Recalibrating Middle East policy
Nov
27
10:00 AM10:00

Recalibrating Middle East policy

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Most Americans reacted with horror and outrage as we learned about the barbaric murder of Saudi citizen, U.S. resident, and contributor to The Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. According to recent reports, the CIA assesses Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) ordered the murder.

In the wake of this latest incident and other recent aggressive actions—kidnapping Lebanon's prime minister, blockading Qatar, intervening in Yemen's civil war, among others—it's increasingly apparent that U.S.-Saudi relations need reappraisal.

However, as the Trump administration has argued, a strategic relationship must place higher value on safeguarding U.S. interests—in other words, our alliance with Saudi Arabia is a "necessary evil."

But is that true? Is an alliance with Saudi Arabia a necessary evil?

Here are some of the overdue questions which should be answered about U.S.-Middle East policy and our relationship with Saudi Arabia:

What are U.S. interests in the Middle East today, and how have they changed since the Cold War? What does Saudi Arabia do for the United States? Should we recalibrate U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations, treating it like a normal autocratic country? How should the United States pursue its legitimate security and prosperity interests in the region?

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The hell of good intentions
Oct
17
9:00 AM09:00

The hell of good intentions

  • 122 Cannon House Office Building (map)
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In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power—Americans were confident that a new era of peace and prosperity was at hand. Today, those hopes have been dashed.

Relations with Russia and China have soured, the European Union is wobbling, partisan politics are increasingly vicious, and the United States is stuck in costly and counterproductive wars that have expended trillions of taxpayer dollars and undermined its influence around the world.

In a new book, Harvard professor Stephen Walt argues that the root of this dismal record is the Washington foreign policy establishment’s stubborn commitment to a strategy of “liberal hegemony.”

Since the end of the Cold War, Republicans and Democrats alike have tried to use U.S. power to spread democracy, open markets, and other liberal values into every nook and cranny of the planet. This strategy was doomed to fail, but its proponents in the foreign policy elite were never held accountable and kept repeating the same mistakes.

The best alternative, Walt argues, is a return to the realist strategy of “offshore balancing,” which eschews regime change, nation-building, and other forms of global social engineering. The American people would surely welcome a more restrained foreign policy, one that allowed greater attention to problems here at home. This long-overdue shift will require abandoning the futile quest for liberal hegemony and building a foreign policy establishment with a more realistic view of American interests and power.

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Disentangling from Syria
Aug
6
12:00 PM12:00

Disentangling from Syria

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With the U.S. military intervention in Syria almost four years old and the Islamic State’s caliphate nearly eliminated, it’s past time to answer some basic questions about the war there: What are America's interests in Syria? What does the U.S. hope to achieve by remaining involved in Syria's civil war? What are the risks of sustained entanglement, and are they justified?

The United States intervened in Syria in 2014 to help regional powers reverse the gains the Islamic State had made. With their caliphate now a shrinking patch of desert, that aim is nearly achieved.

Many in the Washington foreign policy establishment say that the conflict cannot be resolved as long as Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime remains in power. It’s true that his failure to address Syrians’ legitimate grievances sparked the civil war in 2011. But tragically, no credible alternative exists there today, let alone one who could govern Syria the way Americans would like. The likelier alternative is that no one rules, and the civil war continues killing Syrians, attracting foreign meddling and fanning extremism.

The Islamic State's collapse is bringing barely suppressed regional rivalries and enmities back to Syria's front lines. Every day, U.S. forces there risk conflict with Russia and other powers. The official rationale for our presence keeps changing without cohering into a clear argument about how a sustained U.S. military presence advances America’s interests. It is the responsibility of Congress, at a minimum, to demand answers.

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Evaluating regime change and its alternatives
Jun
27
12:00 PM12:00

Evaluating regime change and its alternatives

  • SVC-208, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)
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Since the catalyzing horror of the 2001 attacks, the United States has undertaken a broad approach to attempt to counter terrorism, including changing regimes hostile to American interests.

From Iraq to Libya—and potentially Syria, Iran, and North Korea—Washington has pursued policies to change regimes' behavior. When sanctions and pressure have failed, rather than manage problems and hedge against risks, presidential administrations have sometimes opted to launch regime change campaigns to reorder societies in distant lands.

But have these efforts delivered the promised outcomes? If not, is it a failure of tactics or strategy?

What, if anything, can the U.S. do to accelerate political change in foreign countries without creating negative, unintended consequences? Does toppling regimes—not only through military interventions, but also any attempts short of kinetic operations—unleash forces beyond our control? What strategies might deliver better results for American security and prosperity?

Our upcoming briefing will provide analysis of the principles, practice, and dynamics of relations with unsavory nations.

