On Jan. 26, the Pentagon released further information (.pdf) about how the new Defense Strategic Guidance will be reflected in the Defense Department’s future spending priorities. The changes, designed to meet the White House’s mandate to cut $37 billion from its previously planned Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 defense budget, generally conform with the new directions contained in the strategic guidance document, but they leave several key questions unanswered. The department’s topline request for FY 2013 is $525 billion, down from an original $531 billion. The rest of the savings comes in the form of reducing supplemental funding for overseas contingency […]

The American political discourse is rife with fear-threat reactions regarding rising China, embodied most saliently in the Obama administration’s strategic pivot to East Asia and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s repeated promise to hold “currency manipulator” China responsible for its economic sabotage of the U.S. economy. Eagerly cashing in on the hype, last week’s Economist greeted us with the most lurid of covers heralding — yet again! — “the rise of state capitalism.” We are immediately informed by the subtitle that this is “the emerging world’s new model.” Sad to say, this is the state of strategic thinking in the […]

America’s current standoff with Iran over the direction of Tehran’s nuclear program is only one symptom of a larger problem. Concerns over climate change and the rising costs of ever-scarcer hydrocarbons are leading more countries to turn to atomic energy as a long-term source of cheap and emissions-free energy. While some of these nuclear newcomers will trust that international markets will be able to guarantee access to nuclear fuel, others will want to control the entire fuel cycle on their own territory. That means we may soon be faced with a situation where many countries will aspire to the technological […]

JERUSALEM — When the U.S. and Israel announced last week that they had decided to either cancel or postpone the biggest joint military exercise in their history, the news kicked the wheels of the Mideast rumor and speculation machines into high gear. After all, the missile defense maneuvers codenamed Austere Challenge 12 had been touted as a major event, designed to send a clear message to several key audiences — including the Iranian government — that Israel and the U.S. would work together to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. What had started as a determined show of military force and […]

Who shall we bomb next? Pundits and commentators have begun to fall over themselves declaring the necessity of launching military campaigns against Syria and Iran — the former to prevent a humanitarian disaster and the latter to forestall the development of a nuclear weapon. The catalyst for this enthusiasm is the success of NATO’s aerial campaign in Libya, a war that apparently vindicated the long-standing promise of advanced, precision-guided airpower to cheaply and easily solve inconvenient political problems. Unfortunately, the rediscovered enthusiasm for intervention demonstrates only that the foreign policy punditocracy is committed to serially mislearning the lessons of airpower […]

On Jan. 15, in polling that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) characterized as not meeting the “fundamental principles of democratic elections,” the ruling Nur Otan party of Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbaev won just more than 80 percent of votes cast and 83 out of 108 seats in Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament, the Majilis. The OSCE, which had the largest and longest election observation mission in the country, cited the exclusion of opposition parties as well as numerous problems with counting and other violations at some of the polling places they monitored in concluding that the […]

Human life expectancy at birth, which remained stunningly fixed for thousands of years before suddenly doubling over the course of the 20th century, now seems destined to experience a similarly bold leap across the 21st century. When it does, it will shift human thinking about population control from its present focus on the outset of life to the increasingly delayed final curtain. The problem is that the technological advances that will make extending life expectancy possible are likely to come far faster than our political systems — including the democracies — can handle. The potential outcome recalls the plot of […]

With the possibility of a clash between the United States and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program looming on the horizon, one cannot help but wonder: Is it worth it for Iran, now grappling with increasingly onerous sanctions, to continue its pursuit of a nuclear capacity, albeit an ambiguous one? By all indications, Iran’s leaders believe so, based on their read of recent history. Since the end of the Cold War, according to this narrative, regimes that the U.S. dislikes for their internal behavior or external activity — and Iran certainly qualifies on both scores — run the risk of being […]

If you look closely at the grainy pictures of anti-government protests in Syria, an intriguing symbol emerges: Protesters calling for the end to the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad are waving two different versions of the Syrian flag. It may seem like a small detail, but it points to deep divisions among anti-Assad forces — divisions that are keeping Syrians from coordinating their efforts, sending mixed signals to the international community and creating concerns about how well the fractured opposition’s leadership would be able to function if it toppled Assad and suddenly found itself having to build a new government. […]

