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Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight

Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

This is where the global struggle for peace and security gets incisive, informed, coverage

New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

  • 30 October 2014
  • From the section World

How do you keep Western countries focused on their security and the need to spend more on it at a time of austerity?

That is Jens Stoltenberg's "main responsibility", he says, having taken over as the secretary general of Nato at the start of October.

In his first BBC interview, the former Norwegian prime minister argues that military preparations will get boosted because "this is not me imposing a decision on the allies, but it's the allied countries that have made the decisions".

Part of keeping the alliance focused on what lies ahead involves reminding people of Russia's recent behaviour in Ukraine and the need to show a credible response.

The secretary general told us that he believed Russian special forces were still in eastern Ukraine, despite the "substantial decrease" in their regular troops there, and he called upon Russia "to withdraw all troops from Ukraine and to stop destabilising Ukraine".

'No Cold War'

Read full article New Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg on alliance's challenges

Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Smoke rises after an airstrike on Kobane
Kobane has been hit by dozens of airstrikes

After a month of fighting, defenders of Kobane say Islamic State (IS) has been virtually driven out of the Syrian town. So what has been learned from this battle?

1. Kobane is not "strategically" important.

Read full article Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State (IS) fighters renewed their advance in the Syrian border town of Kobane on Wednesday, with the US warning that air strikes alone cannot save it.

The air campaign by the US-led coalition is arguably inefficient, with planes based far away from their targets.

Read full article Islamic State: The difficulties facing coalition air strikes

Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

The United Nations General Assembly provided a chance for scores of key meetings between world leaders on its sidelines.

Interestingly, of all those held by US President Barack Obama, the longest was reckoned to be with Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Read full article Islamic State: What does Egypt bring to international coalition?

Islamic State: Unlikely alliances forming in fight against threat

Composite picture of US troops and IS fighters

This week the United States will use meetings on the margins of the UN General Assembly to finalise its coalition for fighting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

The White House has spoken of rallying 40 countries to the cause, but since this planned group cuts across the Sunni/Shia divide, as well as harnessing long-standing Middle East rivals, many have asked whether it's really possible.

Read full article Islamic State: Unlikely alliances forming in fight against threat

Does Nato have the political will to face up to Russia?

  • 4 September 2014
  • From the section Europe
Protest march outside Nato summit
These protesters at the summit are seeking Nato's help

Nato has rarely escaped the existential question in the years since 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Now events in Ukraine, and accompanying statements from the Kremlin about acting to protect the interests of Russians in neighbouring countries, appear to offer a lifeline to the Western alliance - a "back to the future" mission organising collective defence against the threat of future coercion from the east.

Read full article Does Nato have the political will to face up to Russia?

What else happened in the Middle East as Gaza burned?

  • 7 August 2014
  • From the section World
Refugees in Kurdistan
Refugees from the Isis offensive have been pouring into Kurdistan

The Middle East is going through such turmoil that much has been going on during the month Gaza dominated the headlines. Here's my summary of the five key events.

1. The onward march of the Islamic State in Iraq

Read full article What else happened in the Middle East as Gaza burned?

Ukraine crisis creates high-level tensions in UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine
President Putin visited Crimea in May after it was annexed by Russia

Senior officers in the armed forces and ministers have been at loggerheads about the implications of the Ukraine crisis for Britain's defence.

I've learned that Philip Hammond, as defence secretary, threatened one officer, General Sir Richard Shirreff, with disciplinary action after he gave an interview in March suggesting the armed forces were not capable of meeting this new challenge.

Read full article Ukraine crisis creates high-level tensions in UK

New alliances amid Middle East chaos

The great hope of the Arab Spring that began more than three years ago was that democracy and stability would break out across the Middle East.

It didn't happen. Instead there has been turmoil and bloodshed, with an elected leader turfed out in Egypt, Libya apparently disintegrating and a new jihadist group, Isis, capturing swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Read full article New alliances amid Middle East chaos

Iraq crisis: Where next in the struggle for the country?

A burned out vehicle in Mosul
Mosul fell under the control of Isis earlier this month

For much of last week the battle for Iraq entered a kind of strategic pause, in which both sides attempted to adjust to the capture of Mosul and Tikrit by Isis and prepare their next move.

Over the past couple of days it has become clear this lull is over and that it is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's opponents who have got their act together first.

Read full article Iraq crisis: Where next in the struggle for the country?

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About Mark

Mark has covered diplomatic and defence matters for more than 20 years at the BBC.

His major stories have included: the 1990 invasion of Iraq and subsequent Desert Storm campaign; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the Oslo peace process in the Middle East; the wars that broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s as well as the diplomacy that stopped them; the Second Palestinian Intifada; 9/11 and its aftermath; the Coalition campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq; and the Arab Spring.

Before joining the BBC as a reporter he was Defence correspondent for The Independent newspaper for four years, covering the end of the Cold War and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He is also the author of several books on military matters, both current and historical. Mark read International Relations at the London School of Economics and served for a short time in the British Army.

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