Following World War II, the United States reluctantly became a global superpower. By the end of the Cold War, Americans had so taken to the exercise of power that they found it unthinkable to be anything but a superpower. Preserving that status shifted from a necessary evil to an explicit objective. But now what was once unthinkable is back on the table. For the first time in decades, many Americans are questioning whether the United States wants to or even can remain a global superpower. In some ways, the United States has always been ill-equipped to orchestrate the international security […]

In addition to imposing more Western sanctions on Russia and rotating more U.S. troops into Europe, the U.S. and its NATO allies are considering increasing U.S. ballistic missile defenses (BMD) based in NATO’s European member states as part of their response to Russian actions in Ukraine. Moscow clearly hates these U.S. systems, and placing them near Russia is sure to capture Moscow’s attention. A few weeks ago, a pair of Russian warplanes “buzzed” a U.S. missile defense ship that was on patrol in the Black Sea. That said, the U.S. missile defense response needs to be nuanced to yield net […]

President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia this past week seemed to push the “legacy” cliche button in the minds of editors everywhere. I’ve lost track of how many times I was asked about it, and, embarrassingly, the question took me by surprise the first several times. We’re still six months from the midterms, after all. For right now, at least, a more interesting question to ask might be: In national security and foreign policy, how has Obama set the stage so that he and his team can construct a legacy over the next two years? Presidential administrations always deny that […]

If a national security policy is to be worth more than the paper it is printed on, it needs to serve as a guide to making tough policy choices by outlining priorities and indicating where trade-offs may have to be made. But controversies around two long-standing U.S. strategic objectives show how poorly strategy is guiding current policy. These objectives are to develop a new and deeper partnership between the United States and India and to open up new sources of energy in the Western Hemisphere to decrease U.S. dependence on overseas sources. One secondary impact of these strategies would be […]

When a book about economics rises to the No. 1 spot on the bestseller list, it says as much about society as it does about the book. That’s why the explosive rise of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” by Thomas Piketty, is so revealing and why the book will become a self-reinforcing phenomenon likely to carve a deep mark in the political landscape. Piketty’s work, on its own, is an important and impressive accomplishment. But the fact that it has been welcomed so enthusiastically by such a wide spectrum of the population proves that it has hit a nerve. Because […]

For this week at least, Russia’s revived aggression is dominating the news in the United States. Once the furor subsides, the conflict with al-Qaida will likely regain most of the attention from the media and national security experts. But in the long term, these issues pale in importance to the challenge of China’s rising power, however much it may have faded into the background today. As China’s economy took off in recent decades, the nation undertook a vast military expansion and became increasingly confident and assertive, shifting from a sullen, insular nation to a global power. The United States responded […]

The standoff in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and the central government in Kiev is far from resolved. But whatever its outcome, NATO needs to take urgent measures to deter Russian military intervention in Moldova and reinforce its security guarantees to NATO members Bulgaria and Romania. These two countries are no less vulnerable to Russian pressure than the NATO members to their north, namely Poland and the Baltic states. In addition, Bulgaria and Romania’s strong support is needed to advance Western goals in the Balkans, the Caspian region and Central Asia. Ideally NATO would reassure Moscow that Moldova will not […]

Seven hundred pages of George Kennan’s diaries have just been published, and though I have not read them, David Greenberg’s review in the New Republic gives us dilettantes some of the highlights—and at times the lowlights—of the entries that cover the years from 1916 to 2004. Greenberg focuses on a fact that historians knew, but which the public by and large does not: Kennan was, by the standards of our age and, more importantly, by the standard of his own, a bigot. “As a 28-year-old Foreign Service officer,” writes Greenberg, “[Kennan] remains convinced that the world’s problems are ‘essentially biological.’” […]