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Responding to Russia
Apr
24
12:00 PM12:00

Responding to Russia

  • 188 Russell Senate Office Building (map)
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The United States and the Soviet Union were allies during WWII and enemies during the Cold War. America stood for freedom and the dignity of the individual—the Soviet Union subjugated persons to the collective and committed gross violations of human rights. We threatened each other with nuclear annihilation and competed globally for power and influence.

The Cold War could have ended in calamity, but instead, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself dissolved peacefully. Russia and other formerly communist states then faced daunting challenges for restructuring economic, political, and security arrangements. Russia was, and remains, a shadow of the USSR, but it has regained its footing in the last 27 years.

Today’s Russia poses a substantially different threat to the U.S. than during the Cold War. It is much weaker but still must be taken seriously. Only Russia's nuclear arsenal comes close to matching America's in number, and its conventional forces have legitimate capabilities near its borders. It has interfered with elections abroad, including America's, engaged in cyber-aggression, violated internationally accepted borders, and more. And yet, Russia isn't going anywhere.

Americans must better understand Russia's interests and what they will risk to secure them. This will help us determine our best options for advancing America's security and prosperity interests despite Russian actions. Please join us for a discussion of a realistic, interests-based approach to the U.S. relationship with Russia.

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Ending the North Korea standoff
Mar
5
12:00 PM12:00

Ending the North Korea standoff

  • SVC 201, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)
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As the cooling off period during the Winter Olympics fades, reality about the standoff with North Korea resumes.

The U.S. insists it will settle for nothing short of total denuclearization by North Korea. North Korea insists—and indeed has shown through its spending and behavior—that it is totally committed to developing and maintaining a nuclear deterrent capability.

As these mutually exclusive interests and objectives collide, there are only two options to end this stalemate: preventive war or deterrence and diplomacy.

What is the basis for the Trump administration's campaign of "maximum pressure"?

What is the rationale for National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster's warning that, "[North Korea's] intentions are to use that weapon for nuclear blackmail, and then, to, quote, you know, 'reunify' the peninsula under the red banner"? Is such a scenario possible or likely?

What can and should the United States prioritize: denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula or ensuring North Korea never uses its nuclear weapons capability, which it first demonstrated in 2006?

If Washington insists on denuclearization, what price are we willing to pay to achieve such an outcome—the most costly of which would be preventive war? Should we consider direct engagement to discourage mishandling of nuclear material, miscalculation, and proliferation?

Brigadier General Robert P. Givens, USAF, Ret. will explain why some support preventative war—as McMaster seems to—and what it would look like. Dr. David Kang will discuss the merits of deterrence—based on our overwhelming nuclear and conventional superiority—and diplomacy.

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Facing a rising China
Jan
18
12:00 PM12:00

Facing a rising China

  • 2075 Rayburn House Office Building (map)
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President Trump's new National Security Strategy rightly focuses on competition between countries:

"China has mounted a rapid military modernization campaign designed to limit U.S. access to the region and provide China a freer hand there. China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but Chinese dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific. States throughout the region are calling for sustained U.S. leadership in a collective response that upholds a regional order respectful of sovereignty and independence."

Since the last war between great powers—the Second World War—strategies for security, prosperity, and influence have changed dramatically.

Mutual nuclear deterrence, stealth, the precision revolution, cyber espionage and related threats, space operations, distributed design and 3-D printing, autonomous vehicles, social media, anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems, and more are combining to relentlessly force military tactics and strategies to adapt.

They also affect the costs and benefits of higher-level foreign policy choices, especially in America's relationship with a rising China.

What are America's security and prosperity interests in the region, and what is the best way to advance them? In particular, can America promote a balance of power that empowers our partners and allies to take more responsibility for their sovereignty? What is the most effective way for the United States to prevent a hostile power from dominating the region?

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How trade enhances American prosperity and security
Dec
15
12:00 PM12:00

How trade enhances American prosperity and security

  • 2043 Rayburn House Office Building (map)
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America’s economic prosperity—the foundation of our national power and influence—reflects the people’s innovation and productivity. U.S. leadership to promote open international markets not only fosters economic growth, but also strengthens other foreign policy goals.

We enrich ourselves and our partners with closer trade relations. We encourage institutional development, peaceful resolution of disputes, and improved living standards in developing countries through greater commerce.

As many Americans confront social and economic challenges, however, support for free exchange across political borders has eroded. President Trump has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and threatened to exit enacted trade agreements.

How can and should the U.S. try to shape international economic relations? How does trade policy affect diplomacy and security objectives? When do security concerns justify restrictions like sanctions that may negatively affect prosperity? How much does trade contribute to domestic challenges? And how can Congress make it a more effective tool of statecraft within current political constraints?

