This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 16 May 2017.
In this series we often focus on what academic studies can tell policy makers, but these days I find myself thinking more about what the policy environment should tell academics, particularly when it comes to their assumptions about American national interest and the public good.
Many who study security, particularly in the United States, assume that we can objectively know what US national interests are, and that protecting the national interest is beneficial to the US as a whole – the ultimate public good (this is the case whether one is arguing that US engagement or US retrenchment is the key to protecting those interests). In analyzing the impact of the Trump administration, scholars commonly impute a public benefit to protecting national interests, whether they are critical (arguing that the Trump administration should learn the lesson of the limits to military power, that his budget threatens US counter terrorism, or that his incompetence undermines US credibility) or more supportive (claiming that his military build-up promises to correct past failures) of current trends and policies. At a recent meeting focused on national security, I was struck by the certainty of those who discussed US national interests, and their assumption that protecting them would benefit “us” – especially given the contrast between that certainty, the divergent reactions to the periodic Trump tweets, and the uneasy break-time conversations about our fraught political environment.
This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 20 April 2017.
April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?
On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 21 April 2017.
The US has been contending with the challenge of the North Korean nuclear program for decades, yet we are no closer to the goal of convincing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, that goal now appears unattainable under current circumstances.
Meanwhile the most serious threat facing the world today is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Both North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear weapons production capabilities. If they succeed, their regional neighbors will go nuclear in response, triggering a global cascade of proliferation. The resulting worldwide availability of nuclear weapons and fissile material to rogue states and terrorist groups will rapidly lead to a chaotic situation out of control.
The end goal of this strategy is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, a North Korean economy that can sustain itself, a regional security environment free of military threats from North Korea, and decisive actions addressing the deplorable human rights situation throughout North Korea.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 April 2017.
James Mattis was sworn in as secretary of defense in what is arguably one of the more fraught periods in civil-military relations in decades.
While civilian control in the United States is based on a solid foundation of history, doctrine, and tradition, civil-military relationships are above all human. And that means they are vulnerable to unrealistic or unmet expectations and perceptions. Simply put, tension invariably infuses these relationships — it’s merely a question of how much and in which way. As such, this relationship should expect strains, some demanding mitigation.
Nearly two decades of (inconclusive) war, serious lapses in the quality of support to our veterans, and a destabilizing budget roller coaster have been some of the major stressors. These are bracketed by a growing disconnect between those who serve, the civilian population, and emerging political factors. A particularly tumultuous election with unprecedented veteran and general officer partisan participation did not stop or mitigate threats of purges of general officers by the Trump campaign. Despite such anti-military rhetoric, Trump eventually faced suspicion that his cabinet was overly militarized and went to bat in support of a waiver for Mattis’s own confirmation. These events, along with an expected, but nonetheless toxic, increase in friction between military and civilian staffs at the Pentagon set the stage for Mattis’ arrival at the River Entrance a few short months ago.
This article was originally published by YaleGlobal on 18 April 2017.
Debate about a nuclear arms race may be missing a moral dimension, and these debates should include all nuclear powers
The second nuclear age takes place in a post-Christian world. New atomic missiles come from North Korea, Pakistan, India, China – with diverse religious and nonreligious traditions. The United States, set to start its own nuclear modernization, now too is a post-Christian nation.
“Post-Christian” here means the decline in primacy of a Christian worldview in politics, especially in the United States and Europe. During the first nuclear age and Cold War, both were Christian societies by this definition. And while Christianity still has many adherents, it lacks the authority it had during the years of the Cold War. This decline of authority means that calculations of self-interest in international politics bear almost all of the weight for restraint and shaping world order. Questions that drove debate about the Cold War arms race are no longer asked with the same passion. Yet these questions haven’t vanished. Who, for example, determines the national interest? Who does the calculations on which self-interest is founded and that determine nuclear armaments buildup?