For nearly four decades, Egypt stood as a tent pole in America’s strategic position in the Arab Middle East. Starting in the 1970s, Washington and Cairo coordinated military and diplomatic policies, building what appeared to be reliable, predictable and lasting links between the Arab world’s most populous nation and the world’s most powerful country. Now, as fierce political winds batter the region, America’s entire structure of relationships in the area looks shaky, and the ties that bind Egypt and the U.S. have become dangerously frayed. Without special attention, the United States and Egypt could end up losing an alliance that […]

Though important to both, the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has for decades been very peculiar, pairing the world’s leading liberal democracy with one of the most conservative nations. Scott McConnell described it as a “protection racket: We provide protection to the Saudi monarchy, and they use their oil wealth to aid the U.S. in other objectives, most importantly keeping the price of oil stable.” Recently this has not seemed enough—the relationship has steadily eroded as differences festered and grew. In a sense, it is less surprising that the U.S.-Saudi partnership has hit a shoal than […]

As a strategic approach, the U.S. pivot or rebalance to Asia seeks to expand the American political, economic and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. While this realignment is not only about China, it is also evident that much of the thinking behind it relates to China, and in particular how a more engaged American leadership in Asia could be potentially productive in steering Beijing toward a path that, from the U.S. perspective, would be beneficial for regional and global order. The strategic shift has led many observers to perceive the rebalance as a means for the U.S. to maintain […]

Is there a strategic case for the United States to sustain or expand its efforts to eavesdrop on German intelligence targets? Over the past week, German politicians and the media have grappled with claims that the U.S. National Security Agency listened to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls. For many commentators and the chancellor herself, this is by definition a huge breach of trust between allies. For more cynical observers, there is no serious cause for outrage. All states, they smirk, spy on one another. Both the moralists and the cynics have solid arguments. But both also miss a simple point […]

Washington got two important reminders this week that it cannot take anything for granted in the current international environment. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was reported as saying that the kingdom is planning to make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States. Then on Wednesday, India and China announced an agreement designed to defuse border tensions. Underlying these two moves is the reality that in a more chaotic, G-Zero world, all countries are going to hedge their bets. It is, of course, important not to overreact. Some sources have suggested that Bandar’s […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Europe Monday and Tuesday in an effort to soothe mounting tensions in the relationship that have recently spilled into public view. Signs of strain in a pivotal U.S. partnership in the Middle East were evident last week when Saudi Arabia, in a surprise move, declined to assume a United Nations Security Council seat it had previously sought and won, citing the body’s failures in Syria. That was followed this weekend by the disclosure of the Saudi intelligence chief’s comments to European diplomats that Saudi Arabia […]

In early September, the U.S. executed a stunning volte-face in its declared policy on dealing with the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Backing away from enforcing a self-imposed presidential “red line” with an already announced military intervention, Washington instead embraced a Russian-developed diplomatic plan that turns Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from a military target into an essential partner in ridding Syria of its WMD stockpiles. The reversal may not have marked “the worst day for U.S. and wider Western diplomacy since records began,” as one retired British diplomat saw it, but the shift definitely raised questions […]

Winston Churchill, the storied politician and former prime minister of the United Kingdom, once said, “I think I can save the British Empire from anything—except the British.” Churchill’s quote cleverly points out that great power decline is not just a function of external factors; often the worst wounds are self-inflicted. In recent weeks, observers around the globe watched with alarm as a dysfunctional American political system pushed the world’s most powerful economy to the brink of default. How could a country with so much global prestige and power risk both over petty partisan squabbling? Why would policymakers choose to squander […]

Last Friday, the Pentagon announced that, by next July, all U.S. troops will leave Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The base has served as the most important transit center for U.S. and coalition troops entering and leaving Afghanistan by air, but that role will soon be replaced by a base in Romania. The move comes in response to a July vote by Kyrgyzstan’s parliament to terminate the U.S. lease at Manas effective one year later, on July 11, 2014. It is not the first time Kyrgyzstan has threatened to end the arrangement. Unlike on previous occasions, this time Washington decided not […]

A historic change is underway in the global security system. As Harvard political scientist Stephen Walt wrote, the world is witnessing “a sharp decline in America’s ability to shape the global order.” In the future, Walt and others believe, “the United States simply won’t have the resources to devote to international affairs that it had in the past.” Christopher Layne of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University is even more blunt: “The epoch of American dominance is drawing to a close, and international politics is entering a period of transition: no longer unipolar […]

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh signed an agreement to enable future civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries. While the text has not been made public, it appears that the agreement will not include a so-called Gold Standard provision proscribing Vietnam from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium. The agreement marks the latest installment in a decade-long effort by the United States and other major nuclear powers to limit the further spread of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies (ENR), which can provide both fuel for nuclear power and fissile […]

The first round of talks between Iran and the P5+1—China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K.—in Geneva earlier this week ended on an upbeat note, with the concluding joint statement noting that the meeting had been conducted in a “positive atmosphere. A U.S. official was quoted as saying, “We really are beginning that type of negotiation where one could imagine that you could possibly have an agreement.” Having received the Iranian proposals, the negotiators are returning to consult with their respective governments and will reassemble in early November to assess the proposals submitted by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed […]

Americans can be brutally effective against another nation that relies on conventional military power. The Confederacy, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union all found this out. They “fought fair,” so the United States was able to out-spend them all and eventually win. But Americans are not so adept against enemies that do not fight fair, whether dispersed, amorphous organizations not easily crushed through military action, hostile ideologies or cultures, or systemic instability. Impatient for quick results when none are available, the United States gravitates to short-term problem solving, teetering from crisis to crisis. That is where we are today. Critics […]

The U.S. Department of State announced on Wednesday that it would be “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt, holding back the delivery of $260 million, most of it military assistance, from the $1.5 billion annual U.S. aid package for Egypt. By delaying the delivery of military systems including tanks, missiles and aircraft, and suspending some cash assistance to the Egyptian government, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is hoping to push Egypt down a path toward civilian governance through free and fair elections. But the two experts who spoke with Trend Lines do not believe that the move will achieve […]

As American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down and the conflict with al-Qaida shifted away from large-scale, protracted military operations, President Barack Obama announced a major adjustment in American strategy (.pdf), stating that the United States “will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” Today there is growing criticism that this rhetoric has been backed by little substance and that what became popularly known as the “pivot” to Asia is stalled. In part this is due to the persisting political dysfunction in Washington that hinders all serious initiatives, but it also reflects deeper, more intractable strategic factors that offer […]

Speaking today at a discussion hosted by the New America Foundation, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband put his thumb on a sensitive issue for Washington. Much as their leaders might secretly wish it, the West’s governments can’t simply take a decade off of foreign policy to focus on rebuilding at home. “You’ve got to do the internal and the external at the same time,” he said. Yet that kind of multitasking is precisely what has eluded President Barack Obama as he and his administration struggle to put out the fiscal fires started by House Republicans. Perhaps the most prominent […]

Over the weekend, members of special mission units under the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command carried out raids in Somalia and Libya, capturing a senior al-Qaida operative in the latter country. While these attacks often come across as lightning strikes in the media, no detail is spared in terms of coordination and preparation. Trend Lines spoke with three experts about the disconnect between how these operations appear versus how they operate. “The events this weekend were both significant and insignificant,” David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told Trend […]

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