Scattergun: Stephen Walt blasts away at US foreign policy


Stephen Walt stepped up to the podium yesterday before a capacity crowd at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies and proceeded to deliver a highly engaging, entertaining and detailed critique of US foreign policy. But Professor Walt is a hard man to please, it turns out.

[Read more…]


The threat from inside the Beltway


The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing last week on global threats to US security following the release of the intelligence community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment last month. If the Senators’ questioning of DNI James Clapper and DIA chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn during the hearing is any indication, Congress is most concerned with one threat in particular: themselves.

[Read more…]

Drone warfare


When Senator Rand Paul took to the Senate floor last month to express his concerns over the Obama administration’s drone policies in an unusually long and widely-discussed 13 hour filibustering speech, the somewhat paranoid senator from Kentucky succeeded in drawing attention to an important strategic issue, even if his worries about government assassinations inside the US are unlikely to occur. Unless, of course, the Drunk Predator Drone goes haywire. Today, the US Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the legality of targeted killings and the use of drones. [Read more…]

“You Can’t Surge Trust”


While the sequester gets the headlines, a series of more serious issue threatens the Department of Defense and the nation: Congressional inaction on its budgetary responsibilities and what Professor Colin Dueck termed “strategic denial” during Congressional testimony Tuesday. [Read more…]

Political Dysfunction


As the clock ticks down toward Friday’s implementation of the billions of dollars of forced spending cuts known as sequestration, Washington continues to showcase the nation’s dysfunctional political system.  I’m now in Washington with a front row seat to the turmoil. [Read more…]

The Mr. America Pageant

In the midst of this presidential debate season, I’ve been wondering why it’s so important that a candidate be seen to have “won” a debate. The idea seems ill suited to the fundamental task at hand, which (in a perfect world, I know) ought to be the evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for the highest office in the land. So why the political pugilism? It’s not as if the art of debating is an important skill for a president – we have yet to see President Obama face off against Ahmadinejad in prime time. [Read more…]

Arab Unrest and Presidential Politics

The shocking attack on a US consulate in Libya should provide an opportunity to reflect upon US policy challenges and options in the region, but has been partially overshadowed by election politics. Mitt Romney seemed to instinctively choose partisanship over national interest. Events in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen reveal how truly fragile the region’s political stability can be. [Read more…]

Baseball and Politics

It’s likely that most of the members of Congress grew up with baseball, and have the same kinds of childhood memories of the game as I do. Perhaps its time they started playing politics in the same way.

[Read more…]

Extreme Political Ideologies


This is a time of starkly differing ideologies clashing in the 2012 U. S. political arena. The U. S. state of Wisconsin is a focused microcosm of this national picture.  [Read more…]

Boxing i NATO

Da Statsminister Jens Stoltenberg nylig traff President Obama i Det hvite hus, lovpriste Obama Norges innsats i Libya ved å si at landet “punches above its weight”. Det var hyggelig….eller?

[Read more…]

On this day…Reagan’s SDI speech

On this day in 1983, President Reagan delivered the famous «Star Wars» speech, where he spoke of the same ambition that President Barack Obama outlined in Prague in 2009: the abolition of nuclear weapons. See the video!

[Read more…]

JSF: Ready, shoot, aim

The most recent evaluation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program reminds me of the way my first grader does her homework. Quickly…followed by lots of erasing. [Read more…]

Do speeches even matter?

In a Washington Post column this week, former speechwriter Michael Gerson bemoans Rick Santorum’s attacks on prepared speeches and the President’s use of a teleprompter. But do speeches have the political power ascribed to them?

[Read more…]

They’re watching: Data Mining and Politics

The marriage of technology and politics  has evolved dramatically. With modern statistical analysis techniques, electronic data sources and the explosion of social media, it’s pretty spooky what they already know about you.

