On March 15, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Obama administration would shift tactics on ballistic missile defense (BMD). Specifically, the U.S. will shift its focus from overseas, regional ballistic missile defense toward greater protection of the homeland. However, while the political symbolism of this switch may be positive, the strategic and military consequences may well be counterproductive. As a result, the move looks more like short-term politicking than a new approach to strategic thinking. To some observers, Hagel’s announcement was a significant and welcome change in policy. Under the new plan, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency […]

While American policymakers are fond of repeating the mantra that “all options are on the table” when it comes to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program, the president publicly took one option off the table during his recent visit to Israel: Speaking to college students, Barack Obama reiterated, “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” If the Obama administration has indeed definitively rejected containment as an option, the United States will not develop contingencies for if and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold. That means Washington is now committed to […]

The recent 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq sparked a flurry of attention. Op-eds, blogs, conferences and panels of all sorts sprouted, most dealing with the “lessons” the United States should draw from its initial decision to invade and subsequent long involvement in the country. As the lesson fest subsides, attention is shifting to Iraq’s current security predicament and its relationship with the United States. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture. With war raging in neighboring Syria and the Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad continuing to exclude Sunni Arabs as much as possible, al-Qaida is on the rebound […]

This weekend’s visit by Xi Jinping to Moscow, his first trip abroad as China’s new president, resulted in no revolutionary agreements. The biggest “deliverable” to emerge from the summit — the major oil deal the two sides signed — was overshadowed by their continued failure to agree on a price for Chinese purchases of Russian natural gas. Yet expectations were low for the summit, so the lack of headline agreements came as little surprise. More surprising, however, was the extent to which Xi aligned Beijing’s foreign policy views with those of Russia in his public statements while in Moscow — […]

Strategic retrenchment is all the rage among America’s national security experts. There is increasing agreement that the global strategy of the past two decades is politically and economically unsustainable, so Washington must cut its security commitments and scale down engagement around the world, particularly when it involves the U.S. military. This is not a new idea. After World War II, some political leaders and opinion shapers encouraged President Harry Truman to follow American tradition and disengage from Europe and Asia. That pressure ended only when the extent of the Soviet threat became clear and North Korea invaded South Korea. After […]

Perhaps it is time to start taking Hamid Karzai at his word. Every time the Afghan president criticizes the United States or constrains the operations of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. officials deploy the gamut of explanations to downplay his behavior. These have ranged from the tactical (he’s trying to build up his nationalist credentials among the populace), to the pharmacological (he’s “off his meds”). Karzai’s latest bombshell, delivered during Chuck Hagel’s inaugural visit to Afghanistan as the new U.S. secretary of defense, was to suggest that the United States is colluding with the Taliban in attacks throughout the country […]

On March 8, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain appointed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to serve as deputy prime minister, a move that was widely lauded as injecting new momentum into the national dialogue process between the ruling monarchy and the opposition and sending a positive signal to a long-disheartened opposition. So far the national dialogue has moved forward with high hopes, but much of the discussion has centered on its scope, participation and logistics. The real test of success will be whether the process can resolve the crucial issues of an empowered parliament, electoral gerrymandering and […]

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Today, North Korea is the most dangerous country on earth and the greatest threat to U.S. security. For years, the bizarre regime in Pyongyang has issued an unending stream of claims that a U.S. and South Korean invasion is imminent, while declaring that it will defeat this offensive just as — according to official propaganda — it overcame the unprovoked American attack in 1950. Often the press releases from the official North Korean news agency are absurdly funny, and American policymakers tend to ignore them as a result. Continuing to do so, though, could be dangerous as events and rhetoric […]

The U.S.-European Union “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” negotiations, which were launched last month, are the biggest consolation prize in the history of international trade liberalization. Since the end of World War II, the United States and Europe, as the world’s two economic superpowers, have led successive rounds of global negotiations that slashed import tariffs, removed quotas and greased the wheels of international commerce. The last and biggest round, which created the World Trade Organization in 1994, was, like the seven others before it, essentially a U.S.-EU agreement with the rest of the world along for the ride. Few at […]

Most of the U.S. foreign policy community assumes that relations between the United States and Venezuela can only improve in the aftermath of Hugo Chavez’s death. Exemplifying this optimism, the Obama administration’s initial reaction was to note that as a “new chapter” begins in Venezuela, Washington reaffirms “its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.” The U.S. response was based on the hope that any successor to Chavez will be interested in repairing the breach that opened up between the two nations during the almost 13 years of Chavez’s tenure. But nothing should be taken for granted. […]

Since World War II, Americans have obsessively mined their armed conflicts for “lessons.” Every war spawns books, workshops and conferences. The U.S. military has even institutionalized the “lessons learned” process, creating organizations like the Army’s Center for Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kanas, which can turn information from the field into officially sanctioned lessons in short order. Within the policy community, where there are no generals and admirals to decide which lessons are worth learning and which are not, it normally takes a few years to reach agreement on the lessons of a given conflict — time allows perspective and […]

At last month’s NATO defense ministerial meeting, one of the main topics of discussion concerned how many coalition forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, as well as what their mission will be and how rapidly to withdraw forces that will be departing. After almost 12 years of U.S. and coalition combat operations, the durability of recent gains remains under question as NATO withdraws its forces and reduces its other military support to the Afghan government, making it essential that the alliance plan carefully for drawing down its operations in the country. The numbers under consideration at February’s meeting assumed […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had what sources are describing as constructive talks in their first face-to-face meeting in Berlin since Kerry was confirmed as Hillary Clinton’s replacement. While there were no major breakthroughs on any of the contentious issues in the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, the two men seemed to establish the basis for a good working relationship. This will be important if any vestige of the Obama administration’s reset of relations with Russia is to endure, given the lack of any strong personal connection between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President […]

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At a debate Thursday among analysts and advocates on whether the U.S. should remain in Afghanistan past 2014, when the NATO combat mission there is scheduled to end, the four panelists differed mostly on the degree of U.S. presence that would be required past that date. None advocated for a full withdrawal. Frederick W. Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute and a prominent civilian adviser to the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, argued that the U.S. should remain in Afghanistan because “there continue to be people in Afghanistan . . . who wake up […]