Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivers remarks during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Calif., Nov. 7, 2015 (DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz).

Because of the entrenched, ossified interests and tribal structures within the Pentagon, major reforms to the Department of Defense and the military often originate in Congress. The gold-standard example of this historical pattern was the 1947 National Security Act, which merged the Department of War and the Department of the Navy to form the Department of Defense, headed by the newly created position of secretary of defense. The act also established the institutions of the National Security Council and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Not far behind was the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which reorganized the military’s chain […]

Egyptians protest against Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's decision to hand over control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, Cairo, Egypt, April 15, 2016 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

Two years ago, the Egyptian people spared no adjective in praise of their savior, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who in turn framed his lightning-fast rise to power as an expression of the people’s will. When he was named defense minister in 2012 by Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader elected Egypt’s president that year, el-Sisi vowed to keep the military out of politics. But the general, with strong popular support, eventually overthrew Morsi in 2013. He then retired his military post and announced he was running for president, winning in a landslide the following year. But now the honeymoon is over. The […]

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power with Multinational Joint Task Force Commander Maj. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun at its headquarters, N'Djamena, Chad, April 20, 2016 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

In March, the small West African nation of Benin announced that it would contribute 150 soldiers to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNTJF), a West African coalition whose main mission is to fight the militant group Boko Haram. The task force has approximately 9,000 total troops, but nevertheless it is primarily a political prop rather than an integrated military outfit. The region’s national militaries largely pursue their own campaigns, while the optics of regional integration serve a political purpose: They explicitly support narratives about so-called African solutions to African problems, yet implicitly facilitate greater Western involvement in the fight against […]

Karabakh Armenian soldiers near a howitzer in Hadrut province, Nagorno-Karabakh, April 5, 2016 (Photolure photo by Albert Khachatryan via AP).

The recent bout of intense fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan along the so-called line of contact near the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh should be seen not as an isolated flashpoint, but as the culmination of years of escalating tensions. The regional economic downturn and ongoing tensions between Russia and Turkey only add to the conflict’s volatility. The four days of fighting in early April between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces was the largest eruption of hostilities since the cease-fire to the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994, which left Armenian forces in control of the landlocked mountainous region, as well as much of […]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event, Maryland, April 20, 2016 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

Despite intense efforts by the Republican establishment to stop Donald Trump from winning that party’s presidential nomination, there is a good chance that he’ll pull it off. Current polling data suggests that if he faces Democratic frontrunner and likely nominee Hillary Clinton in the November election it will be a landslide victory for the Democrats. But strange things can happen in open political systems. While a Trump presidency may be unlikely, it would have far-ranging repercussions, particularly for U.S. defense policy and the American military. While that much is clear, Trump is harder to gauge than any recent presidential candidate. […]

An F-35A at Mountain Home Air Force Base to conduct operational testing, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Connor J. Marth).

Intellectual property: It sounds boring, but its protection has become one of the cornerstones of U.S. economic policy. And now, it may have an impact on how the Pentagon thinks about the future of technology. In recent years, the big push for international intellectual property protection came about through the concerted action of a group of powerful, well-connected American corporations. These corporations had determined that they could make a great deal of money—or at least stop the loss of a great deal of money—by putting crucial intellectual property protections into international law. Washington has embraced this idea, making intellectual property […]

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at his villa, Baghdad, April 8, 2016 (AP photo by Jonathan Ernst).

In the past five days, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter have visited Iraq. The visits demonstrate the urgency with which Washington views the political crisis in Baghdad, against the backdrop of the Iraqi military’s stalled campaign against the so-called Islamic State. They also underscore how the Obama administration’s early plans to scale back America’s engagement in Iraq have come full circle: More troops and more political attention are now required. There’s no easy path to stability for Iraq, but some decentralization of power might help. The uptick in policy attention to Iraq […]

Iraqi security forces arrest a suspected ISIS fighter during an operation to regain control of Hit, Iraq, April 13, 2016 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

When the leaders of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) take stock of their movement, they must like some of what they see. Affiliates of the group are cropping up across the Islamic world, and the organization has proved adept at recruiting or inspiring alienated young Muslims—many with criminal backgrounds—to commit murder in Europe and North America. But there are also things that must concern the group’s leaders. In the past few months, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have taken back 40 percent of the territory the Islamic State had conquered over the past two years. American airstrikes have killed 25,000 of […]

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, sixth from left, during the announcement of the senatorial slate for the 2016 elections, Quezon city, Philippines Oct. 12, 2015 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

