Cyber Flag 14-1 participants analyze an exercise scenario at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Nov. 5, 2013 (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Tam).

For decades military strategists have studied and refined what they call the “principles of war.” Drawn from the long history of armed conflict, these guidelines encapsulate the things that often lead to battlefield success. They are not immutable laws—bold commanders sometimes ignore them and get away with it. But they reflect the accumulated wisdom of warfighting, including things like concentrating combat power at the decisive place and time; the value of directing every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective; and the need to seize, retain and exploit the initiative, among others. Every budding military planner and […]

Congressmen speak together before Secretary of State John Kerry arrives to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Washington, July 23, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Over the next few weeks, as Congress prepares to vote on the Iran nuclear deal, the American people are going to be bombarded with arguments both for and against it. The critics will argue that the United States has given Iran carte blanche to pursue nuclear weapons and destabilize the region; the supporters will say that the deal’s opponents offer no alternative for stopping Iran’s nuclear aspirations. The lobbying, the accusations of bad faith, the references to the Holocaust and the demonizing of critics will be intense. But here are the two dirty little secrets about the Iran deal: Congress […]

President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Safaricom Indoor Arena, Nairobi, Kenya, July 26, 2015 (AP photo by Ben Curtis).

On his current visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, U.S. President Barack Obama has been wise to promote stronger business ties between Africa and the United States. The U.S. has lagged behind rivals, notably China, when it comes to commercial engagement with the continent. The Obama administration is well aware of the problem, and the president’s trip is not the first attempt to fix it. But meaningful progress will require Washington to go beyond rhetoric and actively help to enhance governance frameworks that currently prevent U.S. companies from competing effectively in many African countries. For several years now, the Obama administration […]

Titan II ICBM missile silo at the Titan Missile Museum, Arizona, June 2, 2012 (photo by Flickr user jurvetson licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Last week, I discussed why the Iran nuclear deal offers limited—if any—lessons for making progress on other regional nonproliferation issues. This week, I thought it would be valuable to assess the obstacles and opportunities that exist for making further global nonproliferation and arms control progress. One reason for the failure of this spring’s Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was the growing effort by some non-nuclear weapons states to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. This initiative seeks to mobilize support behind a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would mandate immediate nuclear disarmament. The existing nuclear weapons states […]

The Iran Deal is announced by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015 (European Union External Action Service photo).

Washington is in full gear for an intense 60-day debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and one important feature of the discussion is the contributions made by diverse civil society organizations. It’s one of those moments where information and analysis are in high demand, highlighting the interplay between government and nongovernment actors. Think tanks in particular are playing a prominent role in educating the public and engaging with journalists and congressional offices, whether to amplify, endorse or critique the Obama administration’s position. The decade of on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran in some ways serves as a good illustration of the […]

A worker walks alongside rows of solar panels at the Horus photovoltaic power station, Chiquimulilla, south of Guatemala City, Feb. 3, 2015 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

Last week, officials from the United States and Central America met in El Salvador to discuss energy cooperation, including developing a regional energy market. In an email interview, Alexis Arthur, an energy policy associate at the Institute of the Americas, discussed U.S. energy cooperation with Central America. WPR: What is the current state of Central America’s energy infrastructure, and how extensive is U.S. cooperation with the region on energy issues? Alexis Arthur: Central America has become a model for the Latin American region with the interconnection of power grids across six countries. The Central American Electrical Interconnection System, or SIEPAC, […]

A militiaman allied with the Iraqi security forces dismantles a weapon from a destroyed vehicle belonging to the Islamic State group, southern Ramadi, Anbar province, Iraq, July 20, 2015 (AP Photo).

For decades U.S. policy in the Middle East focused on two things: Israel and oil. Helping to keep Israel secure was not hard since the Israelis themselves had it well under control. Making sure that oil flowed was more challenging since most of it was owned by brittle monarchies or dictators, but the United States and its allies found a way. This emphasis on Israel and oil led to an American strategy that was remarkably consistent even when the White House changed hands. Its goal was stability built on partnerships with local states when possible and direct action if necessary. […]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2015 (AP photo by Ebrahim Noroozi).

As the debate over the Iran nuclear deal begins in Congress, many of the arguments against the agreement reached by the U.S. and its P5+1 partners—France, the U.K., Russia, China and Germany—and Iran have taken on the appearance of theological opposition, where nothing short of full capitulation by the Iranians would satisfy critics. Other critiques have exaggerated the deal’s likely impact on the region or portrayed it in a distinctly one-sided manner. Furthermore, almost all of the deal’s critics have ignored the geopolitical impact it will have beyond the region, thereby overlooking a key benefit that advances U.S. interests—namely vis-a-vis […]

President Barack Obama answers questions about the Iran nuclear deal during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Washington, July 15, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

In trying to make sense of the recent nuclear deal with Iran and what it says about U.S. policy in the Middle East, the penultimate scene in “The Godfather” comes to mind. In it, the new godfather, Michael Corleone, wipes out his criminal rivals, the heads of New York’s five Mafia families and casino magnate Moe Greene. In recounting the day’s bloodletting, Michael subsequently says, “Today I settled all family business,” as he prepares to move the Corleone family to Nevada. This, minus the gangland shootings, is largely what the United States is trying to do with the Iran deal. […]

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015) on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program, U.N. Headquarters, New York, July 20, 2015 (U.N. photo).

Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2231, which confirmed key provisions of the nuclear deal—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—adopted last week by Iran and its P5+1 negotiating partners, comprising the U.S., France, the U.K., Russia, China and Germany. In her speech marking the resolution’s enactment, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, drew several lessons from the lengthy efforts to constrain Iran’s nuclear aspirations. These included the requirement for vigorous enforcement of global nonproliferation norms, the value of “tough, principled diplomacy,” the need for effective implementation of negotiated agreements and the imperative […]

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, is escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City, following his capture overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan, Feb. 22, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).

In a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped last week from a maximum-security prison that was allegedly Mexico’s most secure. On the evening of July 11, he apparently climbed down through a two-by-two-foot hole underneath his cell’s shower, only to reappear above ground at the end of a mile-long tunnel, in a bare building under construction. Ominously, one of his sons had reportedly tweeted a few days prior, “All things come to those who wait,” while several “narcocorridos,” or popular drug ballads, had predicted El Chapo’s prison break. Eighteen months after having […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki waits to give an interview outside the International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands, June 25, 2015 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

Can international legal mechanisms defuse tensions among the West, Russia and China? Last week, U.S. and European officials praised their Chinese and Russian counterparts for helping seal the nuclear deal with Iran. Yet there were warning signs of new spats with Beijing and Moscow over the South China Sea and Ukraine. These tensions concern not only the countries’ core national interests, but also their readiness to submit these interests to legal reviews. China and Russia seem determined to ensure that, as great powers, they cannot be contained through international law. In The Hague, the low-profile but august Permanent Court of […]

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at a redeployment ceremony, Anchorage, Alaska, Nov. 1, 2012 (DoD photo by Justin Connaher, U.S. Air Force).

Nations going to war often believe the fighting will end quickly. A lightning campaign or two, a few battles and the enemy will fold. Few nations plan for a long war. Despite this, long wars do happen, normally when the belligerents overestimate their own prowess and underestimate the determination and capability of their enemies. For most of its history the United States worked on the same assumption, entering wars with the expectation that they would be short. The world wars and the Cold War were exceptions, but after the demise of the Soviet Union, Americans again believed all their wars […]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference, at the Vienna International Center, Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015 (AP photo by Carlos Barria).

Yesterday’s announcement of a comprehensive agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions is no ordinary triumph. It is, in fact, a historic and seminal moment that fundamentally strengthens the international system and suggests a major shift in global affairs. For 12 years, the international community has been trying to force Iran to accept limitations on its nuclear aspirations. United Nations Security Council sanctions were placed on the country, threats of military force made, torturous negotiations initiated and interim agreements achieved. While talks, at various points, appeared to be on the brink of failure, in the end, the international community, […]

NATO defense ministers meet to discuss the Ukraine crisis, Brussels, Belgium, June 25, 2015 (NATO photo).

Today’s international system is a confusing and hybrid mix of concepts about how states interact and manage their relations. Since the end of the Cold War, the absolute and relative importance of alliances is increasingly being questioned, and new forms of ad hoc cooperation that do not assume permanent shared interests have emerged. Above all, there’s no longer one rule book to govern interstate relations. Instead states in the 21st century work across a full spectrum of approaches, from insistence on absolute state sovereignty on one end of the spectrum to regional integration on the other, with a range of […]

An employee surveys Reykjavik Energy's Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, Reykjavik, Iceland, July 28, 2011 (AP photo by Brennan Linsley).

Today, the phrase “Arctic energy” has become synonymous with snowy oil rigs, icy ocean exploration and Greenpeace activists. The conditional U.S. approval in May of Shell’s plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska has reinforced this narrow delineation of what’s included in polar energy debates. Reflecting how observers and international policymakers view the Arctic more generally, northern energy is written as an extractive narrative. From the opening of shipping routes to warnings of climate change consequences, the Arctic is frequently framed and valued by how it can help those living below the 66th parallel. But there is another […]

Dr. Richard R. Boone interviews local residents to find out about their attitudes and daily lives, Baraki Barak District, Logar province, Afghanistan, April 25, 2010 (U.S. Army photo).

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Army quietly killed a program called the Human Terrain System. Created at the height of American counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the program deployed teams of social scientists to conduct highly focused cultural research and advise U.S. military commanders on how to use this knowledge to work more effectively with local populations. While saddled with many problems, particularly early on, the Human Terrain System ultimately complemented traditional intelligence and helped beleaguered U.S. military forces understand the human environment where they fought and worked. Still, the program’s cancellation created only a brief ripple among Washington […]

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