Last Week in Foreign Affairs (January 28 - February 3)
The United States and Russia Suspend Nuclear Missile Treaty
In 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed an accord called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This agreement sought to ban land-based missiles with ranges between 311 and 3,420 miles. These missiles could reach their targets so quickly that the Soviets developed a completely computer-driven triggering method called “the dead hand,” so that they could quickly launch a retaliatory strike. Due to the system’s unreliability and the dangers the missiles in question posed to both nations, the treaty was created to stop the design, production, and deployment of such weapons. Both nations seemingly abided by the terms of the agreement until 2014, when the Obama Administration accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of deploying tactical nuclear missiles in Ukraine during the Crimean crisis. No further action was taken at the time, but similar tensions were raised more recently, when President Trump made good on his promise to suspend the 32-year-old treaty. This action was quickly followed by an announcement on Saturday that Russia would also suspend its participation in the agreement. The US has stated they would rejoin the treaty as long as Russia shows compliance within 180 days. This is unlikely to happen, seeing as Putin was quoted announcing his support for starting construction on a new land-based, medium-ranged supersonic missile, which would render clear violation of the treaty.
ISIS Caliphate Reduced to 1.5 Square Miles
The Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate has been cornered into a remote stretch of eastern Syria by a combination of Arab fighters and Syrian Democratic Forces. ISIS once controlled large swathes of northern and eastern Syria, as well as territory in northern Iraq including the city of Mosul. They have now been confined to an area of approximately 1.5 square miles, making their last stand amidst dwindling resources. ISIS controlled over 200 square miles a mere four months ago. But while the caliphate itself is almost gone, the ideology that helped ISIS rise to international infamy is anything but. Suicide bombings remain responsible for the killing of American troops well outside the surrounded territory. Moreover, the powerful presence ISIS holds online is still a major cause for concern for American intelligence agencies. While destroying the physical caliphate is certainly a hard fought and extremely important victory, the lone wolf attacks inspired by online propaganda will be an important battleground in the future fight against ISIS.
Pope Francis Makes Historic Trip to Arabian Peninsula
Pope Francis became the first pontiff to ever step foot on the Arabian Peninsula on Sunday in an effort to improve relations between the Muslim world and followers of Catholicism. In a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis is advocating for more places of worship and equitable treatment under the law for Catholics and other religious minorities. While the UAE is relatively tolerant of minority religions, conversion from Islam is still illegal in the country. Those practicing other faiths are thus discouraged from sharing their religious affiliation through the media. The visit comes as the Church continues to navigate roiling sexual abuse scandals, with the Pope facing accusations of trying to sweep some of these cases under the rug. The UAE’s continuing support of the Saudi-led coalition that is engaged in a proxy war in Yemen against Iran has further complicated the trip. While the Pope has repeatedly called for a ceasefire between both countries, it remains to be seen whether this trip will help ease tensions in the region.
Central African Republic Negotiates End to Deadly Six-Year Conflict
The Central African Republic has reached a tentative peace deal with 14 armed militia groups following the killing of 40 people in a displaced persons camp last November. The United Nations, which played a large role in maintaining peace during the six years of religious and communal violence that preceded this agreement, has called on all parties to support and comply with the deal. The International Criminal Court has already prosecuted officials involved in the attacks, including the country’s chief of soccer and a member of parliament accused of recruiting child soldiers to his 3,000-member private army. The deal could be a desperately needed respite from years of civil unrest: when asked about his country’s response to the genocide, the Prime Minister remarked, “I knew that we did not have all the necessary means to protect our people.” According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO that monitors displacement around the world, there have been almost 540,000 internally displaced citizens in the Central African Republic in the past two years. The NRC further warns of “catastrophe” if a deal is not agreed upon, reporting that the violence has “pushed people’s resistance to a breaking point.”