Following World War II, the United States reluctantly became a global superpower. By the end of the Cold War, Americans had so taken to the exercise of power that they found it unthinkable to be anything but a superpower. Preserving that status shifted from a necessary evil to an explicit objective. But now what was once unthinkable is back on the table. For the first time in decades, many Americans are questioning whether the United States wants to or even can remain a global superpower. In some ways, the United States has always been ill-equipped to orchestrate the international security […]

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this past week seemed to push the “legacy” cliche button in the minds of editors everywhere. I’ve lost track of how many times I was asked about it, and, embarrassingly, the question took me by surprise the first several times. We’re still six months from the midterms, after all. For right now, at least, a more interesting question to ask might be: In national security and foreign policy, how has Obama set the stage so that he and his team can construct a legacy over the next two years? Presidential administrations always deny that […]

If a national security policy is to be worth more than the paper it is printed on, it needs to serve as a guide to making tough policy choices by outlining priorities and indicating where trade-offs may have to be made. But controversies around two long-standing U.S. strategic objectives show how poorly strategy is guiding current policy. These objectives are to develop a new and deeper partnership between the United States and India and to open up new sources of energy in the Western Hemisphere to decrease U.S. dependence on overseas sources. One secondary impact of these strategies would be […]

The geopolitics surrounding the crisis in Venezuela captures the new normal of inter-American relations. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a regional South American body created in 2008, has stepped up its involvement and, through a three-member delegation of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador’s foreign ministers, is playing a prominent role in fostering dialogue. Meanwhile, the United States, though keen to shape the post-Chavez trajectory of Venezuela, is in the background, unsure of how to make a constructive impact. This unfolding episode serves as further reminder that U.S. foreign policy toward South America remains largely unsettled. Washington’s preferences do not […]

For this week at least, Russia’s revived aggression is dominating the news in the United States. Once the furor subsides, the conflict with al-Qaida will likely regain most of the attention from the media and national security experts. But in the long term, these issues pale in importance to the challenge of China’s rising power, however much it may have faded into the background today. As China’s economy took off in recent decades, the nation undertook a vast military expansion and became increasingly confident and assertive, shifting from a sullen, insular nation to a global power. The United States responded […]

Three decades after the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States continues to augment Taiwan’s military capabilities—recent discussions have raised the possibility of the U.S. helping Taiwan to acquire U.S.-made frigates and a new indigenous type of diesel submarines. But China’s rising military capabilities place the island in an increasingly vulnerable position. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would authorize the sale of four Perry-class frigates to Taiwan. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Royce, called Taiwan “a beacon of hope and democracy in a part of the world that still yearns for the basic […]

Seven hundred pages of George Kennan’s diaries have just been published, and though I have not read them, David Greenberg’s review in the New Republic gives us dilettantes some of the highlights—and at times the lowlights—of the entries that cover the years from 1916 to 2004. Greenberg focuses on a fact that historians knew, but which the public by and large does not: Kennan was, by the standards of our age and, more importantly, by the standard of his own, a bigot. “As a 28-year-old Foreign Service officer,” writes Greenberg, “[Kennan] remains convinced that the world’s problems are ‘essentially biological.’” […]

On a 10-day trip through Asia that ended last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sought to build military ties with allies and partners involved in the U.S. rebalance to the region. He also reached out to China, the presumptive main U.S. competitor in the region, and announced the need for a “new model” of military-to-military relations between the two nations. As with other aspects of the U.S.-China relationship, military ties between the two countries are underdeveloped, and China remains wary of U.S. intentions. But the Obama administration, which has its own worries about China, appears to believe that […]

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, who recently stepped down as head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, expressed misgivings about America’s deterrent posture in cyberspace. In particular, he raised concerns about the lack of a threshold that, when crossed by cyberattackers, would prompt a U.S. response. According to Alexander, “The question is, when do we act? That’s a policy decision. . . . What we don’t want to do is let it get to the point where we find out, ‘OK, that was unacceptable,’ and we didn’t […]

Russian actions toward Ukraine have injected new urgency, and partisan vitriol, into the debate over U.S. plans to deploy ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Europe. Missile defense has been a locus of intense ideological divisions since the announcement of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. Although the issue has receded somewhat in recent years, statements from some GOP lawmakers indicate it may once again become a prominent source of partisan tension. But beneath the surface, many of the most fundamental issues relating to U.S. missile defense plans appear to have become politically uncontroversial, even as technical experts continue […]

A panel discussion on Thursday organized by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law discussed options for U.S. policy toward Uganda, after relations were ruffled by a new Ugandan law signed in February that imposes harsh legal penalties, including life sentences, for homosexual acts. As the U.S. moves forward with its promised review of its relationship with Uganda, the question is whether the Obama administration can produce an effective response to the new law or if the U.S. will be boxed into a narrow response that feeds perceptions of American imperialism. […]

Petro Symonenko, the Communist Party deputy who was attacked earlier this week as he addressed the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, raised some uncomfortable points that Western policymakers need to consider about their response to the crisis in Ukraine. Symonenko aroused the ire of deputies from the nationalist Svoboda party by noting that some of those protesting the government of now-deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, including Svoboda activists, had used what might be termed improper methods—including storming buildings and breaking into armories—that are now being utilized by those who in turn do not recognize the authority of the interim government. By driving Yanukovych […]

Americans are having a hard time coming to terms with the effect of National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks and the damage they have done to America’s status in the world. In part, U.S. leaders do not want to admit that the leaks were merely the final straw for the growing discontent with American global leadership that predated Snowden and has many causes, including failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global economic crisis that spread from Wall Street. The unipolar moment was never popular—the leaks confirm that it is over. Snowden’s material has been shaped to portray […]

Having just spent several days in Israel and Palestine for the launch of Molad, a new Israeli think tank, I had hoped to devote this column to some of the takeaways of my trip. However, I was reminded this week that the first thing a stay in Israel and Palestine teaches, or ought to teach, is that a 1,000-word column is not the easiest format for nuanced exploration of whatever one has learned. So instead of a trip report, I’m going to turn a regional lens on another source of full employment for foreign policy pundits these days: the twin […]

It was no surprise when last Sunday’s emergency meeting in Paris between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended inconclusively. The United States is not prepared to cut a 19th-century-style deal with Moscow to resolve the Crimea crisis, but neither has it articulated a 21st-century response that would change Russia’s calculus. The Kremlin remains puzzled as to why Washington is not more responsive to its pitch for a settlement for Ukraine that would result in the decentralization, federalization and neutralization of the country. After all, similar arrangements were made as late as the mid-20th […]

When President Barack Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia last Friday, he briefly opened a window into the closest circles of power in Riyadh. One of the most striking images was that of Saudi King Abdullah breathing with the aid of an oxygen tank during his meeting with Obama. Although the king appeared animated and energetic, still sporting the jet-black goatee popular among Saudi royals, he looked puffy, and the plastic tubes taking oxygen into his nose betrayed the urgency of a royal succession process that has already gone into overdrive. It was no coincidence that Thursday, the day before Obama […]

The South Korean Ministry of Defense recently made the official announcement that it will purchase the F-35 fighter jet as part of an ambitious plan to modernize the country’s air defenses. Japan also plans to purchase the F-35, meaning that the two countries most central to the Obama administration’s Asia rebalance will be using the same platform. This is good news for a fighter that has become the most expensive defense acquisition program in history. Although the U.S. Air Force has consistently maintained the importance of the F-35—and continues to robustly fund it under the recent fiscal year 2015 budget […]

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