Archive for Foreign Relations

Online Country Information

Where can you find reliable and accurate information in this digital world? A good jumping off place is the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library. This library contains literally millions of books, among other items, from around the world. What is of interest is that the Library houses online the Country Studies series of monographs written for the U.S. Army between 1988 and 1998. Altogether, just over 100 volumes were published. Each volume is arranged along similar lines: an introduction followed by chapters on history, geography/population, economy, government and politics, and national security. The volumes end with statistical tables and a bibliography. In these pages, religion and the society are discussed, allowing the student to gain insight into the country’s culture. In certain cases, these books, having been published between 1988 and 1998, have had updates added.

An additional way of getting current information on countries is to access Country Fact Sheets, an irregular publication issued by the U.S. State Department. While they concentrate on relations with the U.S., many helpful links are supplied to round out the country’s profile.

Great statistical information on every country of the world (and some entities which are not countries), can be gleaned by the heavily-referenced CIA World Factbook. This treasure trove is a goldmine of information on every aspect of a country, ranging from the number of internet users to the miles of paved road a country contains. The CIA keeps this work as updated as possible, adding/revising information every two weeks. In fact, the web site will inform you as to what statistics have been upgraded so the student will know how timely the data is. A highly recommended site.

Google News is a great way to keep abreast of current information in foreign countries of interest. For those who would like a little more focus than Google, the BBC Country Profiles is a reliable and current site for a great deal of information, including the main media outlets for each country. The Guardian newspaper provides current articles pertaining to every country in the world.

Country information from a business perspective also has value for a student because many of these sources provide cultural as well as economic information. One of the best places to go for business information on foreign countries is the Country Commercial Guide. Published on an annual basis by the commercial section of the U.S. consulate in each country, these guides are the cornerstone for doing research on a country’s business prospects’ Another reliable tool is from the UK Trade & Investment section – Country Profiles. And do not forget the Doing Business series. This annual report from the World Bank details the ease or difficulty as to setting up a commercial enterprise in any country in the world. The World Bank also provides Key Development Data and Statistics. There is also a Countries and Regions page where a student will find additional World Bank information.

For a country’s culture, please consult the following:

Country Profiles – Global Guide to Culture, Customs and Etiquette. A site full of valuable information along with numerous articles on this topic. A very worthwhile site and one used by the British government.

Cultural Profiles Project. While this site is a Canadian site addressing the cultural background of recent immigrants, what the site actually does is provide a great deal of information on the countries from which these immigrants left. Everything from medical beliefs to family structure is found here. It is a quite extensive site, and one which should be consulted.

Culture Crossing. This site provides current, vetted information on such cultural items as taboos, greetings, gender issues, views of time, eye contact, etc. For those who have never been to some of these countries, these cultural insights might prove eye-opening

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Human Rights Around the World in 2012

The U.S. Department of State has issued its Country Reports of Human Rights Practices for 2012, the latest annual version of this ongoing publication. The information is available in individual country or regional reports, or filtered by specific themes. or accessed by previous volumes. In addition, a few 2011 country reports have been translated into the national language. A global overview and selected relevant documents are also offered. For example, you can read about the terrible conditions in Syria, how the new state of South Sudan is attempting to protect human rights, or the current state of human rights in Brazil. Each country is profiled with a multitude of factors, among them freedom of internet access, human trafficking, and corruption and lack of transparency in goverment. The United Nations maintains a Human Rights section replete with reports and deliberations; Human Rights Watch has country reports; and Amnesty International has been at the forefront of the human rights movement for years. Its country reports and regional reports are of great value.

