A student works in the archives of the Army Heritage and Education Center, in Carlisle, PA, April 21, 2005 (AP Photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Recent reports that Sen. David Walsh may have committed plagiarism while a student at the U.S. Army War College brought unaccustomed attention to the military’s senior schools. Discussion of the issue showed that despite the long history of America’s war colleges, they are not widely understood. It also suggested that there is a need for wider debate on how the United States educates its senior military leaders, particularly given the deep changes underway in the armed forces. All of the services use war colleges or an equivalent fellowship as a gate to higher rank—full colonel in the Air Force, Marines […]

Missile launchers on the deck of the Chinese destroyer Haikou, U.S. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 5, 2014 (Kyodo via AP Images).

On July 23, China conducted its third declared ballistic missile defense (BMD) test in the past four years, with the Defense Ministry announcing afterward that the test had “achieved the desired objectives.” But it would be premature to conclude that Beijing now embraces BMD. China lacks the capabilities to establish an operational missile defense network, even as Chinese officials continue to attack U.S.-sponsored BMD efforts. Instead, the recent tests are designed primarily to overcome adversary missile defenses as well as to develop China’s anti-satellite systems, a capability renounced by the United States as strategically destabilizing, which ironically is the same […]

President Barack Obama speaks about escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine at the White House in Washington, July 16, 2014 (AP photo by Charles Dharapak).

It is axiomatic that almost any foreign policy action taken by President Barack Obama will be reflexively criticized by the Republican opposition. What is striking is how, in recent months, congressional Democrats and former Obama administration officials have been more willing to publicly voice their own critiques of the president’s performance. Even his first-term secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, now positioning herself for a possible 2016 run to succeed him as chief executive, has begun to lay out her differences with Obama on how he has handled the national security portfolio. Most of the critiques follow a common narrative: that […]

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki listens to a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini).

As the death toll in Gaza rises to over 730 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, legal definitions of what is permissible in war have been bitterly contested. International law defines war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, but in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though both sides are guilty of violations, the classifications are difficult to apply. The exceedingly high and disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Gaza has prompted Palestinian calls to seek redress from the International Criminal Court (ICC). But legally, proportionality is not determined by a comparison of the number of casualties […]

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the Indian navy fleet oiler INS Shakti conduct a refueling at sea exercise, Indian Ocean, April 13, 2012 (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Apprentice Andrew K. Haller).

Yesterday India and the United States kicked off the 2014 Malabar naval exercise, the latest in a series of joint exercises going back over two decades, with the Japanese navy participating as well. This serves as an opportunity for the United States to demonstrate its commitment to naval engagement in the region, to reassure nervous allies in the face of an expansionist China and to refocus the U.S.-India relationship, which is widely seen as off track. The exercise will consist of activities on and around Japanese territory. According to a statement from the Indian navy, the exercise will include exchanges […]

Israeli soldiers work on a tank near the Israel and Gaza border, July 24, 2014 (AP photo by Dusan Vranic).

The ultimate domestic political repercussions of a military conflict don’t become clear until the fighting stops, the smoke clears and emotions begin to cool. But political tremors don’t wait for a cease-fire. In Israel, the outbreak of the current confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has fractured a major political alliance and caused at least one sudden high-level personnel change. But so far there is no indication that Israel’s internal political landscape will be dramatically transformed by the latest traumatic and controversial chapter in the country’s history. Much will depend, of course, on how the fighting ends, but so […]

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in the city of Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 9, 2014 (AP photo by Allauddin Khan).

While the world’s attention this week was focused on Gaza and Ukraine, security remained precarious in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two lynchpins of America’s conflict with transnational terrorism. The recent elections in Afghanistan offered a glimmer of optimism, but neither the Taliban’s ability nor its willingness to launch terrorist attacks has abated. There is no sign that the Afghan security forces will someday be able to defeat the movement. Meanwhile, the Iraqi military cannot reverse the advances of ISIS extremists, and there is no sign that a competent, inclusive government will emerge in Baghdad. Iraq and Afghanistan remain stark reminders […]

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers move toward frontline positions near Pana Kuach, Unity State, South Sudan, May 11, 2012 photo (AP Photo by Pete Muller).

Seven months after fighting broke out between the government of South Sudan and anti-government forces, the conflict is at a stalemate, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Unlike the early days of the conflict, when cities like Bor, Bentiu and Malakal changed hands multiple times, the status quo has largely held since the onset of the rainy season in May. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—the East African regional organization that spearheaded the peace process between Sudan and now-independent South Sudan in the 1990s—has taken the lead to bring the government, represented by the ruling Sudan People’s […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 12, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Di Baia).

