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  • Author: Ian Williams
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: For decades, China has engaged in a fervent game of “catch-up” with U.S. military capabilities. This effort, which has ballooned China’s defense spending to 620 percent of its 1990 level, is beginning to bear real fruit. While still far from achieving military parity, China’s military technology and doctrine are quickly coalescing into a coherent form of warfare, tailored to overpowering the U.S. military in a short, sharp conflict in the Eastern Pacific. This strategy of “informationized” warfare focuses first on eroding U.S. situational awareness, communications, and precision targeting capabilities.
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Military Affairs, Weapons , Military Spending, Conflict, Surveillance
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The general’s peerless domestic stature would have served a crucial mediatory role during the eventual transition to Khamenei’s successor, so his death brings significant uncertainty to that process. Following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, much attention has been focused on the foreign operations conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force. Yet his organization also played a major role at home, one whose future is now unclear. In particular, Soleimani himself was well positioned to be a unifying, steadying figure once Iran faced the challenge of determining a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
  • Topic: Politics, Military Affairs, Authoritarianism, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Enhancing deterrence and protecting Americans in Iraq and Syria requires a more formalized system for rationing out retaliatory strikes at the proper intensity, time, and place. When U.S. airstrikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah militia personnel and senior Iranian military figures on December 29 and January 3, they were releasing long-pent-up retaliation for a range of provocations by Iraqi militias. Yet while these powerful blows may have injected some caution into enemy calculations, such deterrence is likely to be a wasting asset. The most proximal trigger for the strikes—the killing of an American civilian contractor during Kataib Hezbollah’s December 27 rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk—was just one in a series of increasingly risky militia operations against U.S. facilities. Only good fortune has prevented more Americans from dying in attacks conducted since then, including January 8 (when Iranian ballistic missiles struck the U.S. portion of al-Asad Air Base, causing more than a hundred nonlethal traumatic brain injuries), January 26 (mortar strike on the dining hall at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad), January 31 (rockets fired at the U.S. site at Qayyarah West), February 10 (explosive device thrown at a U.S. logistical convoy south of Baghdad), and February 13 (rocket attack on U.S. site at Kirkuk). The United States has seemingly communicated to Tehran that it will strike Iraqi militias and Iranian targets if any Americans are killed, but this redline has opened up a dangerous gray zone in which Iran and its proxies are emboldened to continue their nonlethal attacks. Besides the fact that such high-risk attacks are destined to result in more American deaths at some point, they will also produce many more injuries if permitted to continue, as seen in the January 8 strike. More broadly, they will limit U.S. freedom of movement in Iraq and Syria, undermining the point of being there in the first place. This situation is unacceptable—the United States needs a way to deter such behavior even when attacks fall short of killing Americans. When faced with similar challenges in past decades, the U.S. military established reckoning systems that matched the punishment to the crime, with useful levels of predictability, proportionality, and accountability.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Assassination, No-Fly Zones
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Jacques Singer-Emery
  • Publication Date: 01-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policy
  • Institution: The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Abstract: This is the first of a three-part essay series on the different paths the U.S. Congress might take to limit Washington’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Congress is considering a range of options to express its displeasure with Riyadh after Saudi agents murdered prominent Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in September 2018, and journalists and NGOs around the world continue to highlight human rights abuses perpetrated by Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen. Of these options, the most notable is the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019. Congress has already voted to condemn President Donald Trump’s unequivocal support for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: the Senate voted March 13th to end US support for the war in Yemen, echoing a measure that passed the House in mid-February. But, the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act would go further still, sanctioning those in the Saudi government responsible for Khashoggi’s death and curtailing U.S. arms sales and military aid critical to the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. The White House vehemently opposes the bill. If it passes, President Trump is expected to veto it, just as he is expected to veto the Senate’s March and House’s February resolutions.
  • Topic: Government, Law, Military Affairs, Legislation
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Samuel Bendett
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Following the end of the Cold War, the Russian Federation lagged behind the United States in terms of advanced technology in warfighting. However, after substantial spending on modernization starting in 2008, the Russian military and the nation’s defense sector have been making great strides at developing remotely operated and autonomous technologies and integrating them in their tactics and combat operations. Russia is also starting to invest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) development with specific military applications. These developments affect the ability of the United States to meet the goals in its new National Security Strategy; in order to meet its stated December 2017 objective of renewing American competitive advantage in key military areas, the United States should be aware of key adversarial developments such as Russia’s emerging unmanned, autonomous, and AI capabilities, and prepare itself in terms of appropriate capabilities, tactics, and plans...