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Information on Chechnya

One of the reasons definitive information on Chechnya is so elusive is that it is not an independent country so it does not show up in national/international datasets or reports. And being a federal republic of Russia does not make for transparency either. However, reliable and valid information is out there; to wit: Chechnya Profile (a very good overview along with a timeline, BBC News); In Depth: Inside the Chechen Conflict (another good site from the BBC);  The Diversity of the Chechen Culture (UNESCO); Chechens( from Countries and Their Cultures, slow to load but worth the wait);  Times Topics: Chechnya (The New York Times); Chechnya and the North Caucasus (Lords Library Note – UK Parliament); Backgrounder: Chechen Terrorism (and more reports from the Council on Foreign Relations); Chechnya (Center for Strategic and International Studies); Chechnya (Strategic Studies Institute); The North Caucasus: Islam, Security and Politics (Chatham House, N.B. Chechnya is in the North Caucasus); Stability in Russia’s Chechnya and Other Regions of the North Caucasus: Recent Developments (CRS); and  The War in Chechnya: Russia’s Coduct, the Humanitarian Crisis, and United States Policy and Chechnya: Implications for Russia and the North Caucasus (both hearings  from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee).

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Rebuilding Iraq: Mistakes Made

The United States completed troop withdrawal in December 2011 (full timeline here). This final report from the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction not only reviews the efforts to rebuild Iraq and its infrastratcure but also highlights the effects through interviews with Iraqi leaders, senior U.S. officials, and members of Congress. Entitled Learning from Iraq, the report provides some remarkably candid evaluations of  failures on the part of the United States. A remark that could be classified as typical throughout this document was that of James Jeffrey, Ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012: “too much money was spent with too few results.” He did acknowledge that positive results did come out of the reconstruction efforts but opined that the U.S. didn’t realize the complexity of resurrecting the Iraqi government; that the U.S. did not know if it was running a counter-insurgency operation or was engaged in nation-building; and that “goofy” contracting rules vitiated many of the programs. (29) A valuable learning document for future applications.

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Secretary of State Clinton Appears Before Congressional Commitees on the Benghazi Attack

Starting at 9am today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will spend a full day before Congressional committees looking into the consular attack at Benghazi. C-SPAN is providing full coverage.

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Online Primary Sources for American History: The Foreign Relations of the United States

Covering the years from 1861, the Foreign Relations of the United States is the definitive record of this country’s dealing with other nations. Documents are culled from a wide variety of sources to present a clear picture of what occurred. The more than 450 volumes of the series are published mostly in chronological order with certain “special volumes” that revolve around a specific theme, such as Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment or the Energy Crisis, 1974-1980. By using these volumes, one can trace the diplomatic give and take that informed our foreign policy about the Arab-Israeli war, review documents pertinent to the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War 1, or peruse the material presented on the Malta and Yalta conferences that shaped postwar Europe. One of the main problems with this series is the slowness with which the volumes are produced. They are supposed to be published within a thirty-year time frame from the original date; therefore, the volumes coming out should be covering the early 1980s. Alas, that is not the case; the series is mired in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. The travails are highlighted in the 2012 annual report from the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the body that oversees the FRUS production. The first 375 volumes (1861-1960) are housed at this site hosted by the University of Wisconsin; more recent ones are at the State Department’s Office of the Historian.

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How China Is Governed

This important report from the Congressional Research Service – Understanding China’s Political System – goes into detail on what institutional bodies/entities control the politics in China. Central players are  profiled and their roles defined; i.e. The People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party, the State, big business, and universities. In less than forty pages, an understanding of this country’s vast political system becomes a little clearer. Other great sites include: Council on Foreign Relations: China (with an interactive timeline on U.S.-China relations);  Chatham House: China; Brookings Institute. John L Thornton China Center (with an ongoing series of biographies of future Politburo members along with side links to other biographical sources); and Strategic Studies Institute: China Studies (a vast array of online books and reports).