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Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama released a new strategic document intended to provide guidance for cuts in the growth rate of the defense budget (.pdf). Though the planned leveling off of the defense budget had already been announced in principle, the strategic priorities laid out in the document make it official: There’s going to be a knife fight at the Pentagon. Unfortunately, the American public won’t be watching. As I’ve argued before in this space, the process of cutting the defense budget is inherently messy. Defense policy is best understood as the outcome of a massive scrum between different […]

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s four-country Latin American tour last week was noticeable for its lack of achievements. The trip again underscored the gap between Tehran’s global ambitions and its constrained capabilities. Iran has yet to establish the means to challenge core U.S. economic, security and other interests in Latin America, and there is little likelihood of that changing in the future. In recent years, Iran has sought to expand its economic ties as well as diplomatic partnerships and influence in Latin America. Thus far, however, Iran has only managed to develop close ties with a few regional governments that share […]

Globalization’s historical expansion from Europe to North America to Asia has featured a familiar dynamic: The last region “in” becomes the integrator of note for the next region “up.” Europe was the primary investor, customer and integrator for the U.S. economy in its rise during the 19th and 20th centuries, and America subsequently “paid it forward” with East Asia in the decades following World War II. Recently, it has been Asia’s turn, primarily through China, to pay it forward once again with Africa, arguably the hottest integration zone in the global economy today. Nonetheless, in Washington — and especially inside […]

The release of President Barack Obama’s strategic guidance to the Department of Defense on Jan. 5 has already unleashed a storm of commentary. The final document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” was prepared after months of consultations with the national security team and senior military leaders, and is a first attempt to begin prioritizing both defense missions as well as geographic regions that are most vital to U.S. interests. The guidance puts a premium on what might be termed “expeditionary firepower” — naval and air assets capable of projecting power over a wide area — and […]

The Sept. 11 attacks made a household name out of al-Qaida, an organization whose existence had earlier concerned only intelligence professionals and a handful of journalists. As 2012 begins, al-Qaida has suffered a series of harsh blows, leading some to conclude that the once-predominant purveyor of terrorism and extremist ideology in much of the world has become a spent force, one without much of a future. To be sure, 2011 was a devastating year for the organization. But al-Qaida is not about to fade quietly into the sunset. Like a virus that mutates to survive its host’s most potent defenses, […]

Last week, in the Gulf of Oman, the Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer USS Kidd seized an Iranian fishing dhow that had been hijacked and used as a mother ship by Somali pirates. In the course of the seizure, 13 Iranian hostages were freed, and 15 Somali pirates were taken into U.S. custody. The Iranian crew has now returned home after more than a month in captivity. In and of itself, the rescue was not extraordinary. Other vessels participating in the U.S.-led multilateral naval task force fighting Somalian piracy in the region — known as CTF-151 — carry out such rescues […]

Both the Obama administration and its opponents have exaggerated the significance of the Pentagon’s new Defense Strategic Guidance (.pdf) that was issued last week. The administration wants to take pride in its new creation and demonstrate to potential congressional budget-cutters that the Defense Department has already made all the financial sacrifices that the Pentagon can prudently afford. Meanwhile, the administration’s domestic opponents attack it from both the left, which calls for more radical cuts, and the right, which accuses the administration of deliberately trying to reduce U.S. military power in order to discourage future U.S. military operations. The truth is […]

Faced with irreversible long-term fiscal pressures to reduce the U.S. defense budget, late last week the Obama administration began unveiling its supremely focused rationale behind future cuts. The result is an elegantly slim strategic statement (.pdf) that indirectly names its deepest fear in its title: “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” According to the document, over the past decade the U.S. military force structure has been “by necessity” dangerously skewed by “today’s wars.” Now America must start “preparing for future challenges” arising from a frightening and apparently imminent “inflection point” in East Asia’s military balance of power. […]

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