No topic in American security inspires more heated debate these days than the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes against armed militants, terrorists and their supporters. While debate and scrutiny of public policy is a good thing, a hefty proportion of this criticism is badly misguided, often mistaking the use of drones as America’s strategy itself. In large part this reflects a failure on the part of the Obama administration to develop a convincing narrative to explain the assumptions, logic and ultimate objectives of its strategy. Without seeing the big picture, it is difficult to understand how drone strikes fit […]

For the past 60 years, there has been convergence between the strategic logic of America’s strategy of forward deployment in key regions of the world and the economic imperative of securing the nation’s prosperity. Despite the constant protests on college campuses about “banana republics” and “no blood for oil,” there was, in fact, generally a strong correlation between the places where the American military was engaged and those areas that were seen as vital to the economic health of the country. Opposition from naturally isolationist tendencies of the American body politic was overcome, in part, by the argument that prosperity […]

Until the end of the Cold War in the late-1980s, U.S. policy in East Africa and the Horn tried to balance regional security concerns with support for economic development and mitigating food shortages and famines. The primary goal of U.S. policy in the region was to minimize Soviet influence and that of China, Eastern Europe and Cuba. As the Cold War came to an end, the United States added to its policy agenda the objectives of encouraging democratic governance and improving human rights practices. In the post-Cold War era, the primary U.S. human rights and governance concerns in the region […]

The looming threat of sequestration is presenting the American national security community with a dilemma. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has laid out what some of the consequences will be if Congress and the president cannot agree on a plan to rescind the automatic spending cuts that are set to go into effect next month: One of the two U.S. aircraft carrier groups deployed to the Persian Gulf region will be withdrawn; deployments to Latin America will be canceled; and the U.S. presence in Europe will be reduced. Panetta even warned that a diminished U.S. military presence overseas would, over […]

Critics of U.S. foreign policy often argue that the United States lacks a grand strategy — a set of principles, norms and goals applied consistently to foreign policy. Many have argued, for example, that Washington’s reluctance to take strong action to help overthrow Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, or its failure to support protesters in places like Bahrain, results from a grand strategy deficit. In fact, the critics have it wrong in this age-old debate. What Washington needs, whether under a Democratic or a Republican administration, is actually less grand strategic thinking. Political pundits and scholars alike love to talk about […]

A recent report (.pdf) by the Open Society Justice Initiative provides new insights into the “extraordinary rendition” program the United States operated after 9/11, revealing just how widely the program spanned: More than 130 people were subjected to extraordinary rendition, and more than 50 countries cooperated. The report thus raises important questions about both accountability for past human rights abuses and the future of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Renditions, or the international transfers of individuals without legal process, occurred before 9/11. But they were previously used to transfer suspects for criminal trial. After 9/11, rendition expanded in size and focus; instead […]

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, sponsored the second annual “Opportunity: Africa” conference at Delaware State University. The senator’s remarks emphasized the need for the U.S. to recognize the metamorphosis of the continent. “We’re trying to shift the American mentality toward Africa from aid to trade,” Coons told Trend Lines in an email interview after a full day of conversations on expanding economic engagement with Africa. The U.S. has lagged behind China in seizing trade and investment opportunities in Africa, he said, in part because of outdated assumptions and in part […]

For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts […]

After a bruising confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Armed Service Committee, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the nominee for the position of secretary of defense in the second-term Obama administration, may be reconsidering whether he truly wants the position. But the stress he endured on the hot seat before his former colleagues may pale in comparison to the challenges that he — or anyone else nominated for the position should he fail to be confirmed — will have to cope with in the coming years. America’s ongoing fiscal crisis and the seeming inability of its executive and legislative branches […]

Prior to the December inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, the United States intervened to halt the rise of Gen. Moises Garcia Ochoa, who was expected to become Mexico’s next minister of defense, according to reporting by the New York Times. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne met with Pena Nieto’s senior aides to express American concerns over the possible promotion of the general, including suspicions that he had ties to drug traffickers. “This is not unprecedented, and it doesn’t just apply to Mexico. The United States, over the decades, has done this with a number of Latin American […]

Over the past few decades, North Korea has developed a penchant for aggression just below the threshold that would cause the United States, South Korea and other states to respond in kind. As its economy rots and one member of the Kim dynasty gives way to another, the provocations expand. They reached new peaks in March 2010 when a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean navy ship, and in November 2010 when the North Korean military shelled a South Korean island, killing two soldiers. Even more ominously, North Korea has worked strenuously to develop more powerful ballistic missiles that […]

Across the globe, partner capacity-building through steady-state theater security cooperation (.pdf) plays an increasingly important role in the forward defense posture of the United States. The Defense Department’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (.pdf) identifies building the security capacity of partner states as a key mission, while the 2010 National Security Strategy (.pdf) argues that the United States can advance its national security by enabling partner states to prevent, deter and respond to transnational security challenges before they pose a threat to U.S. citizens, interests or the homeland. Moreover, at a time of budgetary constraints, partner capacity-building through theater security cooperation […]

As Hillary Clinton prepares to step down as secretary of state, the general consensus among the punditocracy is that she was successful in helping to restore America’s image in the world: A “rockstar diplomat,” Clinton was willing to put in the frequent flyer miles to help repair or rebuild frayed ties between Washington and many other countries. However, she is not viewed as a transformational figure for U.S. diplomacy, nor can she point to a particularly dramatic event, such as a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement, as a result of her tenure in office. Some of the comments in this […]