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South Sudan: The World’s Newest Country

The 54th state in Africa – South Sudan – gained its independence on July 9. This oil-rich, landlocked country has many immediate challenges ahead of it, not least among them food security. The following sites provide a great deal of information and facts about this newest sovereign land: The New York Times (linked overview, slide shows, and pointers to external sites); the BBC (country profile, biography of the president, facts, picture of the flag,  state of the media, and a chronology of events from the 19th century); the Guardian( “Eight things you need to know about South Sudan,” including lyrics to the national anthem);  and The Washington Post. Maps can be found at this site, and very detailed maps of the ten provinces (some sources call them “counties”) are located at the Ministry of Land, Housing and Public Utilities page. The transitional constitution is already available as well as laws and legislation. Major think tanks have also weighed in, among them: Chatham House, Brookings Institution, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Current news can be garnered from the Sudan Tribune, the Juba Post (Juba is the capital), the Sudan Radio Service, and Gurtong (come here for a definition of the term). This last news source contains a wealth of information: many key documents, profiles of the ethnic communities in South Sudan, entries on South Sudan political parties, and other hard-to-find data. And do not forget this report from CRS: The Republic of South Sudan: Opportunities and Challenges for Africa’s Newest Country.

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Civil War in Ivory Coast

Since a 2002 civil war, political, religious, and territorial tensions have been a constant backdrop in this West African country. The escalating violence has drawn in both France and the United Nations in an attempt to broker a peace and has caused mass migrations to Liberia which is itself in a chaotic state of affairs. The recent upheavals can be traced to the refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to cede the presidency to the legitimate winner of last November’s election, Alassane Ouattara. Further exacerbating the situation is that Gbagbo’s supporters are primarily Christians who reside in the south while Ouattara’s adherents are Muslims from the north. Human Rights Watch has accused Gbagbo’s forces of commiting the vast majority of abuses in this conflict while the highly respected NGO International Crisis Group states that Gbagbo bears the primary responsibility for the massacres of civilians taking place in the city of Abidjan, the intellectual and political center of the country, and home to nine million people. Ongoing news coverage is provided by The New York Times, BBC (including live coverage and Twitter reports), The Washington Post,, and Time. Background information can be garnered from: The World Factbook (CIA); Country Study: Ivory Coast (Library of Congress); Background Note: Cote d’Ivoire (State Department); Ivory Coast Country Profile (BBC); Country Profile: Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire)(UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office); Foreign Information: Cote d’Ivoire (University of Colorado); and Cote d’Ivoire Page (University of Pennsylvania). Additional information is at: Council on Foreign Relations and Chatham House.

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What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

In these volatile political times, any involved organization is subject to partisan appraisals. Even in testimony to the House  Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday, February 10, DNI James Clapper described the Muslim Brotherhood as a secular group, only to have a “clarification” issued later by his PR chief stating that Clapper is aware that the Brotherhood is not a secular organization. All sides do agree that the Muslim Brotherhood (or “Brotherhood” or “MB”) was founded in the 1920s in Egypt, is the source of Hamas and al-Qaeda, and holds 88 seats in Egypt’s parliament. Opinions vary from The New York Times’“…the Muslim Brotherhood has been by far the most muscular and influential of Egypt’s dissident organizations” to the Brookings Institution’s “The Egyptian Brotherhood renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists” to “The Muslim Brotherhood has provided the ideological model for almost all modern Sunni Islamic terrorists groups” from Report on the Roots of Violent islamist Extremism and the Efforts to Counter It: The Muslim Brotherhood as submitted to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Besides The New York Times and Brookings sites, which both provide ample writings/reports, additional sites providing information include: Muslim Brothers (Federation of American Scientists);  The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (Mt Holyoke College -very informative! contains timeline, founder biographies, sources, etc); Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (Harvard International Review, May 2006); Factbox: What is the Muslim Brotherhood? (Reuters); Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen: The Muslim Brotherhood (Military Review, July/August 2003); Muslim Brotherhood (Berkley Center, Georgetown University – describes many of the Brotherhood affiliates); Explaining Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (NPR); Muslim Brotherhood Egypt Videos (AOL); Backgrounder: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (Council on Foreign Relations);  Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Lurks as a Long-Term Threat to Freedom (Heritage Foundation); Profile: Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (BBC); Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Gray Zones (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations (CRS); Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for U.S. Policy (CRS); and IkhwanWeb (The Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website).

