Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens as President Barack Obama talks about Hagel’s resignation during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2014 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel apparently drew the short straw and emerged as the first sacrificial victim dispatched by President Barack Obama in response to his party’s dismal midterm election results, which will cost the Democrats control of the Senate. Beyond that, however, it is clear that the focus of U.S. national security has shifted dramatically over the past two years. Hagel was selected to preside over the American disengagement from the Middle East, to usher through a series of lean budgetary years for the Pentagon and to lay the foundations for the eventual rebalance of American strategic priorities […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to Mali President Boubacar Keita on the sidelines of the U.N. Chief Executives Board meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2014 (U.N. photo by Eskinder Debebe).

Does it matter who runs the United Nations? There was a frisson of excitement at U.N. headquarters at the start of this month when a consortium of advocacy groups launched a campaign to overturn the “outdated and opaque” process for selecting the secretary-general. But at a time when increasing global divisions threaten to reduce the U.N. secretariat’s ability to improve international cooperation, there are questions about how much impact the post can really have. The current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, steps down at the end of 2016. As I have previously argued, Ban took far too long to find his feet […]

Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Nov. 17, 2014 (AP photo by Vadim Ghirda).

This week, military planners from more than 30 countries are gathered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, to plot their approach against the so-called Islamic State (IS). On the other side of the world, IS is probably mulling its strategy as well. It is easy to imagine how different the two sessions must be, yet the two groups do have one thing in common: Both know that if their strategies are to work, they must first try to get inside the mind of their enemy. Anticipating what the enemy will do—what security experts call “red teaming”—is never easy, […]

Smoke rises from burning garbage as an Indian woman looks for recyclable material at a dumping site on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Anupam Nath).

The United States and China surprised other G-20 members when they announced a new agreement last week on curbing greenhouse gas emissions just a few days prior to the group’s summit in Australia. But the G-20 member who perhaps noted this development more than others is India, currently the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. India was taken off guard by what amounts to China’s first step back from its previous ironclad refusal to make any binding commitments on limiting overall emissions. New Delhi is now preparing to fend off greater pressure directed its way to make similar pledges in the […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses reporters after meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, France, Nov. 20, 2014 (State Department photo).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s last-minute whirlwind tour of European capitals in the run-up to the Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with Iran calls to mind the old aphorism about diplomacy: The hardest part isn’t getting the other side to agree to the deal, it’s convincing your own side to agree to it. In this case, Kerry’s stopover today in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is illustrative. In November 2013, Fabius played a high-profile—and high-stakes—role in toughening up the initial interim framework accord that was extended once already and is now set […]

Four-image NAVCAM mosaic of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, using images taken on Sept. 24, 2014 when Rosetta was 28.5 km from the comet (ESA photo).

When the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully landed the spacecraft Philae on a comet last week, it accomplished something once thought to be the sole purview of the superpowers. In truth, the ESA—a consortium of 20 formal members—highlights a well-established and accelerating trend: Whereas space was once beyond the reach of all but the United States and the Soviet Union, recent decades have witnessed the spread and maturing capabilities of new space powers around the world. While the United States has reasons to be concerned with that shift related to national security, it also has cause to celebrate, as promoting […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping hold a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

Whenever a U.S. president’s party experiences major losses during a midterm congressional election, there is always pressure to fire members of his team. In this particular cycle, pundits have urged President Barack Obama to consider replacing his national security adviser, Susan Rice, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others, as part of an effort to change course and find a new direction for his last two years in office. But staffing questions do not lie at the heart of the Obama administration’s problems. Rather, the administration has fallen short in its ability to define U.S. strategic priorities and to […]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, Nov. 14, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced a pair of important initiatives, one to restore the Defense Department’s troubled nuclear enterprise to health and another to spur innovation within the department. The two initiatives are necessary, if incomplete, but achieving both goals will difficult. Hagel’s proposed overhaul of the Defense Department’s management of its nuclear weapons enterprise is long overdue. The U.S. nuclear command’s core components, besides the actual warheads, include the Air Force’s nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines as well as the supporting infrastructure for the entire system. It also […]

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Myanmar President Thein Sein, Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 13, 2014 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Myanmar, where he will attend the East Asia Summit and the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit as well as meet with national leaders. The visit comes less than two years after Obama’s first to the Southeast Asian nation, which was also the first ever by a sitting U.S. president. Obama’s 2012 Myanmar trip was “a symbolic visit to reinforce the message that reform needs to be consolidated. It is a mark of appreciation, a reward if you like, and at the same time it is a measure to press for further […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping toast at a lunch banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 12, 2014 (AP photo by Greg Baker).