[Read more…]

The Pentagon Cautiously Reduces Spending

After President Obama’s historic trip to the Pentagon earlier this month to announce the release of the  Defense Department’s  Strategic Guidance, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta yesterday presented its companion document: Defense Budget Priorities and Choices, outlining in general terms where savings will be found.

From all the fuss, one might get the impression that the defense budget is actually getting reduced, but in fact the 2011 Budget Control Act requires DoD to cut $487 billion over ten years. As the DoD document notes, this simply entails very slow growth. Even with these proposals, the defense budget requests will still increase from $525 billion next year to $567 billion by fiscal year 2017. Here are some highlights from the budget plan: [Read more…]

Global Zero: Missile defense for all?


After President Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague and a number of highly respected former diplomats publically supported the idea, the global nuclear disarmament movement has new momentum. The military value of nuclear weapons is questionable at best, the chances of catastrophic “accidents” or miscalculation are high, the potential transfer to terrorist groups is real, and the maintenance and operational costs are substantial. Many look to the US and Russia, as the owners of the vast majority of these weapons, to lead the way with deep reductions. But lingering mistrust and a renewed Russian emphasis on nuclear forces as a substitute for its much-reduced conventional forces makes this a tough nut to crack.

One current diplomatic headache, ballistic missile defense, may in fact be a potential solution. Maybe Ronald Reagan was right when he suggested that strategic defenses could make ballistic missiles obsolete. Perhaps instead of vague promises of missile defense ‘cooperation’, the US should actually sell Russia (and eventually China) as much missile defense capability as possible, while working together to improve its effectiveness. Could missile defense be the key to achieving Global Zero? [Read more…]

A Cost Saving Strategy for the Pentagon

The latest strategy document released by the Obama administration late last week, Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, held few surprises. Its importance lies in the fact that it admited the obvious: no small feat for an administration in an election year. Flanked by a cadre of military leaders (in order to stress the strategic rather than political nature of the document, no doubt), President Obama announced that the US could no longer be everywhere at all times.

The document describes a leaner US military – a shifting focus towards the Asia-Pacific, reductions to US ground forces, scaling back overseas commitments, greater reliance on allies and possible cuts to the nuclear arsenal. The overall trends and analysis of the global security situation remain consistent with the transitional and ‘rebalancing’ tone of the 2010 National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Review – the budget situation has simply pushed forward the timing of these changes. Here are the highlights.

[Read more…]

Tribal Politics and Supporting Clueless Candidates

The easiest reaction would be to dismiss them out of hand, of course, these Republican presidential candidates who obviously have little appetite for the details of policy making, either domestic or foreign. And that’s putting it diplomatically (not that any of these candidates would like to spend a dime on diplomacy). The string of ignorant candidates stretches from the long flirtation with Sarah Palin to the recent anti-Romney trinity of Bachmann, Perry and Cain.

The next reaction would be to take offense. There is a breathtaking arrogance to those who seek the presidency of the United States without having taken the time to become well-versed in the challenges facing the country, and formulating their own policy preferences for the voters to consider. Do these people feel that they have the right to just “figure it out as they go”, when the nation’s future seems so precarious? The most recent Cain video discussing Libya is much much worse than Perry’s oops moment – it’s blindingly obvious he has no idea what transpired in Libya. Are we to trust the lives of our military servicemen and women to the decision making skills of this guy? Even if the candidate’s own idea of a job interview is fumbling inside a parked car, wouldn’t you still want to hire someone competent? Don’t they care about the country?

But the funny thing is, such candidates have received overwhelming support in opinion polls and (more impressive) garnered millions of dollars in campaign fundraising. Not only do people not mind the lack of policy detail, large swaths of voters in fact actively support such candidates. I suspect Norwegians feel they have seen this movie before, scratching their heads in confusion over a decade ago as the egghead policy wonk Gore lost to the plainspoken Texas cowboy Bush in a Florida election that was not America’s finest display of the democratic process.

