In last week’s column I raised the question of whether the United States can succeed in achieving its strategic objectives with regard to stability in Afghanistan and curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions through negotiations with the Taliban and the new government of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani. But if the reaction of U.S. pundits to the Obama administration’s efforts to get accused NSA leaker Edward Snowden extradited are any indication, then the sort of protracted diplomatic efforts needed to resolve the Iran and Afghanistan crises are likely to run into considerable domestic political resistance. American commentators on the left and the right […]

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who turned over a trove of information about U.S. surveillance programs to the media and foreign government agencies, continues to dominate the news. His story, like that of U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, is a complex tangle of important issues involving the privacy rights of Americans during the conflict with transnational terrorism; the process by which the U.S. government decides what information is classified and what is open; and the building of a massive national security bureaucracy that necessarily gives low-level, inexperienced people the power to do great damage to programs they […]

When U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took to the podium at last February’s Munich Security Conference, he decided to err on the side of caution. Washington’s strategic shift toward Asia, Biden said, would have no impact on the thriving relationship between the United States and Europe. This was music to the ears of Europeans in the packed banquet hall of the Bayerische Hof Hotel. Biden’s words were clearly aimed at reassuring Europe that despite some difficulties, the trans-Atlantic relationship was intact. Biden said that America and Europe had never been so close. The relationship was alive and well. Nothing could […]

After many months of false starts, Afghan peace talks may finally officially begin in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban opposition has established a quasi-official presence. But a newly published study (.pdf) by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) should again remind us that the likelihood of negotiating a sustained peace deal with the Taliban remains small. The report’s authors undertook a comprehensive study of almost three decades of negotiations with Afghan resistance movements, reviewing Soviet-era talks with the mujahedeen guerrillas as well as Western and Afghan government negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. Although generalizing lessons from history […]

Can regional powers replace the U.S. and Europe in policing perennial trouble spots such as the Middle East and West Africa? Or are their own weaknesses going to create new problems for the West? Recent events in Turkey and Nigeria have illustrated the dilemmas involved. Both countries have faced very different internal security challenges in recent months. Nigeria has tried to extirpate the Boko Haram Islamist rebel group with a major military offensive in the northeast of the country. Turkey has made a mess of handling widespread public protests stemming from arguments over a popular park in Istanbul. These episodes […]

Can dialogue be effective in securing America’s strategic interests? This is the challenge extended to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who this past week received two opportunities to show that diplomacy rather than force can bring results in solving two long-standing quandaries. The first was the election of Iran’s former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani to the presidency. An establishment cleric known for his diplomatic finesse, Rowhani replaces the bombastic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric and outspoken commitment to the country’s nuclear program inflamed Western sensibilities and whose efforts to strengthen the position of the presidency put him on a […]

For more than 50 years, U.S. national security strategy has undergone cycles of strategic retrenchment and renewal. After World War II, the United States rapidly demobilized, giving the Soviet Union and its proxies like North Korea an opening for armed aggression. By the end of the Truman administration, America had begun an extensive military buildup and a significant expansion of its alliances and security commitments. Another round of retrenchment came after Vietnam; once again, renewal followed. Under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan, defense spending increased, and the military fielded an array of new weapons systems and developed innovative doctrine […]

Azerbaijani foreign policy officials and analysts see few signs that the election of Hasan Rowhani as Iran’s next president will bring about any meaningful changes in Iran’s foreign policies—whether regarding Israel, Tehran’s controversial nuclear program or Azerbaijan’s tense relationship with the Islamic Republic. Azerbaijan’s foreign policy elites’ main concern is that the West will continue to undervalue Azerbaijan’s importance, leaving Baku in a position where it is forced to accommodate Tehran’s demands, as well as pressures from Russia, to abandon its Western-leaning foreign policy. During four days in Baku this past week, I had the opportunity to discuss Azerbaijan’s relationship […]