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Managing nuclear proliferation crises
Oct
30
12:00 PM12:00

Managing nuclear proliferation crises

  • 2447 Rayburn House Office Building (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

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Few security dilemmas are more vexing than Iran and North Korea.

Before the Iran nuclear agreement, Iran had a robust research program designed to produce nuclear weapons capabilities. The Islamic Republic continues to develop ballistic missile, which are technically beyond the scope of the JCPOA, but their payloads could someday include either conventional or nuclear warheads.

North Korea has an active ballistic missile program, operational nuclear weapons, and a desperate need for revenue. Its neighbors ave been vulnerable to conventional and nuclear threat for more than a decade. Breakthroughs in miniaturization and re-entry that could reach the 48 contiguous United States are a matter of when, not if.

What drives these countries to pursue such weapons? What should policymakers do to slow or halt nuclear proliferation? What strategies are most likely to ensure American security now and in the long run? Does the impulse to spread values abroad complement (or conflict with) efforts to pursue vital U.S. national security interests?

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Solving the North Korea problem
Aug
28
12:00 PM12:00

Solving the North Korea problem

  • SVC 201, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

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To Kim Jong-un, North Korea's nuclear weapons are a deterrent that guarantees his survival and his stranglehold on power. His weapons program is about self-preservation. Everyone else is appalled that one of the world’s worst regimes is capable of such destruction. Now what?

If diplomacy can’t convince North Korea to give up its bombs, only a massive and costly use of military force can. The Korean War of the early 1950s cost nearly 3,000,000 lives and devastated the Korean Peninsula. What would a new war bring? Another possibility is containing and deterring a nuclear North Korea—a policy which worked for decades against much stronger and more threatening regimes. But is Jong-un a rational actor capable of being deterred?

How can China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and other neighbors help advance our mutual interests without enabling North Korea’s worst impulses? Are the Departments of State and Defense prepared for these challenges? What is Congress’ role in facilitating outcomes or authorizing force?

Rob Givens served as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of U.S. Forces Korea. Doug Bandow was a special assistant to President Reagan and just returned from a visit to Pyongyang in June.

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Alliance burden sharing and the future of NATO
Jul
6
12:00 PM12:00

Alliance burden sharing and the future of NATO

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NATO members agreed in 2014 that all countries in the alliance would increase military spending to 2% of GDP, with 20% for major equipment purchases, by 2024. Only the United States, Greece, Britain, Estonia, and Poland currently do so. The average U.S. treaty ally only spends 1.5% of GDP on defense, less than half of U.S. spending.

Major members, like Germany (1.19%), are not on a trajectory to meet that target.

America benefits from strong, capable allies and partners. But in a changing world, many important questions must be asked. How much should U.S. taxpayers contribute to the defense of wealthy European allies? How can the United States encourage our fellow NATO members to take their own security seriously? What is the future of NATO as the threat from the Soviet Union becomes an increasingly distant memory? Should the alliance venture beyond European security concerns, “out of area,” to address problems in the Middle East and North Africa?

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Afghanistan: In search of a strategy
Jun
21
12:00 PM12:00

Afghanistan: In search of a strategy

  • HVC 201, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

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The perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks had to face justice. An authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against them became law within a week. U.S. troops began hunting down al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban protectors in Afghanistan within a month. NATO invoked its Article V mutual defense provision for the first and only time.

Sixteen years and two presidents later, nearly 10,000 American troops are still there. The Trump administration has been reviewing the mission and appears poised to decide about the future of operations there, including the possible deployment of additional U.S. soldiers.

The initial mission made sense, but is further commitment from the American people warranted? What are our vital national security interests in Afghanistan? What is the strategy behind the proposed troop surge, and what objectives would they seek to accomplish? What demands should fall on the government in Kabul in exchange for continued investments from the U.S.? What does success look like, and what is the estimated timeline?

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Budgeting for the common defense
Apr
18
12:00 PM12:00

Budgeting for the common defense

  • SVC 215, U.S. Capitol Visitor Center (map)
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After years of divided government, the shift to unified control has emboldened Republicans and alarmed Democrats. Competition over priorities in this busy legislative year will amplify tensions among defense hawks, deficit hawks, moderates, and others. Different ideas exist about requirements to provide for the common defense.
 
America’s defense budgeting unfortunately lacks strategic clarity. The amount and composition of military spending depends on politicians’ demands on the U.S. Armed Forces. Deciding which missions DoD should pursue—and which they shouldn’t—as well as understanding capabilities and intentions of allies and potential adversaries are crucial. Furthermore, military force is only one element of statecraft. Diplomacy, commerce, assistance, and other areas are important as well.

A balanced grand strategy requires that all aspects are coordinated to advance America’s national security interests. Please join us for a discussion of these issues.

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