Helena Cobban

Middle East Affairs and the International System 

Helena Cobban is a writer and researcher on international relations, with special interests in the Middle East and the international system. She is the author of seven books on current international affairs, four of them focusing on the Middle East. She contributed a regular column on global issues to The Christian Science Monitor, 1990-2007, and is a Contributing Editor of Boston Review.

Ms. Cobban has a BA and an MA from Oxford, where she read Philosophy and Economics. From 1974 through 1981, she worked as a Beirut-based correspondent for news outlets including The Christian Science Monitor, The Sunday Times, ABC Radio, and the BBC, traveling broadly throughout the region for those media. While in Beirut she became fluent in French and Arabic. 

In 1982, she moved to the United States to take up a research fellowship at Harvard University Center for International Affairs, where she wrote here first book, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (Cambridge U.P., 1984.) In 1985, despite not having a doctorate, she won an SSRC-Macarthur post-doc grant in International Peace and Security Studies, which she took up at the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), using that experience to write a book on US-Soviet interactions in the Syria-Israel theater.

For much of the time she was contributing a regular column to The Christian Science Monitor, she was also writing a separate column for Arabic-language international daily Al-Hayat.

Throughout the 2000s, she undertook numerous research/writing trips to the Middle East. In February 2003 she started publishing "Just World News", a blog on global issues that gained a broad global readership and was cited in Le Monde diplomatique and elsewhere.

In early 2010, she founded the publishing company Just World Books, which proceeded to publish 38 original titles on Middle Eastern and other international issues. In early 2018, the company entered hiatus from issuing new titles. Ms. Cobban then spent more time running Just World Educational, a non-profit, where as Executive President she also contributed to its blog, its podcast series, and other programs. In Spring 2019, she resumed her own writing career.

She was a long-time member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and sat for many years on the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch and on the board of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. In 2007-08 she was a 'Friend in Washington' with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and in 2008-11 a member of Search for Common Ground's US-Syria Working Group.

Latest News

U.S. forces (and policy) in Syria head south

Oct-14-2019

It took less than a week after President Trump announced the summary withdrawal of the tripwire U.S. force deployed in northeast Syria alongside the Kurdish-dominated “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), before the SDF concluded a new alliance with the Syrian government. What happened between, of course, was the large-scale incursion of Turkish forces into the SDF-held part of Syria.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

The Emperor’s New-Old Nuclear Clothes

Sept-18-2019

Upgrade Development Dive in. We'll learn what you like along the way. GEN Alaska’s Swimsuit Scandal Unfairly Polices Young Girls’ Bodies ONEZERO Leak of Microsoft Salaries Shows Fight for Higher Compensation Attention Angry White People: 7 New Rules FORGE How to Stop Overthinking The Emperor’s New-Old Nuclear Clothes Helena Cobban Helena Cobban Follow Sep 18 · 8 min read How is it still possible to write a lengthy article about the military/strategic dynamic among the triad of Israel, Iran, and the United States while making zero mention of Israel’s robust nuclear-weapons capability? New York Times staffers Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti, and their editors at the Times magazine clearly think this is quite okay.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

WaPo’s Ignatius gets “mugged by reality” on Iran

Sept-20-2019

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius had a column in today’s paper that gave a muddled, fairly escalatory take on the continuing crisis in the Persian Gulf between the Iranian government and the forces lined up against it.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

Hizbullah Reminds Israel of Its Power

Sept-05-2019

On September 1, Hizbullah fighters on Lebanon’s border with Israel fired two precision-guided missiles over the border, apparently hitting an Israeli “Wolf” armored personnel carrier (APC) and inflicting casualties of unknown severity on its occupants...

By Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

The Dogs of War That Have Not Barked

Aug-20-2019

In May, President Donald J. Trump rolled out his policy of "maximum pressure" designed to force Tehran to concede to far-reaching demands... Then - especially after Iran shot down a large U.S. Navy drone in late June - the world braced for a showdown. It never came.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

The Dogs Of War That Have Not Barked

Aug-20-2019

In May, President Donald J. Trump rolled out his policy of “maximum pressure” designed to force Tehran to concede to far-reaching demands. He tightened U.S. sanctions against Iran considerably and ordered the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and numerous other military units deployed to (or toward) the Persian Gulf.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

On "Humanitarian Intervention"

Aug-08-2019

Over the past 20 years, the increasing use of the term "humanitarian intervention" to mean military action has been accompanied by the efforts major Western governments have pursued to co-opt and distort the work of non-governmental organizations with previously long records of providing humanitarian aid on a relatively non-political basis.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

On “Humanitarian Intervention”

Aug-08-2019

It is time, therefore, to lay aside all the weasel-words and euphemisms that members of Western political elites have used in recent year to mask the realities of the nature of war.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

Reviving Westphalia

July-24-2019

Today, a global political system that for 350 years has been dominated by nations of the "West" finds itself approaching a crossroads. . . But the essential Westphalian principles of "live and let live," of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and of the need for coexistence and co-operation among states run along deeply divergent lines have a value that is perhaps greater now than at any time since the unsettled years of 1640s.

by Helena Cobban

Senior Fellows

Reviving Westphalia

Jul-24-2019

Today, a global political system that for 350 years has been dominated by nations of the “West” finds itself approaching a crossroads. The principles on which this system has been based until now are in question—many of them, quite rightly so.

by Helena Cobban

Center for International Policy

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