with the Islamic State, conducted a string of kidnappings in the Sulu Archipelago. Whatever differences that may have impeded the patrols, however, were put aside during the siege of Marawi city, a provincial capital in the restive Philippine region of Mindanao.
But the slow start to the patrols shows just how elusive integration has been in Southeast Asia. Historically, mountains and island chains, not to mention starkly divided ethnic communities, have tended to produce inward-looking countries too preoccupied by instability and too suspicious of foreign meddling to bother to assimilate. (Singapore is a notable exception.)
Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, is a process by which oil deposits found in shale rock formations are extracted. Shale oil, also called tight oil, is enmeshed in shale rock, which is located thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface and is generally less permeable than other rock types, making deposits more difficult to access – difficult, but not impossible.
In the 1990s, producers began to combine fracking with a separate process known as horizontal drilling, which allows a well to be drilled vertically, then, when the drill hits the desired sedimentary layer, it is turned to drill parallel to the layer. In 1991, a well was successfully horizontally drilled and fractured for the first time, and in 1998 the first profitable horizontally fractured well was completed. The supply of U.S. shale gas, and later shale oil, has increased ever since.
June 9, 2017 The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began an invasion of eastern Raqqa on June 6. They captured the neighborhood of al-Mashalab before IS stopped their advance. Meanwhile, Syrian army forces loyal to Bashar Assad crossed into Raqqa province and are now less than 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Raqqa city.
The Syrian army has also moved against IS in Aleppo province and outside of the city of Hama, and continues to push east from Palmyra toward the IS heartland. The Islamic State is reeling, no longer in a good position to defend its capital. That means its strategy must change, and along with it, our baseline assessment of its strategic imperatives in Syria.
June 2, 2017 As Pyongyang, Washington and other regional players prepare for the prospect of war, North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile capabilities have received undue amounts of attention. Important though they may be, they have less bearing on how the war will be fought than does North Korea’s conventional military.
Eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities would be the first objective in a war, and indeed the justification for an attack. The second objective would be to protect South Korea from North Korean retaliation. No one really knows the true status of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but a nuclear strike on a U.S. asset or ally is unlikely because it would force the U.S. to respond in kind, wiping out the North Korean regime.
May 26, 2017 Iran is more formidable on paper than perhaps it is in practice. It is the 17th-largest country in the world and the 17th-most populous. It is the sixth-largest producer of oil and the third-largest producer of natural gas. And, according to the International Monetary Fund, it boasts the world’s 29th-largest economy by gross domestic product despite decades of economic sanctions against it.
But the country is constrained by its demography. Iran has several large minority populations, including Azeris, Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis, all of which have separatist tendencies. Since its founding in 1979, when it toppled the secular monarchy, the current regime has tried to solve this problem by cultivating a national identity steeped in Shiism. (The shared use of the Persian language has also helped in that regard. In fact, historically, it has influenced the cultures and civilizations of peoples in all the surrounding regions.)
But religion can go only so far. Its efforts have not exactly endeared the government to the Sunni minorities that populate Iran’s farther reaches. And the clerics who dominate the government are often at odds with the country’s republican institutions.
May 19, 2017 Over the past few decades, China has become famously prosperous, but it has some problems it needs to solve if it wants its prosperity to continue. Its wealth was built on trade, and its trade depends on maritime transportation. The United States, with its powerful navy, controls the seas and could theoretically blockade the sea lanes Beijing depends on.
So China is looking for overland trade routes. These routes could have the added benefit of helping to redistribute wealth to China’s otherwise impoverished interior provinces. First, however, China has to build the requisite infrastructure.
Enter Southeast Asia, the gateway to the Indian Ocean and a region that is ripe for the kind of infrastructure investment Beijing can provide. Perhaps no country in the region stands to gain more from Chinese investment than Myanmar.
May 12, 2017 In December 2016, Russia joined OPEC in a pledge to cut oil production by roughly 1.2 million barrels per day. And for the first quarter of 2017, OPEC largely made good on its pledge. It produced 1.1 million fewer barrels of oil per day in the first quarter of 2017 than it did in the final quarter of 2016.
May 5, 2017 The mounting debt owned by the U.S. government is as much a geopolitical question as a financial one. The federal government breaks its budget into three spending categories: mandatory, discretionary and net interest expense.
Mandatory spending includes pre-existing obligations. Discretionary spending requires passing legislation and is largely composed of defense spending. Net interest expense, which currently makes up about 6 percent of the federal budget, is expected to grow to nearly 12 percent in the next decade.
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the U.S. debt will have a blended average interest rate of approximately 3.4 percent in 2017. If interest rates exceed the CBO’s current projections, net interest expense would increase and discretionary spending – and therefore likely defense spending – would decline.
April 28, 2017 France held its first round of presidential elections last weekend. Since no single candidate garnered 50 percent of the vote, the contest continues next weekend with a runoff between the top two leading vote-getters: Emmanuel Macron of the newly formed En Marche movement and Marine Le Pen of the controversial National Front Party. The latest Ipsos polls show Macron leading Le Pen in the runoff by a margin of 62-38 percent, although other polls show Le Pen has gained momentum in the past week.
April 21, 2017 Building economic ties should be the major avenue for Turkey to develop inroads into the Balkans. Turkey is a European power as well as a Middle Eastern power, and it has been a key player in the Balkans for centuries. But Turkey’s influence in the Balkans and the rest of southern Europe is currently limited at best.
April 14, 2017 Salafism originated in the mid-18th century in an area that now encompasses Saudi Arabia. It can best be described as a tendency that envisions an austere form of Islam. This modern trend within Islam began as a corrective movement in 18th century Arabia to bring Muslims back to the religion’s original creed.
For many decades, the kingdom exported Salafism and associated ultraconservative ideas by constructing and purchasing mosques, underwriting seminaries, publishing literature, dispatching clerics, supporting charities and so on. Over time, however, it gradually lost control over the Salafist ideology itself, and three distinct branches formed: quietist, jihadist and electoral.
April 7, 2017 The world is currently in the midst of an exporters’ crisis. The stagnation in global consumption levels and decline of commodity prices has led to increased instability and insecurity in countries heavily dependent on exports.
The origins of the exporters’ crisis lie in the economic recessions that the United States and Europe experienced due to the 2008 financial crash. These countries were major consumers of Chinese goods, especially low-cost manufactured products. Lost revenue slowed China’s economy, resulting in lower Chinese demand for commodities and goods. This led to falling commodity prices and a decline in global exports.