U.S. Marines during the NATO-led Trident Juncture 15 exercise, Pinheiro Da Cruz, Praia Da Raposa Beach, Portugal, Oct. 22, 2015 (United States Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long).

The U.S. military is increasingly ill-suited for today’s complex, interconnected and transparent security environment. It was designed to fight major wars against the military forces of other nations, yet never does so. Despite the best intentions of its architects, the U.S. military is a “kluge”—a combination of sometimes compatible, sometimes mismatched parts cobbled together. It works, but not as effectively or efficiently as it should. The United States could gain much from reorganizing its military to better reflect today’s security environment but this is easier said than done. The obstacles to deep change are powerful: There is so much tradition, […]

A ground crew member reports to pilots that their jet is ready for a combat mission, Hemeimim airbase, Syria, Oct. 22, 2015 (Russian Defense Ministry photo).

Russia began its military intervention in Syria a month ago, initially declaring that its aim was to take on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But instead, it immediately started targeting groups that pose the most threat to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, mainly the Islamist coalition of rebel and jihadi groups known as Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, which includes the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, as well as more moderate groups backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even the United States. Russia hopes to consolidate the territory controlled by Assad’s forces, which have also launched an offensive on rebel groups […]

Two of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Air Task Group's F/A-18A Hornets during a mission into Syria, Sept. 14 2015 (Australian Department of Defence photo).

Although far removed from Australia’s traditional areas of interest in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, the Middle East continues to be a focus of Australian foreign policy and military strategy. But its own security interests in the region have nearly always been defined in terms of its security relationship with the United States. One of only four countries to have participated in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Australia was more recently among the first countries to follow Washington’s lead in offering renewed military assistance to Iraq after the fall of Mosul to the self-proclaimed Islamic State in June […]

Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau at his first official news conference, Ottawa, Oct. 20, 2015 (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP).

In a surprise last week, Canada’s Liberal Party won an overall majority in the federal election, gaining a clear mandate to form a new government led by party leader Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister-designate. Voters’ predominant concerns were the economy and moving on politically from Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper—not national security or foreign policy. However, Trudeau, Harper and the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair still clashed on a number of issues throughout the campaign related to Canada’s national and international security policies, including how to tackle terrorism, the refugee crisis and drug policy. Will Trudeau now follow through […]

Iraqi security forces and allied Popular Mobilization Forces prepare to shell Islamic State group positions at an oil field outside Beiji, Iraq, Oct. 24, 2015 (AP photo).

Developments over the past year in Syria and Iraq suggest many parallels between the two countries. From the separatism of the Kurds and the fight against the self-declared Islamic State to the expansion of Russia’s presence and influence, the two states seem to be following similar trajectories. But a closer look suggests quite distinct realities. Syria clearly seems to be headed toward implosion, even if the bigger picture of chaos obscures at least one smaller one that could inspire optimism for the future. By contrast, Iraq’s narrative today is not one-dimensional—in fact, the signs point in many directions: The country […]

A Houthi fighter during a tribal gathering showing support to the Houthi movement, Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 22, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

During the early decades of the nuclear age, a debate developed on the general utility of force. In the new and dramatically altered conditions of that period, in which a third world war could have meant the obliteration of great cities and civilization, it was hard to see what political purposes could possibly be achieved by launching an aggressive war. But by the same token there were also horrendous risks in a defensive war if that required resort to the most destructive weapons available. The dominant response, at least when it came to war among the great powers, was to […]

U.S. soldiers in the Nawa Valley, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).

A few years ago Afghanistan seemed on the path to success. The economy was doing relatively well. The Taliban were losing ground to Afghan security forces, the U.S. military and units from other partner nations. The new president, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, seemed more willing to tackle Afghanistan’s deep political problems than Hamid Karzai, his erratic predecessor. By all indications, things were looking up. Sadly this has proven to be an illusion. Ghani has not gotten a handle on Afghanistan’s crippling corruption, cronyism and ethnic strife. The country will not be able to function without massive economic assistance far into the […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks off of Marine One after returning from a trip to West Virginia, the White House, Washington, Oct. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

The latest edition of the New York Times Magazine featured a cover story that aimed to challenge the generally accepted narrative of how the U.S. found and killed Osama bin Laden. The article by Jonathan Mahler centered on an alternative version of events by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. In Hersh’s telling, the story we have heard from the Obama administration and retold by a number of books and movies essentially amounts to a vast cover-up. In exploring the controversy, Mahler focuses more on the hunt for the bin Laden story than on the hunt for bin Laden—that is, on […]

A Palestinian kicks a tear gas canister that was fired by Israeli troops during clashes near Ramallah, West Bank, Oct. 20, 2015 (AP photo by Majdi Mohammed).