The sheer magnitude of the elections taking place in India make them historic and worthy of international attention. But even if the contest had more familiar proportions it would still constitute a major event in world affairs. The choice of India’s next leader is sending nervous chills down some people’s spines. The next government in New Delhi will have the power to shake up the world’s largest democracy, the globe’s second-most-populous country and a nuclear-armed nation with a history of ethnic strife and a sense of unfulfilled economic potential. When election results are announced on May 16, they will most […]

Russia is on the hunt again, determined to engulf another part of Ukraine and possibly more. Moscow’s complex, multidimensional offensive uses intimidation, misinformation and any organization or group that can serve its interests. As Ukraine teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is tightening the economic screws by threatening to require advance payment for essential natural gas shipments. Pro-Russian separatists have launched demonstrations across eastern Ukraine, attempting to goad the government into an overreaction that could give Moscow an alibi for open invasion. Meanwhile, Russian and pro-Russian troops have seized government buildings and police stations, engaging in […]

With Russian forces still massed on the Ukrainian border and the world watching to see whether President Vladimir Putin will try to seize more Ukrainian territory, a key question is how effective Russia’s military machine has become after a half-decade of modernization efforts. The takeover of Crimea proceeded competently, with little bloodshed, but any attempt to occupy more territory in eastern Ukraine would likely be met with resistance. Russia would probably still win due to the weak state of the Ukrainian armed forces, but the true strength of the Russian military remains uncertain. Although Russia’s defense budget started rising in […]

Of all the choices America made, all the things that went wrong and all the suffering endured in the years after 9/11, Americans have been more united in wanting to close the book on torture than on anything else. Both in wanting it stopped—they disapproved of it by a 3-to-1 margin when it was disclosed in 2005 and nominated two presidential candidates in 2008 who wanted it banned—but also in wanting it forgotten. The Obama administration has done its best to oblige on both counts. On his second day in office, flanked by more than a dozen military leaders, President […]

Petro Symonenko, the Communist Party deputy who was attacked earlier this week as he addressed the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, raised some uncomfortable points that Western policymakers need to consider about their response to the crisis in Ukraine. Symonenko aroused the ire of deputies from the nationalist Svoboda party by noting that some of those protesting the government of now-deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, including Svoboda activists, had used what might be termed improper methods—including storming buildings and breaking into armories—that are now being utilized by those who in turn do not recognize the authority of the interim government. By driving Yanukovych […]

From the start of John Kerry’s push for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, nobody except the secretary of state held very high hopes for success. Kerry declared confidently he expected a comprehensive deal, a “final status agreement over the course of the next nine months.” Everyone else responded to his optimism with little more than a benign smile. Eight months later, what the parties have reached instead of an agreement is a deep impasse. The inevitable question arises: What’s next? The nine-month period concludes at the end of April, and negotiations have produced what seemed almost impossible: a […]

While Americans debate when and where the United States should use drones to strike at insurgents and terrorists who cannot be reached by other means, they may be overlooking an important trend: the move to supply a targeted killing capability to allied nations. This began when the Bush administration decided to provide technology and advice to help the government of Colombia kill the leaders of its narco-insurgency. Today, the U.S. military is also helping the armed forces of Yemen field systems for the targeted killing of anti-government extremists associated with al-Qaida. This is the beginning of a trend, as more […]

This weekend’s first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election saw the country’s political institutions perform much better than during the 2009 ballot, while the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) provided a relatively safe and secure electoral environment. The winners may not be clear and certified until May. It seems likely that no candidate received more than half the votes, meaning that a runoff between the two leading candidates will probably occur in June. But already the results offer hope for Afghanistan’s status as a functioning democracy in which multiple candidates compete for the highest offices in elections whose outcome cannot be […]

Having just spent several days in Israel and Palestine for the launch of Molad, a new Israeli think tank, I had hoped to devote this column to some of the takeaways of my trip. However, I was reminded this week that the first thing a stay in Israel and Palestine teaches, or ought to teach, is that a 1,000-word column is not the easiest format for nuanced exploration of whatever one has learned. So instead of a trip report, I’m going to turn a regional lens on another source of full employment for foreign policy pundits these days: the twin […]

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