War games provide insights into the mind of the U.S. military, showing the types of conflicts it anticipates and what it might be ordered to do in them. While war games vary, almost all share one characteristic: They are based on a relatively short war or operation, sometimes followed by a lengthy period of stabilization. Few strategic war games think through American involvement in a long major war. This is not surprising. Throughout history, Americans have expected and planned for short wars. When Abraham Lincoln decided to forcefully stop the South’s secession, for instance, he initially asked for 90-day volunteers, […]

The confirmation process last week for David Barron, a former Obama administration lawyer nominated to the federal judiciary, reopened a debate about the justification for what has come to be known as the U.S. “targeted killing” program. But as the politics of the issue heat up, the administration and its critics seem to be relying on different interpretations of the terminology at the heart of the debate, and their underlying disagreement speaks to broader questions about the future of the American war on terror. For many critics of the administration’s approach to counterterrorism, the term “targeted killing” has come to […]

The mass kidnapping of schoolgirls by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram put an unwelcome spotlight on Nigeria. Though the attention is new, Nigeria’s security and governance deficits are not, with implications for the country’s domestic politics and regional influence. The United States and international partners have a role to play in assisting Nigeria, particularly in terms of improving security, but ultimately it is how Nigeria rises to the challenges it faces that will determine the course of its future. This special report reviews those challenges, and the responses to them, through recently published articles. Domestic Politics Nigeria’s Fault Lines […]

In the aftermath of the Indian elections, President Barack Obama expressed his desire for rejuvenating the U.S. relationship with India, which is still seen as a linchpin for America’s rebalance to Asia. But at present Obama is not scheduled to meet with India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, until the East Asia summit in Myanmar in November, and again at the G-20 conclave later that month in Brisbane, Australia. But if last year’s G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg is any guide, the U.S. president will have a full dance card at these two multilateral meetings and will not, in […]

Last month, Ecuador expelled 20 U.S. Defense Department employees from the country. Less than two weeks later, the U.S. announced it would withdraw its anti-narcotics personnel from Ecuador, dealing a further blow to America’s ailing counternarcotics partnerships in the Western Hemisphere. Ecuador’s expulsion of U.S. military personnel “reflects the increase in capacities and resources of Ecuador to directly assume security and defense efforts independently,” said a statement from the Ecuadorean Embassy in Washington. The statement pointed in particular to Ecuador’s own counternarcotics efforts from the previous year. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that while the United States would […]

Policymakers, military leaders and members of Congress are making choices now that will determine the size and capability of the future U.S. military. Because of the government debt crisis, the armed forces are shrinking quickly and extensively, amplifying the long-term effects of any bad choices. As always, the downsizing process is political. No member of Congress wants to lose jobs in his or her district when a base closes or the military stops buying a locally made product. That said, Pentagon leaders, both civilian and uniformed, think more in terms of strategic factors, prioritizing capabilities by projecting what a future […]

The dynamics of triangular interaction among South Korea, Japan and China have constituted a central security paradox in Northeast Asia since the late 19th century, with South Korea cursed by its geographical position at the conflux of great power interests in the region. But the division of the Korean Peninsula and the aftereffects of Cold War rivalry, replaced in the post-Cold War world by the U.S.-North Korea nuclear standoff, have served both to obscure Sino-Japanese tensions over the Korean Peninsula, and to spur periodic trilateral and multilateral cooperation aimed at resolving the regional Cold War hangover caused by Korea’s division. […]

Last week’s visit of Gen. Fang Fenghui, China’s highest-ranking military officer, to the United States both testified to the improvement in bilateral military relations and highlighted the continuing differences between these two military powers. Fang, the chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Staff, initially spent two days in San Diego, where he met the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, and toured the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, a littoral combat ship and the regional Marine Corps Recruit Depot. He then traveled to Washington to meet with his U.S. counterpart and official host, Chairman […]