The Israel-Palestine conflict, with all its recurring violence, often seems like the broken record of international affairs. Still this latest wave of lone-wolf Palestinian terrorist attacks followed by predictably harsh Israeli reprisals—and mutual recriminations from both sides that the other is responsible—should come as no surprise. With the collapse of peace talks, the re-election of a right-wing Israeli government opposed to a two-state solution, the continued corruption and dysfunction of the Palestinian leadership and the lack of any realistic path to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the chickens have once again come home to roost in the […]

A Vietnam People's Navy minesweeper during a search and rescue exercise with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea, April 12, 2014 (U.S Navy photo by Chief Fire Controlman Steven Newberry).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the South China Sea territorial disputes and the various claimant countries’ approaches to addressing them. Last week, Vietnam protested China’s construction of two lighthouses on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, saying the construction violates Vietnam’s sovereignty. In an email interview, Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Vietnam’s claims to the South China Sea. WPR: What are Vietnam’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and with what other countries do they overlap or […]

Smoke rises after shelling by Syrian army backed by Russia airstrikes, Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015 (Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda via AP).

Russia’s combat operations in Syria, barely three weeks old, are the kind of expeditionary campaign that Moscow has not undertaken since the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This intervention is the consequence of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama both following through on the original, respective paths they chose in Syria. While the United States sought to avoid military entanglement and stay out of the conflict—doing the bare minimum to appease regional allies in their efforts to force Bashar al-Assad out of power—Russia remained consistent in its belief that the Syrian state represents the only viable and legitimate […]

A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in the Syrian city of Kobani, Jan. 30, 2015 (AP photo).

Whenever it seems that the war in Syria can’t get more tragic and dangerous, it does. That conflict has already created the worst humanitarian disaster of a young century and empowered the barbaric self-declared Islamic State. And it could become worse. The Obama administration has avoided an entangling involvement, instead providing refugee aid and supporting some of the less repellent rebel groups, in the hopes that the combatants conclude that an outright military victory is out of reach and accept a power-sharing arrangement. That was a long shot from the beginning and became even less likely as the hatred between […]

An elderly man sits under a mural depicting a Saudi-led airstrike hitting Sanaa with Arabic writing that reads, "using internationally banned bombs," in the Old City of Sanaa, Yemen, Sept. 19, 2015 (AP photo by Hani Mohammed).

The war in Yemen has pushed the country to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program, while Yemenis are dying daily because of a lack of access to clean water supplies, basic medicine and even affordable transport to medical facilities. Yet despite a mounting international outcry, the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is unlikely to have much of an impact on the calculus of the main players in the conflict, or their foreign backers. In truth, a solution to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis will only come once the warring parties believe a political solution works in their […]

Soldiers prepare a simulated casualty for transport as a UH-60 medevac helicopter lands nearby during live-fire training, Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan, July 2, 2015 (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Charles Emmons).

Backtracking on earlier plans for a withdrawal of U.S. forces, President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the United States will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2016, before reducing the number to 5,500 by early 2017. “While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people endures,” Obama said during the announcement at the White House. The Obama administration originally planned to cut the number of U.S. soldiers in half by next year, eventually leaving 1,000 troops stationed at the U.S. embassy in Kabul by early 2017. But it changed course with the Taliban’s […]

The launching of an Emad long-range ballistic surface-to-surface missile in an undisclosed location, Iran, Oct. 11, 2015 (Iranian Defense Ministry photo via AP).

While Iran’s nuclear program has topped the headlines in recent years, its missile program has mostly remained off the radar, with the exception of discussions of a potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which could be used against the continental United States. Iran’s missile program, however, is relatively transparent, so it is remarkable that notable improvements in the range, accuracy and lethality of its arsenal have received far less attention than its nuclear ambitions, especially as these developments signal the missions Iran has in mind for its missiles. In particular, they suggest that unlike North Korea, Iran is in no […]

U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he leaves Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, Oct. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Denis Poroy).

President Barack Obama’s interview Sunday evening with Steve Kroft of the CBS News program “60 Minutes” offered a revealing insight into the foreign policy mindset of the Washington Beltway—not due to anything that Obama said, but rather due to the questions posed to him by Kroft. When asking about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, Kroft directly challenged Obama. “You said a year ago,” said Kroft, “that the United States . . . leads. We’re the indispensable nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership.” Obama tried, in vain, to point out that Putin’s moves […]

A Syrian army armored vehicle moves near the village of Morek in Syria, Oct. 7, 2015 (AP photo by Alexander Kots, Komsomolskaya Pravda).

The sight of Syrian rebels blowing up Russian-made Syrian army tanks with advanced American missiles, captured in videos uploaded last week to YouTube, has brought a nominally covert CIA program into the spotlight. For all the attention on the Pentagon suspending its failed program to train and equip a Syrian rebel force to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the CIA’s two-year-old program to supply a handful of vetted rebel groups with TOW missiles, with Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s help, has been a surprising success, blunting a recent joint offensive by the Syrian army and newly arrived Russian forces near Hama […]

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