Rarely a week passes without a grim new article, op-ed or newspaper story warning us that al-Qaida is mounting a comeback. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Jack Keane, for instance, recently declared that al-Qaida is “seeking to take advantage of the opportunities posed by revolutionary change throughout the Middle East” and is “on the rise.” Writing for the Wall Street Journal, the RAND Corporation’s Seth Jones argued that, with the Obama administration turning its attention to the Asia-Pacific region, al-Qaida is pushing into the political vacuum created by the Arab Spring and “riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in […]

This past week’s 44th annual U.S.-South Korea Security Consultative meeting chaired by South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta provides an opportunity to benchmark the health of the alliance at a moment when at least one of the presidential administrations, that of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, is certain to leave office soon. At their meeting, the two countries’ defense establishments agreed to continue transitioning wartime operational command responsibilities to the South Korean military, retain 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, expand U.S.-South Korea cooperation in new areas such as outer space and the cyber […]

Editor’s note: Ulrike Guérot’s the Continentalist column will return next Monday. With the U.S. presidential campaign entering the home stretch, it is already evident that foreign policy will not play a major role in the election outcome. As the third and final presidential debate highlighted, the foreign policy discussion has ignored wide swathes of critical issues, including how to respond to China’s rise and the resulting shifts in Asia’s regional balance of power; how to re-establish America’s relevance in an increasingly self-reliant Latin America; how to penetrate Africa’s promising but increasingly competitive economic landscape; and how to balance America’s lingering […]

On Monday, during the final presidential debate, President Barack Obama proclaimed that his defense budgets were “driven by strategy. [They’re] not driven by politics.” In theory, Obama is correct. Defense budgeting is supposed to be a rational exercise that assesses threats and needs, and then fills in the gaps. As Sean Sullivan, a leading expert on defense resource allocation issues at the Naval War College, told me in a conversation on the subject, “Defense planning processes are specifically designed to use strategy as guidance for force programming and budget decisions, thereby linking the ends with the means.” In practice, however, […]

When Mitt Romney vowed during the last presidential debate that, if elected president, he would push for an indictment by the International Criminal Court of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, some of the most powerful people in Tehran surely flashed a smile. Romney argued that Ahmadinejad’s long history of provocative statements regarding Israel and the Jews “amount to genocide incitation,” an indictable offense under international conventions. Of course, the Republican presidential nominee was really trying to convince American voters that he would be tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama. The tactic of targeting Ahmadinejad, however, would only please much of […]

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently released a list of several hundred retired generals and admirals who have joined the “Romney for President Military Advisory Council.” There is nothing unusual about such a list. Many presidential candidates roll out endorsements from high-profile former officers to demonstrate that as commander-in-chief, they would have the support of the military’s senior leaders. What did raise some eyebrows was the inclusion on Romney’s list of retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks. Writing for Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein said, “If you’re a presidential candidate looking to establish your national security cred with a war-weary American public, […]

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As a general rule, foreign policy issues do not significantly impact U.S. presidential elections. And if public opinion polls are any indication, this year is no exception, with surveys consistently showing little interest among American voters for foreign policy. Nonetheless, there are several reasons why yesterday’s foreign policy debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney could matter more, perhaps a lot more, than is traditionally the case. In what is a very close race, the previous two debates appeared to have had an impact on voters’ intentions. Indeed, the first debate proved decisive in allowing Romney to […]

Yesterday’s regional elections in Spain’s Basque region have demonstrated again the strength of blood ties and the resurgence of localism in a time of globalization. People are increasingly seeking protection close to home, an urge that seems light years away from the European Union’s postmodern supranational ambitions. The good news is that, these days, the push for local autonomy comes without violence. But if the Basque country has moved beyond the separatist terrorism of the ETA, the strong showing by the pro-independence party Bildu means that assertive regionalism now means taking over real political responsibility. It is no longer a […]