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to South America earlier this month was overshadowed by events in Ukraine and the Middle East, it did garner considerable attention in the South American and Russian media. Even in Washington, commentators saw Putin as seeking to circumvent the Western opposition to his policies in Ukraine as well as retaliate for U.S. involvement in Moscow’s neighboring states with a tit-for-tat display of influence in Washington’s strategic backyard. Putin began his visit in Cuba on July 11, where he finalized plans to eliminate 90 percent of Cuba’s Cold War-era debt to Russia—more than $30 billion […]

Editor’s note: This report was written before the outbreak of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, and was subsequently updated to reflect developments as of publication.Israel’s threat environment has changed dramatically in recent years, so much so that the change can be characterized as transformative if not revolutionary. This is especially the case when compared to the regional environment Israel faced during its first decades, the 1950s and 1960s, when its defense doctrine was first articulated and its force structure was first conceived. This report will discuss these dramatic changes, identify the new challenges Israel […]

Iraqi Shiite fighters with the "Peace Brigades" patrol during a sand storm in Samarra, Iraq, July 12, 2014 (AP Photo/File).

Since the Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of Mosul last month, Iraq has also seen an increase in clashes between Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces. In an email interview, Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland, discussed the growing threat of Shiite militias in Iraq. WPR: What are the major Shiite militias in Iraq today, and what differentiates them from one another? Phillip Smyth: Major Shiite militias in Iraq can be split into a number of different categories and groups. First among them are the Iranian proxy organizations: Asa’ib […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping at Seoul National University, South Korea, July 4, 2014 (photo from the website of the Republic of Korea licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

SEOUL, South Korea—Washington’s plan to shift its attention toward Asia, the famed “pivot,” has been postponed or at least slowed by the rash of crises in the Middle East over the past three years. But East Asia, as it turns out, is not waiting for the U.S. Major countries in the region, including America’s key allies and its top emerging rival, are actively jockeying for influence, assertively reassessing relations with their neighbors and generally stirring for what could become a significant realignment of power in the world’s fastest-growing region. America’s strategic and diplomatic position on the eastern shores of Asia […]

Military visitors from OSCE participating states wait at a checkpoint between Ukraine and Crimea, Armyansk, Ukraine, March 6, 2014 (OSCE photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution - No Derivative Works license).

Is Ukraine a promising model for the management of future international crises? At first glance, it looks like nothing of the sort. Kiev is in the middle of a bloody military campaign to regain control of towns and cities in the east of the country from pro-Russian rebels. More and more civilians have been caught in the crossfire. As Janek Lasocki of the European Council on Foreign Relations has noted, roughly 200,000 Ukrainian citizens have registered as internally displaced persons inside the country or moved to Russia. “In the past week alone,” he adds, “over 10,000 more have formally registered, […]

Aerial view of the Pentagon (public domain photo by the United States Geological Survey).

The high cost of major military programs, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the next-generation ballistic missile submarine, is a continuous source of headaches as the Obama administration struggles to balance the books. Successive administrations and Congresses have tackled the ways in which the U.S. military buys things, often with little effect. Yesterday the Pentagon made the case to Congress for a different approach for keeping costs down: empowering the people who actually purchase weapons and equipment for the military. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, acknowledged […]

Iraqi army soldier, Ameriyah, Iraq, July 21, 2005 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Benoit).

The collapse of the Iraqi army as it faced an extremist onslaught shocked many Americans, particularly those who had worked hard to help create it. The $25 billion of American money and seven years of intense effort seemed wasted as four of Iraq’s 14 divisions simply crumbled. In Washington, flustered policymakers and military leaders scrambled, searching for an effective response and trying to understand how the disaster happened. In the flurry of finger-pointing, pundits and politicians missed the bigger issue: The slow reaction to Iraq’s failure is one more manifestation of a deep flaw in the way Americans think about […]

The ongoing civil war in Syria has spread across the Iraqi border in recent months, putting Iraq back at the center of the region’s security agenda. As the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) take control over a large part of Iraq, the Kurdish population has become increasingly assertive in the pursuit of its own autonomy, and Iraq has once again become a policy challenge for Washington. This report examines the implications of the growing conflict for Iraq, the U.S., Syria and a potentially independent Kurdistan, drawing on articles published in the past year. ISIS in […]

Aerial view of the Pentagon (public domain photo by the United States Geological Survey).

Late last month, the White House unveiled a request for $65 billion in additional spending for the war in Afghanistan and other defense programs, on top of the approximately $500 billion in the Pentagon’s base budget. Over $58 billion of that request would fund the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which cover military activities that would have previously fallen under the Bush-era rubric of the war on terror. The rest would go to the State Department. The OCO request, which is more than $20 billion less than the placeholder amount in the fiscal year 2015 budget request announced last March, […]

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