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Toba Hellerstein (Stratfor) — The quagmire that is contemporary Syria is as infinitely complex as it was when it emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Its medley of cultures and ethnicities coexisted peaceably under the sultans, but the European powers that inherited the land after World War I were unfamiliar with — and uninterested in protecting — Syria's unique brand of pluralism. Decades of autocratic rule followed.
Today, the warring factions that populate the Syrian battlefield speak to the unraveling of Syria's once-cohesive society, but the lessons of the Ottoman Empire remain. Moving forward, those lessons may be the best hope for turning a failed state into a nation at once unified and diverse.
Jack Kim (Reuters) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his country to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time and the military to be in "pre-emptive attack" mode in the face of growing threats from its enemies, state media said on Friday.
The comments, carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, marked a further escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula after the U.N. Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on the isolated state for its nuclear programme.
North Korea, known for belligerent rhetoric, has previously threatened pre-emptive attacks on its enemies, including South Korea and the United States. Military experts doubt it has yet developed the capability to fire a long-range missile with a miniaturised warhead to deliver a nuclear weapon as far as the United States.
Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard (Reuters) — China said on Saturday it will raise military spending by 7.6 percent this year, its lowest increase in six years, but vowed to protect its maritime rights amid disputes in the East and South China Seas and improve intelligence gathering.
The 954.35 billion yuan ($146.67 billion) figure is only around a quarter of the U.S. Defense Department budget for 2016 of $573 billion, but comes at a time of rising concern over China's intentions in territorial disputes.
The increase is the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit jumps, and comes as China's economy slows. It was announced on Saturday at the start of the annual meeting of parliament, but had been flagged by an official who gave a rough figure the previous day.
Reuters — The Taliban said on Saturday it would not take part in peace talks brokered by representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, casting doubt on efforts to revive negotiations.
The Taliban, ousted from power in a U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, has been waging a violent insurgency to try to topple Afghanistan's Western-backed government and re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Following a meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group made up of representatives of the four countries in Kabul in February, officials said they expected direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin in early March.
Another oil pipeline in Nigeria's Niger Delta region has been disrupted. Royal Dutch Shell's Forcados Pipeline in Burutu, Delta state, was ruptured Feb. 14, which caused the entire pipeline to shut down. That it occurred in the oil-rich region, where militants have long harassed energy infrastructure for political and financial gain, is not surprising.
What is remarkable is that a hitherto unheard of militant group reportedly carried out the attack. The so-called Niger Delta Avengers claimed responsibility for the damage to the pipeline, immediately reviving fears of militancy in the lucrative region.