U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speak at a press conference at the Pentagon on April 16, 2015 (Department of Defense photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen).

When the U.S. Department of Defense released its latest cyber strategy last week, it laid more than just another brick in the edifice of cybersecurity that the government has been building for decades. Coming just a few weeks after President Barack Obama’s Executive Order setting out a policy framework for sanctioning malicious cyber actors, the new strategy marks a significant evolution in Washington’s understanding and approach to providing security in the digital age. That’s because it comes with a warning to potential adversaries: The United States will no longer only be reactive in its cyber defenses, as the Pentagon will […]

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice aboard Marine One en route to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England following the NATO Summit in Wales, Sept. 5, 2014 (Official White House photo by Pete Souza).

This past weekend, I had the privilege of taking part in the Harvard Extension School’s Crisis Game, a Cold War-era nuclear simulation involving some 30 graduate students and led by my colleague Tom Nichols. What was fascinating to observe was how even the prospect of a theoretical nuclear exchange was still capable of forcing a high degree of seriousness and focus among the participants, as various courses of action were debated and evaluated. Indeed, some of the participants themselves raised the question of whether U.S. national security policy today lacks the gravitas it appeared to have 30 years ago, particularly […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), U.N. headquarters, New York, April 27, 2015 (U.N. photo by Loey Felipe).

The monthlong 2015 review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which began yesterday, will put a spotlight on a number of priority issues on the nonproliferation agenda. Of these, the potential deal between Iran and the P5+1—the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany—on Tehran’s nuclear program, which would bring Iran back into compliance with its NPT obligations, is likely to attract the most attention. However, the current arms control stalemate among the U.S., Russia and China, which has endured since the previous NPT review conference in 2010, will also shape the conference’s outcome. This stalemate results from […]

Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters regain control of the northern neighborhoods, after overnight heavy clashes with Islamic State group militants, Ramadi, Iraq, April 23, 2015 (AP photo).

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his strategy for countering the so-called Islamic State (IS) last September, it was met with an immediate volley of criticism, most of it asserting that the president’s approach was too timid. Incensed by IS’ horrors, the critics called for large-scale American military action. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, demanded that the Obama administration “destroy” IS within 90 days. When told by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that this was impossible, Cruz issued a press release saying the general was wrong. Now that the 2016 presidential race has kicked off, […]

A Pakistani police officer walks pasts billboards showing pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Islamabad, Pakistan, April 19, 2015 (AP photo by Anjum Naveed).

When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan this week, the reception was something to behold. The welcoming committee greeted him in midair, with eight Pakistani fighter jets in formation solemnly escorting the Chinese leader’s plane from the moment he crossed into Pakistani airspace. It was one more dramatic element underscoring the significance of a visit during which both sides were remarkably unrestrained in their exuberance. Islamabad was dotted with photographs of Xi and signs proclaiming that “Pakistan-China friendship is higher than mountains, deeper than Oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.” Xi reciprocated, declaring that he feels as […]

Meeting of NATO defense ministers, NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 5, 2015 (NATO photo).

Whether it was the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea of hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers desperate to enter European territory or the latest atrocities carried out by the Islamic State in their Libyan enclave, this week’s headlines could not have come at a worse time for the leadership of the North Atlantic alliance. Over the past year, NATO finally seemed on the verge of rediscovering a common purpose after two decades of trying out for different roles—a return to its original task of putting a brake on the westward spread of Russian influence and control from the Eurasian core into […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo, April 8, 2015 (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Hurt).

Earlier this month, Ashton Carter concluded his first visit to the Asia-Pacific region since becoming U.S. secretary of defense. In Japan and South Korea, Carter delivered several speeches underscoring the region’s importance and explaining the logic of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia. Carter will return to visit Singapore and India in a few weeks, a sign of how pivotal a player he has quickly become in the administration’s policy of “rebalancing” America’s strategic priorities toward the region. Carter’s recent trip, which began April 7 and ended April 12, aimed to reassure the two countries he visited, Japan and […]

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook, Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).

For American defense professionals, the 1990s now seem like a distant dream. The United States was fresh off a stunning military victory over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait. The Soviet Union, long Washington’s bête noire, had crumbled. The American economy was robust, churning out important technological innovations one after another. In these halcyon times, U.S. military leaders and defense officials predicted that they would master what they called the “revolution in military affairs,” thereby attaining battlefield superiority over every possible enemy. Since the U.S. would be able to impose its will on opponents, there was little need to […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, April 11, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

One of the most salient criticisms of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent overtures to Iran and Cuba is that neither country, as a condition for engagement, has agreed to undertake fundamental reforms of their internal political systems or alter the general direction of their foreign policies. Indeed, the leaders of both countries have claimed victory in defying those types of demands. In theory, this need not be a setback. When Richard Nixon traveled to China in 1972, Mao Zedong did not repudiate his ideology, release any political prisoners or make any commitment to pursuing liberal political or economic reforms. Nixon, […]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini observes a minute of silence at Jose Marti Memorial, Havana, Cuba, March 24, 2015 (EU Commission photo).