But how can this be, you might ask. Why do voters support and vigorously defend candidates who appear clueless about policy? Here’s one possible recipe, and it’s tearing America apart. [Read more…]

Budget cuts and the US nuclear deterrent

An intense debate is underway over the future size and shape of the US military now that budgetary pressures in the United States have made cuts to the Defense Department budget unavoidable. To avoid mandatory across-the-board cuts, the Pentagon is trying to find savings wherever it can – within reason. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has repeatedly spoken out strongly against deep cuts to Defense that might «hollow out the force».

As former Secretary Gates and former JCS Chairman Michael Mullen had warned last year, cuts in military expenditures should be based on strategic calculations rather than purely financial «bottom line» analysis. One excellent and dramatic example of this is now unfolding in the form of a debate over the size and composition of the US nuclear weapons arsenal and the administration’s current strategic review. [Read more…]

Russia, NATO and Missile Defense

As plans for missile defenses in Europe proceed apace, Russia continues to voice its opposition. Last week, the United States signed an agreement with the government of Romania for the placement of missile defense interceptors there by 2015. Days later it was announced that the Turkish government has agreed to host a powerful x-band radar for the NATO-coordinated missile defense system.

In a brief online paper published this week in the IFS Insights series, I outline the plans for European missile defense and the prospects for NATO-Russian cooperation. The takeaway point:

Secretary General Rasmussen and the Obama administration are correct in arguing that if the NATO alliance and Russia could come to some agreement on missile defense, it would be a “game changer” that could usher in a new era of cooperation between East and West. But a huge chasm of lingering mistrust prevents significant partnership on this most challenging project.

Some observers have expressed concerns that NATO appears to be positioning missile defense cooperation as the bridge to future cooperative efforts. It may be a bridge too far.

Read the whole thing here.

Building Death Star Technologies

Has the US military been building systems equivalent to the huge planet-like Death Star weapon from the Star Wars films – overly complex, costly and having fatal vulnerabilities?  There is little doubt that weapons systems have over the past several decades become increasingly reliant on advanced technologies, making them both extremely capable but also extremely expensive. As a result, defense departments both in the US and Norway purchase fewer units of technologically complex systems. In a humorous and very well written piece, an Air Force acquisitions officer wonders whether the military ought to be building «Death Stars» at all.

[Read more…]

Friday Strategy Blogging: The Mr Y report

The United States has been too preoccupied with threats rather than opportunities, overinvesting in military capabilities and under-investing in domestic sources of national strength such as education, and lacking a basic understanding of the complex and interconnected nature of the global system. The US must “move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement”. Welcome to Friday Strategy Blogging!

[Read more…]

After the celebration

As the celebratory atmosphere of Bin Ladens death finally begins to wear off, Americans will be waking up to a set of tough questions about the war on terror, US strategy in Asia and the growing urgency in Washington’s fiscal policy debate. It promises to be a turbulent spring, and the congratulatory tone will most likely be quickly forgotten. [Read more…]

Bin Laden

For snart ti år siden befant jeg meg i USA og opplevde den nasjonale sorgen i etterkant av 11. september. Folk gikk rundt i sorg og vantro, noen gråt, men de fleste var bare stille. Det virket som om hele landet sto stille. Etter en tid gikk sorgen for mange over til langvarig raseri.

Dette raseriet er en viktig forklaring på den amerikanske sikkerhetspolitiske responsen på terrorisme. Selv om beslutningstagere i USA ofte bekymrer seg når regimer anses for ikke å opptre rasjonelt, var amerikanernes egne reaksjoner heller ikke basert på kjølig rasjonell tenkning. Men følelsen ble delt selv av de mest liberale i samfunnet. Det var en fundamentalt og nesten instinktiv reaksjon: Vi beskytter våre egne, og om noen skader oss, må de betale for det.