Will the Syrian government and its opponents ever sit down for negotiations in Geneva? It has been more than a month since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced plans for a peace conference in the Swiss city. There were suggestions that the meeting could happen in May or June. But it has been pushed back repeatedly, while Russia and the U.S. appear to be edging closer to a full-scale proxy war in Syria. The promise of talks in Geneva may even have made the conflict worse. When Kerry met Lavrov in Moscow in […]

This month, China and the U.S. concluded a deal to “phase down” emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a highly polluting form of greenhouse gas. In an email interview, Adam Moser, assistant director of the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law at Vermont Law School, explained the difficulty the U.S. and China have had on climate change cooperation and the significance of the recent agreement. WPR: What in the past has limited cooperation between the U.S. and China on climate change? Adam Moser: First, both countries have domestic political situations and interest groups that have contributed to their limited cooperation on climate change, […]

The Obama administration yesterday announced that it would provide military assistance to Syrian rebels, after having concluded that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against opposition fighters in the ongoing civil war. The move comes after months of criticism of the administration, from both left and right, for its apparent fecklessness with regard to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Washington ought to have been doing more to protect the Syrian populace from the repressions of the Baathist dictatorship, cry the liberal interventionists. The president’s “inaction” has strengthened America’s foes and disheartens its allies, argue […]

National security policy can resemble the fashion industry. A defense strategy that is in vogue in one era can fall out of fashion, only to come back into style, perhaps in slightly different form, at a later date. So it is with deterrence. This strategy was central during the Cold War, but 9/11 convinced many people that deterrence was no longer useful. In the years after, however, interest in deterrence revived as scholars and government officials sought ways to adapt it to meet contemporary threats. This deterrence revival is a mixed blessing. Just as it was during the Cold War, […]

Following World War II, the United States hoped that global security could be managed collaboratively by the victorious allies using a network of international organizations, particularly the newly created United Nations. But it quickly became clear that the Soviet Union would be an adversary, not a partner. Initially, U.S. policymakers disagreed on how to respond to the mounting Soviet threat. Great power strategy was new to Americans, something they had to learn on the fly. Neither placating nor threatening Moscow seemed to work. In 1946, Department of State official George Kennan, an astute student of statecraft and history, offered a […]

This weekend’s informal U.S.-China summit in California had several key objectives: personal trust building between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping; halting the negative momentum in bilateral relations; reducing tensions regarding disputed issues; and signaling to domestic and international audiences that the United States and China can work together. But the main objective—and outcome—of the meeting was mutual reassurance. The summit resulted in only general statements and did not achieve specific policy commitments. But it came at a very early date in China’s domestic political cycle, just three months after the completion of Beijing’s power transition. […]

How will Susan Rice be remembered at the United Nations? Since President Barack Obama announced his decision to appoint Rice as his national security adviser last week, analyses of her service at the U.N. since 2009 have swung from the gossipy to the philosophical. The gossips have recycled stories of Rice’s robust sparring with her counterparts, which at times involved fiery language. The philosophers have reflected on the ambassador’s role in advancing the cause of humanitarian intervention in Libya, as well as in later debates over nonintervention in Syria. But many commentators have missed one basic point: Rice kept the […]

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that Susan Rice would replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser and nominated Samantha Power to replace Rice as ambassador to the United Nations. The New York Times called the two women “outspoken voices for humanitarian intervention,” noting how they had joined forces with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to persuade Obama to back the NATO-led Libya intervention. But despite their interventionist reputations, Rice and Power will implement the agenda of the president, explained Mark Jacobson, who is senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and also serves as […]

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Back in January, writing in these pages, I wondered whether the appointment of John Kerry as secretary of state and Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense heralded “the third installment of President Barack Obama’s approach to national security,” an Obama Doctrine 3.0 characterized by “retrenchment and rebuilding” rather than intervention. Kerry and Hagel seemed to complement National Security Adviser Tom Donilon’s perspective on foreign affairs; Steve Clemons, back in 2010, had described Donilon as a “realist” and as a “skeptic of many of the military’s grand schemes in which large resources are given [and] big promises made.” Obama’s decision this […]

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