The Philippines’ upcoming presidential election in May comes at a critical time for Southeast Asia’s second-most-populous country and fifth-largest economy. After decades of anemic growth rates, the Philippines seems to have begun to turn a corner over the past six years under reform-minded President Benigno Aquino III. Yet as Filipinos prepare to go to the polls, it is unclear if the next government will be able to both sustain the progress made thus far as well as confront challenges old and new in the political, economic and security realms. Breaking With the Past Although the Philippines has been a democracy […]

President Barack Obama and the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Honolulu, Hawaii, Dec. 19, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The World War I-era French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau once famously declared that war is too important to be left to the generals. The same, it appears, can be said of admirals. Last week, the Navy Times ran a blockbuster story revealing that the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, and the combatant command he leads, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), are not happy with the White House’s approach to dealing with China’s adventurism in the South China Sea. According to the Navy Times, Harris is “arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to counter […]

South Sudanese rebel soldiers stand to attention at a military camp, Juba, South Sudan, April 7, 2016 (AP photo by Jason Patinkin).

Security officials from South Sudanese President Salva Kiir’s government allegedly attacked and detained 16 members of rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar’s publicity team Tuesday. The publicity team was in Juba in advance of Machar’s return to South Sudan’s capital on April 18, when he is set to assume the office of vice president again in a unity government with Kiir as part of a fledgling peace deal. Tuesday’s violence is only the latest round of renewed fighting in South Sudan. The U.S. State Department issued a statement Monday condemning recent attacks on rebels in the northwest of […]

Smoke billowing as Nusra Front fighters attack the village of al-Ais, near Aleppo, in an image posted on the group's Twitter page, April 1, 2016 (Nusra Front via AP).

BEIRUT—Syria’s nationwide cessation of hostilities has made clear the growing rift between the country’s mainstream opposition and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate. But just as the cease-fire has highlighted these maybe irreconcilable differences, it has also shown the extent to which the Nusra Front is tangled up in and ultimately dependent on the rest of the Syrian opposition. The Nusra Front often sells itself as the beginning and end of the fight against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But Nusra cannot win single-handedly. It is a symbiote—it can only succeed when it is attached to a Syrian opposition […]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally, Superior, Wis., April 4, 2016 (AP photo by Jim Mone).

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, is no fan of NATO. In recent weeks, he’s suggested that U.S. involvement in the alliance may need to be reduced. “NATO is costing us a fortune,” Trump said in an interview with the Washington Post, “and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.” At a town hall event sponsored by MSNBC, Trump went even further, declaring, “We don’t really need NATO in its current form. . . . [Y]ou have countries that are getting a free ride.” Now on one level, Trump is correct: […]

Ethnic Uzbeks gather near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, southern Kyrgyzstan, June 12, 2010 (AP photo by D. Dalton Bennett).

In late March, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan both deployed military forces to the undemarcated Chalasart area of their border after Kyrgyz authorities refused Uzbek workers access to a water reservoir located in Kyrgyz territory. In an email interview, Józef Lang, research fellow at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, Poland, discusses Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan relations. WPR: What is the recent trajectory of Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan relations, and what are the major drivers of tension? Józef Lang: Relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have traditionally been hostile, and the level of distrust between Tashkent and Bishkek remains high despite their common participation in various initiatives and […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov following talks on a cease-fire in Syria, Moscow, Russia, March 24, 2016 (AP photo by Alexander Nemenov).

Since assuming power in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin has used rising income from gas and oil exports not only to rebuild the Russian military from its post-Soviet nadir, but also to spur the evolution of new tactics and capabilities blending cyberwar, support to proxy forces, special operations and conventional operations. Like Washington, Moscow recognized that the primary security threat in the opening decades of the 21st century was not major conventional war but a complex web of state weakness, political extremism, terrorism, insurgency and transnational crime. Russia’s military interventions in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere demonstrate that Putin has […]

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone, Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, Jan. 31, 2010 (AP photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth).

Drones have captured the imagination of popular culture and the attention of international law experts. Amazing access to real-time intelligence enables precision weaponry, but the same information can inhibit decision-makers from acting by raising the ethical and political costs of doing so. Legal scholars concede that international law has not yet caught up with this reality. The anguish that drones cause among decision-makers is the subject of the new movie “Eye in the Sky.” It focuses in particular on how the same data that make drones such potent weapons can paradoxically inhibit, even paralyze authorities who make life-and-death decisions. The […]

President Barack Obama walks with his National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

In a recent report from the influential Center for a New American Security, Michele Flournoy, the center’s current head who served as the undersecretary of defense for policy during the first Obama administration, pointed out that the next president must “articulate a clear vision of U.S. leadership in the world and take concrete steps to demonstrate the United States’ willingness and ability to uphold its commitments and defend its interests, values, and allies around the world.” This is important advice, but articulating a presidential vision alone does not mean it will be implemented. Nor will it make a real difference, […]