Kachin leaders are intensifying calls for U.S. involvement in talks between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). At a meeting with State Department officials in Washington last month, Gen. Gun Maw, the KIO’s chief negotiator and deputy commander-in-chief of its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), raised the possibility of the U.S. playing a more active role in resolving the decades-old Kachin conflict. Since the collapse of a 17-year cease-fire between the Myanmar government and the KIO in June 2011, hostilities have escalated dangerously. Several rounds of talks have taken place, but a breakthrough remains elusive. […]

While most Americans have been absorbed over the past month in the usual medley of celebrity scandals, from Donald Sterling’s racist comments to Jay Z’s family troubles, the Obama administration has quietly hinted at two changes in its approach to U.S. foreign policy that, if followed to their logical conclusion, signal a major reorientation in how Washington plans to conduct international affairs. The first, in response to the crisis in Ukraine, has been, as Peter Baker of the New York Times described it, to develop “an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment” for dealing with Russia. The […]

Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica’s May 12 meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington was an important if belated step in the right direction for U.S. engagement with South America, reconfirming to a frequently skeptical region the importance that the United States places on building relationships with leaders from across the political spectrum. Since his election in 2009, the former guerrilla fighter has guided Uruguay as a democratic leftist more interested in results than ideology. Certainly, the successful effort last year to legalize the sale and distribution of marijuana and Mujica’s purposeful outreach to Cuba are among the topics that […]

Putin’s ‘New Cold War’ a Pale Shadow of the Original

Tensions between Moscow and Washington are nothing new, but the growing level of animosity and the dangerous escalation around the political turmoil in Ukraine have ended any remaining illusion that the U.S. and Russia could develop a partnership, working together without rancor toward common goals on the global stage. Now that Ukraine stands on the edge of civil war, with the two sides clearly delineated—one supported, even controlled, by Russia, the other backed by the U.S. and its Western allies—it looks as if the world has undergone a geopolitical backflip. The calendar seems to have been returned to something resembling […]

Last week, Thailand’s Constitutional Court forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. The decision, linked with her removal of the country’s security chief in 2011, has intensified the ongoing showdown that has gripped Thai politics and heightened uncertainty for the future of a key U.S. partnership in Southeast Asia. Yingluck is only the most recent Thai prime minister connected to influential exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra—she is his sister—to have been removed by the courts since he himself was ousted in a 2006 coup. The events leave the United States in an awkward position with few options to […]

As the U.S. considers how to help Nigeria rescue some 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram a month ago, domestic political attention is turning to the question of what the U.S. could have done ahead of time. In particular, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has come under fire for declining to add Boko Haram to the State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, or FTO list. The implication is that the U.S. had an opportunity to prevent the kidnapping, and that the FTO list would have helped. Secretary of State John Kerry did eventually add […]

A year ago, as Boko Haram, the violent jihadist group from Nigeria’s north, expanded its operations, I argued that even though the Nigerian government had launched what seemed to be a serious military offensive, it continued to reject the sort of deep and serious reform needed to undercut support for extremism. Hence the United States should avoid offering anything other than modest, indirect help. Since then, Nigeria’s security situation has eroded further. In the words of Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Boko Haram has become “increasingly monstrous.” Approximately 500,000 Nigerians have fled the fighting between government […]

The United States has been active in its policies toward the smaller countries of South Asia in the Indian Ocean region. In recent weeks, the U.S. concluded its third annual security dialogue with Bangladesh and sponsored a resolution against Sri Lanka at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes. Since early 2014, Washington has called for new elections in Bangladesh after much of that country’s opposition boycotted national polls, and last year the U.S. pursued a defense agreement with Maldives that would have allowed rights for U.S. military personnel visiting the country. […]

Even while U.S. troops are still disengaging from combat in Afghanistan, the American military is hard at work distilling lessons from its long, costly counterinsurgency campaigns of the past decade. Two new counterinsurgency doctrine manuals—a joint one released last November and an updated Army/Marine Corps publication that will hit the streets in the next few days—provide a window into what lessons the military drew from Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet both are also important for what they do not or cannot address. Military doctrine institutionalizes the recent experience of the armed forces and identifies “best practices” for future operations. That the […]

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