Ønsket om å stille de som sto bak terroraksjonen til ansvar vedvarte. Det var umulig både å tilgi og å glemme. Selv da USAs terrorpolitikk fikk en bredere ramme og en utvidet trusselvurdering, ble ikke den hovedmistenkte glemt. Gjentatte droneangrep og antiterroroperasjoner til tross; 11. september kunne bare besvares ved å drepe én mann. Intet annet var tilstrekkelig. Selv om myndighetene hadde fanget ham i live, var bare ett utfall mulig: Bin Laden måtte henrettes.

Når amerikanere nå jubler i gatene, er det ut ifra en følelse av lettelse. De fleste er klar over at dette har liten praktisk betydning for trusselen mot USA. Bin Laden har lenge ikke hatt annet enn symbolsk betydning for al-Qaida, andre personer er blitt langt viktigere. Men han har hatt stor symbolsk betydning også for amerikanerne. Nå kan alle som lenge har hatt en følelse av urettferdighet senke skuldrene litt. Gjelden er endelig tilbakebetalt. Midt i de kompliserte debattene som raser om budsjetter, helsereform og presidentens fødested har amerikanere fått en fem minutters pause for å juble over noe som er klinkende klart. En massemorder er død. Og slik bør det være. Selv for oss kyniske statsvitere som er trent opp til å problematisere alt.

The Obama Doctrine of Missed Opportunities

President Obama’s hastily arranged speech last night provided yet another opening for the president to provide sorely needed leadership to a nation reeling from economic and budgetary woes. But when opportunity came knocking, Obama eased open the door just enough to slam poor Opportunity’s fingers in it. [Read more…]

Friday Strategy Blogging: A Mideast Marshall Plan

Across the greater Middle East, such momentous changes have occurred at such breakneck pace that it’s difficult to pause and consider the next chapter. But just as the US invested in market democracies after World War Two and the Cold War, Washington needs to consider a Mideast Marshall Plan to turn this crisis into an opportunity. Yep, it’s Friday Strategy Blogging again.

[Read more…]

Friday Strategy Blogging: Rogue states and 3 year olds


It’s not easy for a president of the world’s only superpower to find an effective strategy, especially when dealing with states that don’t always do what you want them to. As a parent, I sympathize completely. A good strategy is also crucial to managing the state of anarchy that can ravage a household, and here deterrence is the key. Welcome to yet another installment of Friday Strategy Blogging! [Read more…]

Is «Obamacare» unconstitutional?

While the world keeps a watchful eye on Africa and the Middle East, domestic policy continues to dominate the political landscape in the United States. This week, President Obama proposed some adjustments to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 – otherwise known as the health care reform law or «Obamacare» by its opponents. The law has been under attack since its inception and new legal challenges may strip away a key provision that could cause the entire reform to collapse.

[Read more…]

Gates on future conflicts

Secretary of Defense Gates addressing the cadets of the US Military Academy at West Point, 25 February 2011. Department of Defense Photo

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, his tenure at DoD drawing to an close, sounded very much like a man offering up a few parting bits of advice in a speech to the cadets of the US Military Academy at West Point on Friday. Gates noted that the United States had a perfect record in predicting the future of warfare: “We have never once gotten it right”. Nevertheless, he argued that the US Army ought to prepare for “an era of persistent conflict” with global low intensity security demands. But “the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the US military are primarily naval and air engagements – whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere» [see a discussion of AirSea Battle concept here]. And, he declared, “any future secretary of defense who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’, as General MacArthur so delicately put it.»

Friday Strategy Blogging:A2/AD

The estimable Fred Kaplan from Slate examined the new defense budget and wonders why the US needs more aircraft carriers and submarines. Well, Fred, I hate to question one of the wise elders of the defense analysis business, but let me take a crack at it. The answer may well be A2/AD.

Welcome to the first installment of (drum roll, please)…..Friday Strategy Blogging! Hey, if I thought this stuff was completely wrong, I sure wouldn’t be telling you, right? [Read more…]