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Category: Strategic Insights

Nov. 16, 2018

Aspiration vs. Reality: Where are We with the North Korea Denuclearization Process?

Despite President Trump's claim to have "largely solved" the North Korea problem, the President's ambition is now meeting reality as Secretary Pompeo and his North Korean counterparts attempt to fill in the blanks of what President Trump and Kim Jong Un thought they had agreed to at the Singapore Summit. At the same time, progress in President Moon's efforts to engage North Korea is fast outpacing progress in U.S.-North Korea negotiations on denuclearization. This trend is likely to continue and strain U.S.-ROK relations. The policy challenge facing the Trump administration is formidable and will test the President's diplomatic skills.

Sept. 6, 2017

A Failure of Strategic Vision: U.S. Policy and the Doklam Border Dispute

On Monday, August 28th, China and India announced a de-escalation of their two month old confrontation along the tri-border area with Bhutan near Doklam. Beijing and New Delhi made this announcement about a week in advance of Prime Minister Modi’s simultaneously-announced intent to visit to China from September 3-5 for the annual BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) Summit.

Aug. 14, 2017

China’s Russia Problem on North Korea

The Trump Administration has hailed a recent 15-0 UN Security Council vote imposing new sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a diplomatic victory. The sanctions include a complete ban on coal, iron, and lead exports, a major source of foreign currency for Pyongyang. Success will depend on how effectively China, as North Korea’s predominant trading partner, enforces the new sanctions. In deciding how vigorously to implement them, Beijing will have to weigh multiple competing factors, including assessments of North Korea’s reaction, Chinese public expectations, and the possibility of additional U.S. secondary sanctions on Chinese firms. A less obvious, but potentially crucial, variable in China’s calculus is whether Russia will take advantage of a curtailed Sino-DPRK economic relationship to build its own influence in North Korea.

July 5, 2017

Deconstructing the “Warrior Caste:” The Beliefs and Backgrounds of Senior Military Elites

In May 2017, The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) published a study exploring the implications of the rise of a “Warrior Caste” in American society.1 The authors conclude the implications are mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, they report that the United States now possesses a more ready and professionalized military than ever before. On the negative side, this force consists of a dwindling percentage of the population, who are more isolated from mainstream American society than ever before. As a growing percentage of service members and officers are coming from military families themselves, the choice to join the military is becoming more akin to a decision to join the family business. The result is greater divisions between the ‘Warrior Caste” and the civilian population than the numbers would indicate if taken at face value.

June 20, 2017

Leave Mountain People Alone

We have over 4,000 years of recorded history of human conflict. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has noted “There is nothing new under the sun.” And from this wealth of experience, a number of rules of thumb for military operations have evolved. Perhaps the most famous is “Don’t get in a land war in Asia.” Interestingly, I have never seen a similarly obvious rule – “Leave mountain people alone.” Yet even a brief historical survey shows that campaigns against mountain people rarely pay off. Afghans, Chechens, Kurds, Montagnards (which literally means “mountain people” in French), Scots, Welsh, Swiss, Druze, Maronite Christians, and West Virginians have all repeatedly seen off outsiders.

May 24, 2017

Another Week; Another Missile Test: Inching Toward a Freeze – With Eyes Wide Shut?

On January 20, North Korea became the responsibility of the new Trump administration. After eight years of “strategic patience,” North Korea, as President Obama advised his successor, now poses the greatest threat to the security of the United States.

May 2, 2017

Tell-Tale MRAPS

A recent article in the Washington Free Beacon, “Biden Used False Data to Smear Marine Corps over Armored Vehicle Request from Iraq,” accomplishes the rare feat of politicizing a bipartisan issue; blackguarding both parties erroneously; and unnecessarily embarrassing Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. The April 24, 2017 article by Bill Gertz reports on a new unpublished study by retired Marine, Steve Chill. Chill participated in Marine Corps decision making on the Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles used to protect servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chill wrote his study to “correct the record” and prove the Marine Corps did not “drag its feet” in deploying MRAPs. Gertz and Chill get the story wrong, and thus obscure the lesson the Pentagon should have learned from the MRAP experience, which is that its decision making processes need reform.

April 12, 2017

Vice President Pence in Indonesia: U.S. Interests in the South China Sea

If the past decade is prologue, sometime in the next four years developments in the South China Sea will again call into question U.S. interests and commitments in Southeast Asia. The mid-April visit of Vice President Pence to Indonesia and Australia offers an opportunity to define U.S. policy toward the region.