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Military Affairs, Military Spending, Artificial Intelligence
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Despite the damage wrought by the U.S. withdrawal from Syria, the main drivers of Islamic State resurgence in Iraq can still be restrained by local U.S. engagement, which is now even more vital than before. The gross uncertainty surrounding the future of counterterrorism operations in northeast Syria is raising understandable fears of an Islamic State comeback in Iraq. After all, the IS resurgence of 2011-2014 was partially driven by the chaotic war conditions in Syria, and suppressing the group there will be extremely challenging in the coming months amid U.S. withdrawal and Turkish invasion. Another resurgence in Iraq is hardly inevitable, however—the country is subject to different internal drivers, and the United States is still well-positioned to lead international support of Baghdad’s counterterrorism efforts. Yet Washington will need to stay engaged and urgently address new problems if it hopes to prevent another disastrous insurgency.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Counter-terrorism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Recent U.S. decisions have seemingly ignored the degree to which the group is continuing its insurgent attacks and reorganizing its supporters inside increasingly vulnerable detention facilities. In contrast to President Trump’s statements over the past half-year, the Islamic State has yet to be defeated outright. True, the group is nowhere near as capable as it was in 2015, but it is steadily rebuilding its capacities and attempting to break thousands of its supporters out of detainment. The vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal and Turkish invasion will create more space for those efforts, while compounding the original problem of states being unwilling to deal with their citizens who joined IS and remain in Syria. To avoid becoming known as the administration that allowed IS to reemerge and, perhaps, conduct mass-casualty attacks in Europe or elsewhere, President Trump and his cabinet should take urgent action to salvage and mobilize their surviving ties with Washington’s longtime partner against IS, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Violent Extremism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay, Ben Fishman
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Facing pressure from General Haftar and his foreign military backers, the Tripoli government has welcomed the helping hand extended by Ankara, whose own lack of regional options has drawn it into the middle of another conflict. On December 10, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he was willing to deploy troops in Libya if the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli requested it. He reiterated the offer during a December 15 meeting with GNA prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Ankara—a visit that arose after Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who heads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and seeks to replace the GNA, renewed his push to take Tripoli by force. Meanwhile, Turkey signed two controversial agreements with Tripoli over the past month: a memorandum of understanding on providing the GNA with arms, training, and military personnel, formally ratified by Tripoli earlier today; and a November 28 maritime agreement delineating exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean waters separating the two countries. The latter move drew protests from Greece and Egypt and was condemned “unequivocally” by the European Council. These and other developments indicate Libya’s emerging status as a focal point of Ankara’s foreign policy, which seemingly regards the country as an arena for Turkish proxy competition with rivals old (Greece) and new (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates). At the same time, Libya’s GNA has become increasingly dependent on Ankara for military reasons—namely, a lack of other allies willing to provide arms capable of countering the LNA’s Emiratisupplied drones, and the arrival of Russian mercenaries who have added new technology and precision to Haftar’s war against Tripoli. Unless Washington invests more diplomatic energy and fully backs the German-led initiative to implement a ceasefire and return to peace negotiations, the proxy war in Libya will only escalate. In that scenario, Turkey and Russia—not the United States or its European partners—could be become the arbiters of Libya’s future.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Civil War, Military Affairs, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, United States of America
  • Author: Bilal Wahab
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The U.S. withdrawal of troops from northeast Syria has placed Kurdish fighters in a near-impossible situation, while alarming Kurdish communities in other countries, but Washington can still take steps to mitigate the damage. On October 21, footage of Kurdish civilians heckling withdrawing U.S. troops in both Iraq and Syria offered a rare and disturbing sight. This scene was facilitated by President Trump’s October 6 decision to unilaterally withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, in effect paving the way for the Turkish military to cross the Syrian border three days later and attack the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Thereafter, a safe haven quickly became a war zone. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 180,000 people have now been forced from their homes. James Jeffrey, the U.S. administration’s envoy to Syria, told Congress on October 22 that the fighting has resulted in hundreds of SDF deaths, a likely war crime by a pro-Turkish militia, and the escape from prison of more than a hundred Islamic State (IS) fighters. The U.S. action has unsurprisingly left the Syrian Kurds feeling abandoned and exposed against the militarily superior Turkish army and its Arab militias. On a deeper level, America appears to have entirely lost Kurdish sympathy and trust, while at the same time failing to either deter or appease Turkey. Rather than ameliorate matters, President Trump has poured salt on the wound. He responded to backlash against his policy by claiming the Kurds were “no angels” and that they had failed to contribute to the Allied cause in World War II, while characterizing their Syrian military campaign as a fight over “long-bloodstained sand.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Public Opinion, Military Affairs, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Rojava
  • Author: Anne Marie Brady
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: China Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: China’s military ambitions in the Arctic, and its growing strategic partnership with Russia, have rung alarm bells in many governments. In May 2019, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Defense annual report on China’s military capabilities had a section on China’s military interests in the Arctic and the possibility of Chinese submarines operating in the Arctic basin (Department of Defense, May 2019). In August 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg raised concerns about what he diplomatically referred to as “China’s increased presence in the Arctic” (Reuters, August 7). From a nuclear security point of view, the Arctic is China’s vulnerable northern flank. The flight path of U.S. and Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) targeted at China transit the Arctic. Key components of the U.S. missile defense system are also located in the Arctic. Chinese submarine-based ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) operating in the Arctic could restore China’s nuclear deterrence capability (Huanqiu Ribao, October 28, 2013). China currently operates six nuclear-powered attack submarines, four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and fifty diesel attack submarines, with more under construction. If Chinese nuclear-armed submarines were able to access the Arctic basin undetected, this would be a game-changer for the United States, the NATO states and their partners, and the wider Asia-Pacific (Huanqiu Ribao, April 11, 2012). China would be able to target missiles at the United States and Europe with ease; such ability would strengthen China’s military dominance in Asia and bolster China’s emerging position as a global military power.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Territorial Disputes, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Asia, Arctic, United States of America