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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