U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).

Many nations have the luxury of a tightly focused security strategy. They face a single threat or a small number of them. This determines what type of equipment, personnel, concepts and technology, as well as how many troops, they need. But great powers are different. Far-ranging commitments force them to prepare for diverse threats and missions. The stakes are great: Preparing for the wrong type of war can be as dangerous as not preparing at all. During the Cold War, the bipolar global security system meant that the United States also had the luxury of a focused, if expansive, strategy. […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Supporting Syria and the Region conference, London, Feb. 4, 2016 (U.N. photo Eskinder Debebe).

In this week’s Trend Lines podcast, Ellen Laipson, president emeritus of the Stimson Center and a WPR weekly columnist, joins host Peter Dörrie for a discussion on current trends in the international system, including the changing roles of the United Nations, regional powers and the United States in crisis management and conflict resolution. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant WPR articles: For Gulf States, Forging National Identity Trumps Regional Integration In War Against the Islamic State, U.S. Values Must Not Be a Casualty U.N. Peacemakers Wind Up Tough Year With a Flurry of Progress Can Regional Powers Mediate the […]

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats, Washington, Feb. 9, 2016 (AP photo by Bill Clark).

On Feb. 7, much of America tuned in to watch the national sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl. Two days later, the country was treated to a different kind of annual ritual, what can be thought of as the Super Bowl of threat-mongering. Every year, in January or February, the nation’s top intelligence officials venture to Capitol Hill to brief Congress on the intelligence community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment. And while the Super Bowl is a parade of expensive commercials, over-the-top musical performances and occasionally riveting football, the worldwide threat assessment is a procession of hyped-up threats, scary […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit, Rancho Mirage, Calif., Feb. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The growing closeness between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sends some very mixed messages. The California venue for last week’s first-ever U.S.-hosted summit with ASEAN heads of state—the Sunnylands Resort at Rancho Mirage—seemed to illustrate the essential confusion: Is the relationship bright and hopeful, or just illusory? Prior to the summit, U.S. State Department officials were at pains to declare that it was “not about China,” which became more difficult to maintain with the revelation, late in the summit’s proceedings, that Beijing had placed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the South China Sea. […]

A locked iPhone, Washington, Feb. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

The standoff this past week between the U.S. government and the global tech behemoth Apple underscores an enduring condition of our age: Technological innovation is at once a powerful tool to enhance our security, but maximizing its consumer benefits requires resisting government regulation and control. The private sector and government will have to find a more satisfactory partnership if they are to achieve the necessary but difficult balance that entails. The fascinating struggle between the U.S. national security establishment and Apple over unlocking the cellphone of Syed Rizwan Farook—the San Bernadino, California, terrorist—captures many of the dilemmas of the fraught […]

Pictures of Syrian President Bashar Assad at a checkpoint to the Hamidiyeh market, Damascus, Syria, Feb. 21, 2016 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

With Russian-backed Syrian forces close to encircling Aleppo, thereby cutting off supply lines for the rebels holding the key city, the Syrian civil war seems to have entered a new phase. Russia’s intervention has clearly reversed the course of the conflict, dimming prospects for meaningful compromise by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s newly ascendant regime in peace talks to end the fighting. Instead, the pro-regime coalition seems to have decided to win the war in western Syria on the ground, with the recently agreed cease-fire simply diplomatic cover for a slow consolidation of territorial control. Since Russia’s intervention last fall, critics […]

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses U.S. troops at the Incirlik Air Base, Adana, Turkey, Dec. 15, 2015 (AP photo).

In the aftermath of the Cold War, two operations became seminal events for America’s armed forces: Operation Desert Storm and the peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia. The military’s leaders saw the war with Iraq as the model for their future, so they institutionalized it in what they called the “revolution in military affairs.” But, in fact, Yugoslavia was the true preview of 21st-century conflict. Now Syria has become Yugoslavia on steroids, the bloody paragon of this century’s wars. As in Yugoslavia, ethnic, sectarian, religious and regional hostility that the national government had long suppressed and kept in check were […]

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro before a bilateral meeting, United Nations headquarters, New York, Sept. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama will visit Cuba next month, the first trip there by an American president since 1928. Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and members of civil society, including dissidents who have criticized Cuba’s human rights record. U.S.-Cuba relations began to thaw in December 2014, when Obama and Castro announced the launch of a normalization process that would break decades of hostility. Last April, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism List, and in July, the Cuban flag was raised over the embassy in Washington […]

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines, Mexico City, Mexico, Jan. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Marco Ugarter).

