The protests in Ukraine and Venezuela and the unveiling this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of the Obama administration’s budget request to Congress would appear to be separate and unrelated events. Yet they are linked by the challenge those developments pose to the strategic assumptions that serve as the foundation of the fiscal year 2015 U.S. defense budget. The United States can no longer afford a strategy that hedges against all possible risks. The fiscal crunch, combined with the need to divert an ever-growing portion of the defense budget to personnel, health and pension costs and away from procurement—particularly […]

Last November, the United States suspended aid and arms transfers to Egypt in reaction to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In contrast, earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, praising the “unconditional friendship” between Egypt and Russia countries and reportedly working to negotiate a $2 billion arms deal. Although American officials express a continued commitment to the U.S. partnership with Egypt—and the United States is likely to remain Egypt’s top arms supplier—leaders on both sides of the relationship are wondering where it’s heading. The confusion was heightened this week when the interim Egyptian […]

Every day seems to bring news of another nation slipping into political crisis. With Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, Egypt and a host of others still not close to restoring stability, Venezuela and Ukraine have followed them into chaos. It’s hard to know what nation will next fall off the cliff, but it’s a sure bet that some will. Democratization was the most important strategic megatrend of the 1990s, but today it has been dethroned by pervasive, persistent and deep political turbulence, as both old dictatorships and new democracies prove unable to meet the mounting demands of a young […]

Three months after Iran reached an interim agreement with the U.S. and its negotiating partners in the P5+1 to limit Iranian nuclear capabilities, the two sides announced last week that they had agreed upon a framework for negotiation of a final comprehensive agreement. In remarks in Jerusalem following the announcement, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said that these negotiations, scheduled to begin March 17, will be “very tough” and “will go on through July.” At the same time, a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) assessed that, in the agency’s judgment, Iran is complying […]

Will the Ukrainian revolution help or harm the Syrian rebellion? The two uprisings currently appear to be on very different trajectories. It is three years since Syrian citizens began protests against President Bashar Assad, precipitating the cycle of violence that would lead to civil war, yet he maintains a brutally tenacious hold on power. By contrast, Assad’s Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, was forced from the capital, Kiev, last week after just three months of demonstrations culminating in a sudden spike in violence. Assad may view Yanukovych’s humiliation as proof of the need for utter ruthlessness against his opponents. But the […]

Whenever political violence breaks out anywhere in the world, one can predict the U.S. response without any hesitation. The State Department will: solemnly declare that the United States abhors the use of violence and sends its condolences to the casualties; promise that the U.S. will hold “all sides” accountable for their actions; demand that the government “show restraint”; and call for immediate “political dialogue” to resolve the crisis. This preset script has been followed, with minor modifications, as tensions have escalated in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand, among others; it was the initial response when violence broke out in in Syria […]

With senior officials acknowledging that the potential damage from infectious disease could rival the impact of a nuclear, chemical or large-scale cyberattack, the Obama administration recently launched a new effort to respond to this growing threat. The initiative, called the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), is intended to build coordination across U.S. government agencies and between partner governments. In an op-ed announcing the GHSA, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Lisa Monaco, a senior White House homeland security and counterterrorism official, called the need to “prevent, detect and respond” to new biological […]

Speaking to a crowd in Tel Aviv last month, former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror emphasized a common Israeli concern about future conflicts. “Whatever will be the scenario,” he said, Israel “will have to deal with many missiles and rockets.” But, he added, Israel now faces “a new scenario” because “the numbers now are so different.” He pointed especially to Hezbollah’s arsenal, estimated by some senior Israeli officials at 100,000 projectiles. Israel has therefore been building up its layered active defense systems, and last week an Israeli firm unveiled the newest layer at the Singapore Air Show: the laser-based […]

Editor’s note: This is the last of a seven-part series examining conditions in Afghanistan in the last year of U.S. military operations there. The series examined each of the country’s regional commands to get a sense of the country, and the war, America is leaving behind. You can find the Series Introduction here, Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, Part IV here and Part V here. In 2001, the Taliban were thought to be all but defeated with the fall of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, little more than a month after the U.S. launched its first airstrikes on […]

In the past few months, as the prospects have emerged for an agreement between Iran and U.S.-led world powers on Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia and nuclear-armed Pakistan have made high-profile moves to strengthen their links in what is most likely not a mere coincidence of timing. Recent developments bring to mind repeated warnings over the years from top Saudi officials, like that of King Abdullah who in 2009 told a U.S. envoy, “If Iran gets nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” Saudi Arabia is content to let the world know it is exploring its options. The important question […]

For more than a decade, the United States has poured blood and money into Afghanistan, hoping to turn it into some sort of functioning democracy that could at least keep the Taliban at bay. This project always had a deep tinge of unreality. Few places on earth are less hospitable to accountable governance, robust rule of law, protection of human rights and security provided by the state. The United States and its allies never had a plan to make Afghanistan economically self-sufficient or able to pay for its own security forces. Everyone knew the state would remain a ward of […]

Editor’s note: This is the sixth of a seven-part series examining conditions in Afghanistan in the last year of U.S. military operations there. The series runs every Wednesday and will examine each of the country’s regional commands to get a sense of the country, and the war, America is leaving behind. You can find the Series Introduction here, Part I here, Part II here, Part III here and Part IV here. In 2009, President Barack Obama vowed to narrow the U.S. mission in Afghanistan while expanding the resources for it, announcing a goal to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and […]

French President Francois Hollande arrived in Washington yesterday to further strengthen the U.S.-France relationship, which has greatly improved from its Iraq War-era nadir. Hollande is facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and a faltering economic recovery with sustained high unemployment. But even so, French officials have signaled a desire to maintain an active foreign policy with close U.S. cooperation. The visit is “a nice way for the United States to pay France back for its leadership on Syria, Iran and Mali,” says Nicholas Dungan of the Atlantic Council. The French, for their part, “will be looking to see […]

It was the “f**k” heard round the world. But did anyone truly grasp what the expletive really meant? Foreign affairs specialists snickered last week as an unknown source released a recording of Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. State Department, saying, “F**k the EU.” Nuland used the expletive during a phone discussion of potential arrangements for overseeing a political transition in Ukraine, which has been in turmoil since its government rejected an economic deal with Brussels under Russian pressure last year. European Union officials including the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton […]

In recent weeks, the State Department has begun a new push on Sri Lankan human rights issues in the aftermath of that country’s decades-long war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which came to an end in May 2009. This push will likely include a new resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council, the third such resolution in recent years, intended to pressure the government of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan government’s final push against LTTE-held territory, in the north of the country, resulted in the defeat of the group. But international observers criticized […]

After Michael McFaul, the current U.S. ambassador to Russia, announced that he would be stepping down from his post after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, lobbying began quickly for the president to send an openly gay replacement to represent the United States in Moscow. The Human Rights Campaign, the leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender special interest organization in the U.S., argues that such a step “would send a vital message to the world that America’s belief in international human rights is as strong as ever” and “would give LGBT Russians a hopeful diplomatic role model to look to […]

There are two points of approximate consensus regarding the U.S. government’s Syria strategy. First, the U.S. should not send American troops to become directly involved in the fighting. All across the political spectrum in the U.S., among hawks and doves, the national sentiment strongly opposes sending U.S. forces to fight on the ground in Syrian battlefields. America is tired of sending its soldiers to die in Middle Eastern conflicts. The boots-on-the-ground option is off the table barring a dramatic development. The second point of growing agreement is that the Obama administration’s current approach to the Syrian conflict is a failure. […]

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