The CSS Blog Network

Donald Trump and the Emergent Dominant Narrative in US Foreign Policy

Courtesy of Oli Goldsmith/Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 4 February 2017.

It is difficult to find experts that approve of President Donald Trump’s emergent foreign policy. Neoconservatives and internationalists complain that, by abandoning the leading role the United States has taken in world affairs since the end of World War Two, he is contributing to the collapse of the liberal world order and the emergence of a more dangerous, Hobbesian alternative. Libertarians and economists worry that he risking a global depression with his protectionist policies. National security hawks argue that his anti-Muslim rhetoric could bolster ISIS; and regional specialists warn that he is wrecking relationships with key partners such as Europe, China, and Mexico.

To a considerable extent, Trump’s detractors are correct. His assessment of the prevailing state of affairs—that a corrupt, globalist political establishment has allowed other countries to take advantage of the US and that the best way to remedy this is to put ‘America First’ by reducing imports and extracting substantial concessions from allies and international institutions—is as simplistic as it is delusional. Whatever one thinks of US foreign policy, a belligerent, neomercantilist, unilateralist approach would be destabilizing overseas and would only exacerbate the problems confronting the country at home.

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Grappling with the Fait Accompli: A Classical Tactic in the Modern Strategic Landscape

Note stating 'It's a fate accompli'

Note stating ‘It’s a fate accompli’, courtesy Adamina/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 31 May 2016.

Good scholarship doesn’t need to fit within a 2×2 matrix, but it sure helps make sense of things when it does. It’s in this spirit of conceptual clarity that I developed the diagram below depicting variations in the fait accompli, an age-old but underappreciated tactic of the disgruntled and strategically minded. Rather than the naked use of force or threat-making alone—situations whose logics are straightforward even if the best responses aren’t—the fait accompli is a move that pursues an advantage by making it difficult for a competitor to retaliate or counter.

Variations of the Fair Accompli

Variations of the Fait Accompli Table, courtesy Van Jackson/War on the Rocks

This 2×2 diagram is part of a lecture I give at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies on revisionist tactics short of war — what many now call “gray zone” conflicts. Although most security studies scholars and analysts understand broadly what a fait accompli is — literally an “accomplished fact” — the tactic itself has rarely been an object of analysis (two recent rare exceptions are discussed more below). This is a serious oversight, because in the so-called “gray zone” of conflict, the fait accompli is a common means by which states pursue revisionist agendas.

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Growing Stress on Jordan: Contingency Planning Memorandum Update

An overview of Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, courtesy UNHCR Photo Unit/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations in March 2016.

In 2013, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Contingency Planning Memorandum “Political Instability in Jordan” warned that the biggest threat to the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom stemmed from local grievances eroding the regime’s core tribal base of support. Although economic privation, the slow pace of reform, and a widespread perception of corruption remain significant sources of popular frustration in Jordan, the palace has since vitiated its most potent tribal and Islamist domestic political opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood. But as the risk of domestic unrest has diminished, the potential for spillover from the Syrian conflict has grown, posing an increasing threat to Jordan.

New Concerns

Jordan has a long tradition of providing sanctuary for refugees, but the kingdom has reached the saturation point. Syrian refugees in Jordan—currently around 1.4 million—constitute a significant source of instability in the kingdom. Only half are registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and less than 10 percent live in formal refugee camps; the majority are spread throughout the country.

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Russia’s New National Security Strategy: Familiar Themes, Gaudy Rhetoric

Putin stencils, courtesy by Jonathan Davis/flickr

This article was originally published by the War on the Rocks on 4 January, 2016.

On the last day of 2015, Vladimir Putin put his signature on the decree adopting Russia’s new National Security Strategy out to 2020. Inevitably it is something to pore over looking for clues about Putin’s future intentions and the Kremlin’s assessment of the risks and opportunities ahead. The document can be downloaded as a PDF from the Kremlin website, and there is a pretty decent overview of the main points from RT.

In comparison with the last strategy, adopted in 2009, it comes across at first blush as pretty extreme. The new document contains fiercer and more explicit criticism of the West. The key issue is what Moscow calls the West’s efforts to “levers of tension in the Eurasian region” in order to undermine Russian national interests. In particular, the strategy condemns “the support of the United States and the European Union of an unconstitutional government coup in Ukraine which has led to a deep schism in Ukrainian society and the outbreak of armed conflict.”

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NORAD’s Evolving Role in North American Homeland Defense

NORAD Command Center at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. Image: U.S Air Force/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 13 February, 2015.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has long been a function of the North American security environment.  Initially established during the Cold War, NORAD was intended to fulfill a homeland defense role by looking outwardly to identify and interdict threats approaching Canada and the United States. In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s focus has evolved and the institution has shifted from looking outwardly to include participation in homeland security operations taking place within the United States and Canada.  NORAD’s participation in North American homeland security operations has resulted in the redefinition of the institution’s role in defense and security operations.  In recent years, NORAD has provided airborne security at major sporting events, government conventions, and other large public gatherings.  This homeland security support role has been buttressed by the institution’s appropriation of popular cultural icons, such as Santa Claus and Superman.  These examples are symbolic of a broader shift away from strategic defense, towards a public relations’ role.  In the post-9/11 period, NORAD’s primary function has been to affirm U.S. dominance over North American skies, and to convey to the public audience that the potential for future terrorist attacks remains a threat to domestic security. » More

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