Six months after suffering one of the greatest embarrassments of his term, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto breathed a sigh of relief early last month. “Mission accomplished: we have him,” he announced on Twitter: Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man, had been recaptured by Mexican marines in the state of Sinaloa. But the implications of El Chapo’s escape and arrest do not just end at the border. The episode has reinvigorated security cooperation between the United States and Mexico, while shining a light on the partnership’s economic benefits, as well. El Chapo’s brazen July 2015 escape […]

Presidential candidates before the CBS News Republican presidential debate, Feb. 13, 2016, Greenville, S.C. (AP photo by John Bazemore).

An iconic cover illustration of the New Yorker magazine once purported to show the stereotypical Manhattan resident’s view of the world: Looking west from 9th Avenue, half the page consists of a relatively detailed rendering of the city’s buildings and streets leading up to the Hudson River. Beyond that, a small patch of land, featureless but for several cartoonish mountains and place names, passes for America. Faintly visible in the distance beyond the Pacific Ocean are landmasses helpfully labeled as China, Japan and Russia. If one were to draw a similar cartoon illustration to represent how this year’s U.S. presidential […]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other officials at the International Syria Support Group meeting, Munich, Germany, Feb. 11, 2016 (AP photo by Michael Dalder).

The Syrian catastrophe has not reached bottom but continues to spiral into an ever-greater disaster. Every week brings new horrors and deeper damage to Syria itself and its entire region. This week a United Nations report on the conflict abandoned any attempt at diplomatic phrasing and accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “inhuman actions” and “extermination.” As former U.S. officials Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey wrote, “The cancer of this war has metastasized into neighboring countries and the heart of Europe. It could destabilize the Middle East for a generation.” Only extremists gain from that. But tragically, […]

Protesters hold posters of Edward Snowden in front of the German parliament, Berlin, Germany, Nov. 18, 2013 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

This week on the Trend Lines podcast, WPR Editor-in-Chief Judah Grunstein talks to host Peter Dörrie about the future of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers, President Barack Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation legacy, what declining oil prices mean for Equatorial Guinea’s stability, and other stories from around the world. For the Report, Abraham Newman joins us to explain the politics that led to the nullification of the Safe Harbor agreement between the United States and the European Union and how a new regime to protect digital privacy could be structured. Listen: Download: MP3Subscribe: iTunes | RSS Relevant articles on WPR: What Does […]

Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald R. Ford, christens the Navy's newest nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, Newport News, Va., Nov. 9, 2013 (AP photo by Steve Helber).

To advocates, they are 90,000 tons of American sovereignty, deployable anywhere on the globe to project power decisively and at will. In crises, presidents ask, Where are the aircraft carriers? But to critics, they are hugely expensive and increasingly vulnerable monuments to a naval age gone by. They represent the past, not the future, of naval power. Recently, this debate flared up again in the United States as prospective adversaries, like Russia and China, build long-range weapons and create anti-access and area-denial environments. Does the U.S. need aircraft carriers, and, if so, how many? The answer, not surprisingly, is complicated. […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a 23-nation conference on fighting the Islamic State in Libya, Rome, Italy, Feb. 2, 2016 (AP photo by Andrew Medichini).

It appears increasingly likely that U.S. military involvement against the self-declared Islamic State’s growing foothold in Libya is a matter not of “if,” but of “when.” Over the past several months, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has taken advantage of the ongoing civil war in Libya and the lack of a central government to expand its operations there. The group now controls the city of Sirte and, according to recent U.S intelligence estimates, has more than 5,000 fighters in the country, some of whom have been sent from Iraq and Syria to provide guidance but also to keep […]

Judges preside over a case at the European Court of Justice, Luxembourg, Oct. 6, 2015 (AP Photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert).

Depending on whom you talk to and what month it is, the United States and the European Union are either on the brink of a digital trade war or reaching a historic e-commerce deal. EU-U.S. cooperation over the trans-Atlantic digital economy seemed to first fall apart in October 2015, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) struck down a critical data-sharing deal known as the Safe Harbor Agreement. In doing so, Europe’s highest court put major companies such as Facebook and IBM at risk of breaching EU privacy law by simply conducting their day-to-day business operations. National data-privacy authorities have […]

U.S. President Barack Obama after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize from Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland, Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s commitment to preventing and rolling back the spread of nuclear weapons was clear from the first days of his administration, when he pledged in Prague in April 2009 “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The historic vow shattered precedent, seized international attention and helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize later that year. Yet as he prepares to leave office seven years later, it appears that with the exception of a fledgling nuclear deal with Iran, Obama will leave an arms control legacy that is arguably little better than that […]

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the inaugural meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Beijing, Jan. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Editor’s note: This article is one of three briefings on China’s rise and its implications for U.S. regional and global interests, coinciding with an upcoming panel, in collaboration with WPR, at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs on Feb. 17-19 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The second, on China’s naval modernization, will appear Wednesday; the third, on China’s cyber strategy, will appear Friday. Over the course of the past decade, China has been steadily laying the foundation of an international financial and monetary system centered on the yuan. While progress was initially slow, it picked up considerable steam in the […]

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