December 30, 2015

This Week’s Reads

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura address the media in Vienna, Austria, regarding Syrian peace talks. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

We live in a more complicated and less controllable world than at any time in history. This week's recommended readings make this point plain. There was some diplomatic progress on Syria, although the difficulty of getting there was underscored in a New Yorker profile of Secretary Kerry, and an alternative way out of the conflict was proposed by former top Obama aids in a Washington Post op-ed. The difficulty of defeating ISIS was underscored by an in-depth analysis of the terrorist groups finances in the Financial Times. New crises may have breathed life into the NATO alliance, according to Steve Erlanger of The New York Times, but the European Union—strained by a refugee crisis, weak economic growth, and a rise of far-right political parties—may be reaching it's breaking point. Meanwhile, oil markets are tumbling and setting the stage for new geopolitical battles, climate change is causing record droughts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and new sources of conflict are emerging out of the forces of globalization. The United States has an important role to play in crafting solutions to these challenges, but a new interview by Foreign Policy with former defense secretary Chuck Hagel suggests a difficult road ahead. These articles give us a better understanding of some of our world's most urgent crises and longstanding challenges. With that, here are the week's top reads:

A Realistic Peace Plan for Syria Needs to Begin with an Immediate Ceasefire

Philip Gordon, James Dobbins and Jeff Martini/Washington Post

In a new op-ed for the Washington Post, Middle East experts Philip Gordon, James Dobbins, and Jeff Martini weigh in with recommendations from their recent report, “A Peace Plan for Syria.” As the international community comes together to broker an end to Syria's civil war, they suggest "negotiators should work to secure a ceasefire first rather than try to force agreement on a political structure."

Negotiating the Whirlwind

David Remnick/The New Yorker

John Kerry, the United States’ 68th secretary of state, is a more nuanced man than many of his caricatures would have us believe, according to David Remnick’s recent essay in The New Yorker. Kerry is described as dogged, tirelessly optimistic, and convinced that if he can just get the relevant parties into the room, he can make a deal. He’ll need all these qualities and more to break through the impasse in Syria.

ISIS Inc: Loot and Taxes Keep Jihadi Economy Churning

Erika Solomon and Sam Jones/Financial Times

One of the major challenges in the fight against ISIS is the effort to destroy the financial structure that is keeping the jihadist group in business. In a newly released report, the Financial Times outlines how "money from trade, agriculture, and remittances — even salaries paid by the governments that are fighting it — [are] all flowing into the jihadis’ coffers."

Has Europe Reached the Breaking Point?

Jim Yardley/The New York Times

A perfect storm of crises is threatening to unravel the European Union. From the refugee crisis and the Greek debt showdown, to Russian aggression and the Paris terror attacks, Europe may have reached the breaking point, according to Jim Yardley of The New York Times.

NATO Nations No Longer Question Need for Alliance

Steve Erlanger/The New York Times

NATO recently extended an invitation for Montenegro to join the alliance, its first expansion since 2009. It was a little more than a year ago, following the withdrawal of NATO-led forces from Afghanistan, that many were left questioning the relevance of NATO. But "with current and potential threats from Russia and from the chaos in the Middle East," the alliance is showing renewed necessity.

The Global Battle for Oil Market Share

Daniel Yergin/The Wall Street Journal

What will the global oil market look like in 2016? A repeal of the ban on US crude exports, the lifting of sanctions on Iranian oil exports, and an already oversaturated oil market could mean "a battle that will be shaped by prices—and by the geopolitical rivalries across the Gulf."

Scarred Riverbeds and Dead Pistachio Trees in a Parched Iran

Thomas Erdbrink/The New York Times

Iran is home to four of the ten most polluted cities in the world, and "a seven-year drought is showing no signs of letting up." As the doors of isolation open following the nuclear agreement with the West, Iran is in need of environmental expertise from the international community.

Connectivity Wars

Mark Leonard/European Council on Foreign Relations

How did Russia respond when Turkey shot down one of their fighter jets? By imposing new economic sanctions, including a ban on all fruit and vegetable imports to Turkey. "Conflicts of the future will not be fought in the air or on the ground but in the interconnected infrastructure of the global economy."

Hagel: The White House Tried to ‘Destroy’ Me

Dan De Luce/Foreign Policy

In a recent interview with Foreign Policy, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recounts the many obstacles he faced while serving the Obama administration. The interview is fascinating on at least two levels. One, it gives a glimpse into the micromanagement of the Pentagon by the White House. Two, it shows the internal division within the Obama administration on many critical foreign policy issues.

If you are interested in related content from the Council on Global Affairs please see:

Middle East Polling Roundup, Fellow Karl Friedhoff and Alex Lederman on Running Numbers

History Repeats At National Immigration Conference, Assistant Director of Immigration Sara McElmurry on Global Insight

Trade Wars: A New Hope, Research Associate Andy Morimoto on World of Cents

One of the Biggest Objections to the TPP Just Went up in Smoke, Senior Fellow Phil Levy, Foreign Policy

Upcoming Events

2/02 – The Illegal: Ripped from the Headlines
Author Lawrence Hill and executive director of the National Immigration Forum Ali Noorani discuss the current refugee crisis in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, and US and Canadian immigration policies.

2/03 – The Resource Curse and the Role of the West
Author Leif Wenar discusses the role that governments, the private sector, and consumers can play in improving the currently conflict-ridden global resource trade.
2/23 – Europe: What Next?
University of Chicago professor Luigi Zingales explores the economic future for a continent strained by increased security concerns, the migrant crisis, a slowing economic recovery, and rising populism.

3/02 – American Intelligence in the Age of Terror
General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, discusses the new technologies, and controversies, of techniques employed by America’s intelligence agencies in the war on terror. 


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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