Last month, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that the EU and Cuba had agreed to accelerate talks on establishing a cooperation agreement to normalize ties, which would hopefully be signed by the end of the year. Mogherini was in Havana for the third round of talks between the EU and Cuba since negotiations started up again in April 2014. The EU has tried several times in the past to negotiate a cooperation agreement with Cuba, first in 1995 and again in 2000, but talks have always failed. On the Cuban side, one of the biggest factors preventing […]

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House about the breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear talks, April 2, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a diplomatic framework designed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Opposition to the negotiations in Washington, which was intense all along, exploded, soon collapsing into near-hysteria. Critics compared the framework to the 1938 Munich agreement—the widely accepted gold standard for weakness and appeasement. Opposition to the Iran framework agreement has many sources. One of the most important is that, after several decades with no major arms control agreements, the American public and its elected representatives no longer understand the complex and often counterintuitive logic of arms control. Paradoxically, the more hostile and […]

A worker gives the finishing touches as he cleans a wall announcing the upcoming Summit of the Americas outside of the Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City, April 6, 2015 (AP photo by Arnulfo Franco).

The Summit of the Americas, opening in Panama on Friday, was where U.S. President Barack Obama planned to mark a turning point in U.S. relations with Latin America, highlighting a tangible example of his foreign policy legacy. Obama had hoped to bask in the triumph of his new Cuba policy. Instead, the event is likely to prove much more diplomatically ambiguous and challenging, both for the United States and the almost three-dozen hemispheric leaders attending the forum. Undoubtedly, the main event, the one garnering the most headlines and the most indelible images, will be the one that brings together Obama […]

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Howard University in Washington, Tuesday, April 7, 2015 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Several events in the past month have raised the question of whether the United States has entered the first stages of its decline in the global arena. Of them, the framework agreement reached between the P5+1 powers—the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China—and Iran in Switzerland last week has received the most scrutiny. The U.S. entered diplomatic efforts with the stated goal of seeing Iran’s capabilities to enrich uranium completely dismantled—but ended up accepting Iran’s right to preserve, albeit under rigid supervision, a good deal of its nuclear infrastructure. While the Iran talks have dominated the headlines, there have […]

A specialist works at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), Arlington, Va., Sept. 9, 2014 (AP photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta).

On April 1, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order expanding Washington’s ability to deter cyberattacks, by empowering the government to apply financial sanctions on hackers and companies overseas that benefit from cyber-espionage. The directive authorizes the secretary of the treasury, in consultation with the attorney general and secretary of state, to impose sanctions on individuals and entities that he determines are responsible for, or complicit in, malicious cyber-enabled activities that may constitute a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy, economic health or financial stability. The measure was no April Fool’s Day joke. Indeed, it reflects a move […]

Street in Havana, Cuba, May 3, 2014 (photo by Flickr user ledgard licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Last week, officials from the United States and Cuba held their first formal talks on human rights since both sides announced they were working to restore diplomatic ties last December. In an email interview, Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, discussed the human rights situation in Cuba. WPR: What are the major human rights violations committed by the Cuban government, and are the policies driven more by the central government or by local actors? Ted Piccone: The Cuban government has a mixed record when it comes to the full panoply of internationally recognized human rights. On political […]

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang shake hands ahead of their meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Dec. 15, 2014 (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexander Astafyev, Government Press Service).

Beginning in January and accelerating in the last week of March, senior State Department officials have been making high-profile speeches on U.S. interests and policies regarding Central Asia. The policy rollout culminated on March 31, when Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution on Washington’s long-term vision for Central Asia. Combined, the speeches offer insight into Washington’s approach to the resource-rich and highly contested region. As some observers have pointed out, one novel element of that approach is an explicit U.S. attempt to praise China’s growing presence in Central Asia, while condemning that […]

Saudi King Salman meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2015 (AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency).

While Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has his eyes on Yemen, with plans apparently hatched to commit Egyptian troops to a possible Saudi-led ground invasion there, the Sinai Peninsula still smolders. Last Thursday, militants attacked checkpoints in the northern Sinai near the Israel-Gaza border, killing 15 soldiers and two civilians. Threats to Egypt’s domestic security linger, but last week, el-Sisi said that Egypt was involved in Saudi Arabia’s campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen because “it was not possible for us to abandon the security of the Gulf.” That being said, Saudi Arabia and its fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation […]

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