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WikiLeaks Releases Thousands of Secret U.S. Government Cables

Over the next few months, WikiLeaks will be publishing well over 200,000 secret diplomatic cables between U.S. embassies and the State Department that were generated between 1966 and 2010. They are seachable via country of origin, creation date, tags, and classification type. More information can be found at: New York Times, Spiegel, and the Guardian. These documents give the reader an unprecedented look into the operations of the  U.S. foreign service. For those of you gentle readers who are not familiar with the apparently confusing jargon and acronyms of diplomatic cables, this guide will come in handy.

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President Obama’s Iraq Speech

You can watch the speech at C-SPAN; read the full transcript;  and peruse coverage/commentary from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, BBC, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, The Heritage Foundation, The Atlantic, and Time.

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The Lockerbie Letters

For those who wish to read the Lockerbie correspondence which resulted in the release of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, you can read the UK Ministry of Justice collection, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office files, and documents from the Scottish government. The BBC has extensive coverage of this case, as does The New York Times.

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FBI Interviews with Saddam Hussein

From the esteemed National Security Archive comes this new release: transcripts of twenty interviews and five “casual conversations” with Saddam Hussein between February and June 2004. Also, peruse their Saddam Hussein Sourcebook. See early mentions of Hussein in the Foreign Relations of the United States. More than two thousand references to Hussein can be found in the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States.

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Obama’s Speech to the Muslim World.

Read the transcript of the speech; view a video of the speech as well. And read the reportage from the BBC, New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian.

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Lifting of Some Sanctions Against Cuba

With NJCU being the only four-year institution of higher education in New Jersey classified as an HSI(Hispanic Serving Institution), with New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez being the son of Cuban immigrants, and with Jersey City being in close proximity to two municipalities which have significant Cuban populations( 12% in Union City and 17% in West New York), President Obama’s relationship with the government of Cuba sparks great interest. The Jurist carries a great deal of background information on this topic, while provides links to many other news publications discussing this easing of sanctions. The BBC has a good country profile on Cuba as does this Library of Congress site. A good place to find additional information on Cuba is the Latin American Network  Information Center (LANIC). These CRS reports should also be consulted:  Cuba: Issues for the 111th Congress and Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances. Working papers in the social sciences on Cuba can be retrieved from the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) while current monographs can be found at the University of Pittsburgh Press Digital Editions. This Brookings paper should also be consulted as well as this site from the Council on Foreign Relations.Those who wish to delve deeper into the past may consult the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) through 1960; succeeding volumes of the FRUS dealing with Cuba(the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis) are here.

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North Korea and Missiles

To say that the recent launching of a missile from North Korea ramped up the tensions in that part of the world would be an understatement judging by the reactions of many other countries. The U.S. Policy Regarding North Korea was issued on Saturday, April 4, the U.N.Security Council has met in an emergency session, Japan has issued its own statement, and other nations have issued statements over this missile launch. That the United States has been involved in Korea over the decades is manifestly made obvious by perusal of the Foreign Relations of the United States (notice that the earliest mentions of Korea are spelled “Corea”). Additional news reporting can be accessed from The New York Times, CNN, BBC, and the Guardian. A chronology of North Korea’s missile program is available coutesy of the AP. For additional information, please consult: Country Profile: North Korea (Library of Congress); Country Study: North Korea (Library of Congress); North Korea: Nuclear Standoff (PBS) North Korea (Council on Foreign Relations); North Korea (Brookings Institution); Hot Topics: North Korea (RAND Corporation); North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program (CRS);  North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (CRS); North Korean Ballistic Missile Program, North Korea’s Military Threat: Pyongyang’s Conventional Forces, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Ballistic Missiles, and North Korean Foreign Relations in the Post-Cold War World (all from Strategic Studies Institute); Addressing the North Korea Nuclear Challenge (Stanford University); and  Dealing with North Korea: “Diplomatic Warfare” Ahead (Columbia University);

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China’s Military Power

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