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 […]

In the absence of a NATO heads-of-state summit this year, the regular meetings of the alliance’s defense ministers take on added importance. This past week’s meeting in Brussels on Oct. 22-23 yielded important achievements regarding the Connected Forces Initiative, but offered little new to say on Afghanistan, Russia or NATO’s core capability initiatives. The meeting was also overshadowed by fallout over revelations of U.S. National Security Agency surveillance of American allies as well as Turkey’s decision to award a missile defense contract to a sanctioned Chinese company. To avoid having such controversies distract from next year’s heads-of-state summit, or have […]

The coming end of the Afghanistan operation that has defined NATO for the past decade marks the end of an era for the alliance. Its mission in the next decade will look drastically different. Gone is the political and public appetite for costly overseas state-building missions. To maintain its relevance, the alliance will have to refocus its commitments, partnerships and missions to make them more dynamic and more responsive to the evolving security landscape. One way to do so involves widening the definition of Atlanticism to include the South Atlantic and the Arctic, areas traditionally ignored by NATO but critical […]

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 […]

Last week, Canada and the European Union signed a free trade agreement after four years of negotiations. In an email interview, Crina Viju, an assistant professor at the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Canada’s Carleton University, explained the terms and likely impact of the agreement. WPR: What were the major points of agreement in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and what was left unresolved? Crina Viju: As the final text of CETA has not been released due to ongoing drafting and legal analysis, I can outline a few major points overviewed in the summary documents […]

Rumors are swirling in Washington that the Pentagon is thinking of closing its Office of Net Assessment (ONA). Alarmed by this idea, four congressmen led by Rep. Randy Forbes wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (.pdf) demanding “a commitment to the Office of Net Assessment.” The Lexington Institute’s Daniel Goure joined the fray, opining that ONA “must be preserved and supported.” National security discussion boards and email loops quickly lit up with concern for ONA’s future. Outside Washington such passion must seem strange. ONA is a tiny organization that mostly commissions analysis and studies. Abolishing or changing a government office […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Tainted by scandals and controversies, some bordering on the absurd, Azerbaijan’s presidential election is now over. In a country where the monopolistic ruling party can easily manipulate everything from the voter registries to the list of international election observers, the incumbent’s victory by an 80 percent margin should come as no surprise. After all, elections in autocracies like Azerbaijan mean little in terms of domestic power struggles. But what will President Ilham Aliyev’s third term mean to the outside forces, such as the U.S. government, that can engage his regime on a more level playing field than can his domestic […]

The Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is welcome news. The organization is struggling with difficult missions in Syria and elsewhere, with a frozen budget and obsolete equipment, and the prize will provide a needed boost to the organization’s profile. Unfortunately, the peace prize will not make the many challenges the OPCW faces any easier. Even with the elimination of the Syrian, Libyan and eventually Russian and U.S. chemical weapons arsenals, the threat of chemical weapons use is likely to persist. The OPCW lacks the authority […]

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