One of the challenges that President Barack Obama faces in his second term is how to salvage his vaunted reset of relations with Russia. An important assumption in Obama’s attempt to jumpstart what had been a rapidly deteriorating bilateral relationship during the second terms of both George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin was that Obama would be dealing with a younger, more modern, liberalizing Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president. While there was no illusion that Putin, as prime minister, was still an influential figure in Russian politics, the reset was predicated on the hope that Medvedev would, over […]

The past two weeks have brought major political and strategic changes to the Middle East, particularly in Israel, which saw a military confrontation with Hamas-ruled Gaza as well as a feverish pace of political activity in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections. Developments in Israel on both the military and political front have implications for the prospects of a much-discussed war with Iran. The question is whether the changes on the ground make a war with Iran more or less likely. The war with Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza pitted Israel against groups linked and partly armed by the […]

When the Cold War began in the late-1940s, the U.S. military entered uncharted waters. Previously, the American tradition had been to mobilize the Army and Navy when war was unavoidable, defeat the enemy, demobilize and then come home. That was clearly inadequate for a dangerous new world where the Soviet Union and its allies threatened fragile U.S. allies with direct attack, subversion or insurgency. The new circumstances called for a new strategy built on sustained global engagement and forward presence. This, in turn, required a different security architecture. In Washington, the newly created National Security Council integrated interagency efforts, and […]

Although Russia and China are the only countries that have the capability to conduct a large-scale ballistic missile attack on the U.S. homeland, neither one is the focus of U.S. ballistic missile defense efforts, due to the unlikelihood of such an attack. Nevertheless, both Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly expressed their concerns that U.S. missile defenses will negatively impact their own strategic capabilities and interests. While China shares some of Russia’s concerns and responses regarding U.S. missile defenses, Beijing’s objections also differ in certain respects. Both countries fear that U.S. BMD systems threaten to weaken their nuclear deterrents and undermine […]

In 2006, after Israeli forces performed poorly in combat against Hezbollah’s hybrid asymmetric-conventional tactics, some observers wondered whether Israel had lost its deterrent power against its enemy in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s subsequent tacit apology to the Lebanese people for the destructiveness of the month-long conflict should have offered a clue that such a conclusion was erroneous. “Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it,” he said in a television interview following the fighting. The initial proof of Israel’s renewed deterrent came two years later, […]

All roads in the conflict between Iran and the United States may not lead to war, but the one both sides are currently on certainly does. The two are at loggerheads, their relationship ossified into a zero-sum strategy that leaves almost no room to maneuver. Since Israel’s security, as the Israelis define it, shapes U.S. strategy toward Iran as much as America’s direct security does, there are rigid limits on what Washington can do or even propose. It is hard enough to reconcile the vital interests of two nations, much less three. Compounding the problem, the United States does not […]

The most alarming development cited in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest quarterly report (.pdf) on Iran’s nuclear program is that Tehran is preparing to double the number of high-intensity centrifuges in operation at its Fordow fuel enrichment plant from the current 700 to 1,400. The situation at Fordow, which has been the focus of the past year’s international nuclear talks with Iran, has created a two-fold nuclear breakout problem. First, having learned how to increase the concentration of enriched uranium to 20 percent, Iran’s nuclear workers can more easily manufacture weapons-grade uranium, which involves further enriching the uranium to […]

Last week saw the largest general strikes to date against austerity policies in Southern Europe. In Portugal, Spain and Greece, but also in Belgium, public services were shut down for a whole day, with hospitals and airports closed, and street traffic almost nonexistent. Public mobilization was most impressive in Athens, Barcelona and Madrid, but a few cities in France also saw public demonstrations, especially of young people, against both cuts in social welfare and retirement benefits and tax increases. Without a doubt, the past three years of crisis and economic retraction has produced awful social distortions in Southern Europe, and […]

In the euphoric glow that inevitably descends after a hard-won electoral victory, it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of possibilities. Indeed, the mood of some supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama following his re-election was that happy days are, if not here again, then at least near again: The economy is recovering, and all of the wishes put on hold during the first term, especially once the election campaign was in full swing, could now be put back on track. As a result, Obama now faces a double dose of temptation. The first is natural […]

Over the past 20 months, the world has watched the conflict in Syria with concern, even horror, but without taking meaningful action to intervene in the continuing carnage. Now, however, as the Syrian civil war draws exchanges of fire across the borders with Israel, Turkey and other neighboring countries, the conflict is approaching a crucial line. This tipping point, once reached, is likely to spur a much more urgent and determined international effort to push the crisis toward a resolution that brings an end to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Western nations have condemned the bloodshed, provided humanitarian […]

Beginning in the 1970s, the United States dramatically improved what was already the top military in the world. Today the U.S. military remains among the best in history, perhaps the very best. But sustaining this quality is becoming increasingly difficult. Big problems are looming due to a wicked combination of economic and demographic trends. The most obvious and pressing problem is the military’s mounting personnel costs. The Pentagon’s personnel tab, which includes not only pay, but also health care and retirement benefits, has doubled over the past decade and now consumes about a third of the base defense budget. There […]

The main reason behind Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision last week to remove Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has become clearer in recent days with the subsequent firing of Chief of Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov and other senior defense officials and military officers in Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Taken together, the dismissals suggest that the shakeup was not due primarily to sex scandals, corrupt practices or alienation of the officer corps, as has been claimed by various observers. Rather, the purge was the result of a power struggle over who should control the distribution of the $700 billion that Putin pledged […]

If the U.S. presidential election had only been about the economy, Barack Obama would not have been re-elected. The U.S. federal government runs a $16 trillion deficit, a historical peak of sovereign debt whose only precedent dates back to World War II. And with 23 million Americans unemployed, the unemployment rate has not decreased dramatically since the outbreak of the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, with regard to the policy issues raised by the crisis itself, there has been little follow through on the numerous decisions taken by the G-20 to better contain and control financial markets. To the contrary, financial […]

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Over the next several weeks, the parameters of President Barack Obama’s second-term national security and foreign policy team will begin to take shape. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are expected to tender their resignations and retire from the administration. The new occupants of these posts, in turn, will change the composition of both departments through their appointments to senior policy positions. There has also been talk about a shake-up in the White House staff, as the president gears up to meet the challenges that were deferred or ignored due to the exigencies of […]

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In the aftermath of the U.S. elections, a central question regarding the West’s standoff with Iran remains crucial: How serious are U.S. and Israeli leaders who assert their determination to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? The looming question, hovering for years over the diplomatic impasse, is whether the U.S. and Israel have been bluffing when they suggest they might attack Iran if it does not desist from its nuclear ambitions. Is the mantra “all options are on the table” coming from Washington an effort to exert psychological pressure on the Iranian regime, or is it a statement of […]

Last week, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, announced that the Army, in conjunction with the Marine Corps and the U.S. Special Operations Command, was creating something called the Office of Strategic Landpower. As word spread through the defense media, including blogs and social media, much of the initial reaction treated the development as simple Defense Department politics and interservice wrangling. The land forces, according to this line of thought, were attempting to rebut ideas about future conflict promoted by the Air Force and Navy. Since those services had already created an AirSea Battle Office, the land […]

Though it will be at least another 12 hours before we know whether President Barack Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be in the White House come January 2013, we do already know the most important challenge the next U.S presidential administration will face: how to deal with China. Yet, the general bipartisan consensus on the appropriate U.S policy toward China makes major changes unlikely regardless of the election outcome. Democrats and Republicans typically agree on the goal of achieving a peaceful China in a prosperous Asian region that reflects U.S-supported values of human rights. They also generally reject […]

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