Inside the United States, supporters of President Barack Obama have all sorts of explanations for the defeat handed the Democratic Party in last week’s midterm elections, which not only increased the Republican majority in the House of Representatives but also gave the GOP control of the Senate. Democrats’ failure to mobilize their traditional voters to turn out at the polls; accusations of voter-suppression techniques, which disproportionally impact those more likely to cast ballots for the Democratic Party; and the Republicans’ successful efforts at playing up anxieties about the economy, Ebola and the so-called Islamic State (IS) have all been put […]

President Barack Obama with House Speaker John Boehner at the  White House in Washington, Nov. 7, 2014 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

In the aftermath of the U.S. midterm congressional elections, the Obama administration’s ability to work with the new Republican-majority Congress has become a central question. One area where such cooperation will be crucial is in reforming export controls on defense equipment and technology. The Obama administration has made this a priority issue since assuming office in 2009, and this year some of its export control reform initiative has finally begun to achieve visible gains. But the administration’s ability to advance reforms alone is limited. Now Congress, newly united under the control of a single party, must step in and augment […]

Pro-Russian rebel military vehicle with Russian flag on top of it rolls towards Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, Nov. 10, 2014 (AP photo by Mstyslav Chernov).

There were signs of easing tensions in some parts of the international system last week, but warnings of deepening crises on other fronts. It emerged that U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a private letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urging greater cooperation in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. China and Japan agreed to step back from confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, claimed by Beijing as the Diaoyu. But Ukraine accused Russia of new military incursions on its territory, increasing the chances that the parlous cease-fire in the east of the country will […]

Sunset in the Arctic, Oct. 14, 2011 (photo by Flickr user MarineBugs licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

In a bid to protect its own interests in the Arctic, and wary of NATO’s growing attention to the region, Russia is set to reactivate former Soviet-era bases around the North Pole. But the Kremlin would do well to monitor the actions in the Arctic of its occasional partner and possible future rival, China, rather than those of its trans-Atlantic adversary. With global warming melting ice and making northern sea routes more passable, both Arctic and non-Arctic nations are competing for access to the mineral, hydrocarbon and fishing resources estimated to lie under the North Pole. The race is on, […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Moscow, Russia, Oct. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service).

The Russian ruble hit an all-time low of 48.7 rubles to the dollar earlier today, a casualty of escalating sanctions from the United States and the European Union in response to the conflict in Ukraine. Beyond the sanctions, Russia’s economic outlook is increasingly grim given the recent drop in global oil prices. At the same time, the Moscow Stock Exchange has announced that currency trades between the ruble and the Chinese yuan reached an all-time high in October, increasing 80 percent over the previous month. The increase in currency trading is a direct result of a currency swap deal Russia […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before the start of the NATO-Russia Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 4, 2013 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool).

To what extent is the crisis in Ukraine the result, and not the cause, of a dysfunctional relationship between Russia and the West? This question was posed for discussion this past week at a task force convened in Sofia, Bulgaria, by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the European Leadership Network and the Russian International Affairs Council, among others, to discuss Ukraine and the future of Euro-Atlantic security. Certainly, some aspects of the disagreements between Russia and Ukraine are sui generis. Yet the core of the dispute is rooted, on one hand, in the desire of many Ukrainians to break out of […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses the media at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 24, 2014 (AP photo by Yves Logghe).

Russia’s decision to skip the first planning meeting for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is an alarming sign that U.S.-Russia tensions over Ukraine and other issues may disrupt their nuclear security partnership. At best, the Russian decision may simply reflect an attempt to signal irritation at the U.S. by disrupting one of Washington’s highest priorities, that of countering nuclear terrorism. At worst, it may represent a decision to boycott the entire NSS process simply because the United States is hosting it. In either case, the Russian decision is extremely counterproductive. In the short term, it risks sabotaging the tacit […]