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In George Lucas’ dystopian 1971 film, “THX-1138,” the protagonist is pursued by police after attempting to escape from a futuristic totalitarian city-state. However, the city has only budgeted a certain amount to cover the costs of the pursuit. In the penultimate scene, as the officers are about to recapture the renegade, the comptroller’s office informs them that because of cost overruns, the chase is to be terminated. “Economics make it necessary to terminate any operation which exceeds five percent of its primary budget,” the officers are told. With the specter of sequestration — which on Jan. 1, 2013, is set […]

Benjamin Netanyahu will soon face Israeli voters again. And in a curious coincidence, the Israeli prime minister, who took office just a few weeks after Barack Obama did in the U.S., will see his fate decided at the polls Jan. 22, 2013, exactly two days after the U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, where Obama may or may not be taking the oath of office again. In contrast with the American election, however, the race in Israel does not look close. The pundits agree that Netanyahu will handily beat his rivals, with his Likud party winning the most seats and his […]

With the endgame near for large-scale U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Americans have already begun to debate the broader implications of the conflict. Many have painted it as a failure, even a strategic fiasco. But it is not. Given the dynamics of the conflict and its wider strategic context, Afghanistan should be considered a win, albeit one that came at a much greater cost than was necessary. In the emotional turmoil following the Sept. 11 attacks, there was little consideration of the ultimate strategic goals of a U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. The focus was instead on destroying al-Qaida and […]

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Uzbekistan meeting with government officials, think tank researchers, university faculty and other members of the country’s national security community. We shared frank assessments on Uzbekistan’s relations with Russia, China, Afghanistan and other neighboring countries, as well as with the United States. Judging by the size of its population and the strength of its military, Uzbekistan is potentially the most powerful of the five Central Asian countries. In addition, its pivotal location bordering all the other Central Asian countries as well as Afghanistan give Uzbekistan great geopolitical and economic importance […]

In a decision that came as a surprise to most, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week. The announcement quickly shifted attention from a development that had dominated the European news just days before: the failed merger between defense giants EADS and BAE, which could also be considered the death knell of strategic Europe. In light of this missed opportunity for Europe to rise to a global defense role, some observers had only cynical remarks for the prestigious peace award. The failed EADS-BAE merger marks the second unsuccessful effort since 1997 to move the European defense […]

During a visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to Moscow earlier this week, the two sides announced that Iraq has signed contracts to purchase up to $4.2 billion worth of Russian weaponry. The news was quickly followed by a diplomatic contretemps between Russia and Turkey, when a Syrian Airlines plane that had departed Moscow for Damascus was forced to land in Ankara. The Turkish government subsequently announced that the ostensibly civilian flight had been carrying military equipment. Combined with the news that a visit by President Vladimir Putin to Turkey scheduled for this coming Monday had been postponed, it […]

On Friday morning, one name will make headlines and become etched in the history books for all time. That much is certain. What we don’t know is whose name the Nobel Prize Committee will announce when it unveils its choice for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, arguably the world’s most prestigious honor. The five-member panel’s final decision will receive much attention, but the fact is that the ultimate selection is much less interesting and significant than the wide spectrum of nominations from which it is chosen. After all, the committee, chosen by the Norwegian parliament, is a collection of Norwegian […]

Recently, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey released a document entitled, “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020,” (.pdf) known by its milspeak acronym CCJO. At first glance, this might not seem noteworthy. After all, the U.S. military churns out concepts and doctrine on a regular basis, most of which only interest the military itself, the defense industry and perhaps security geeks. But the new CCJO is different. American security strategy and the U.S. military are undergoing a major transition, and this document provides an important window into what the armed forces expect to do […]

The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report yesterday titled, “Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition.” Although the report focuses on the political problems that Afghanistan faces, the country’s security, economic and diplomatic challenges are perhaps even more serious. According to the ICG, “Afghanistan is hurtling toward a devastating political crisis as the government prepares to take full control of security in 2014.” The group’s senior Afghanistan analyst, Candace Rondeaux, details how the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) are “overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition,” even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai “seems more interested in perpetuating his […]

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