As U.S. sanctions on Iran are re-imposed, questions loom within and outside the United States. Past unilateral sanctions against Iran have been perceived as unsuccessful, and the Trump administration’s resumed reliance on this controversial economic tool as the main driver of its strategy raises several questions. Are these sanctions doomed to fail? Is hinging U.S. strategy almost entirely on economic sanctions the most effective way to counter the Islamic Republic? Will Iran find ways to subvert not just economic sanctions but other U.S. countermeasures as well?
Without a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban, which is still a longshot, a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan would have serious risks. Chief among them would be the resurgence of terrorism and the deterioration of human rights—including women’s rights—that come with a Taliban victory. A precipitous exit from the country might be worse than the status quo.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, preceded by wide debate, is enjoying a honeymoon of sorts. Domestically, it received strong support and close to full funding while internationally, it has received strong support from allies. However, controversy over the NPR may be just around the corner. There needs to be strong bipartisan commitment to nuclear infrastructure and delivery system modernization as well as arms control.
Actions by the administration further endanger the already tenuous relation between the U.S. and Pakistan, risking repeating past mistakes and undoing civil/military progress. Punitive measures have been unsuccessful in Pakistan – by exploring policy options like restoring CSF funding, IMET opportunities for Pakistani officers, and leveraging other partners, the U.S. may be able to influence Pakistan in a positive direction.
The Trump administration increased spending for defense by $95 billion between FY 2016 and FY 2019, but even with such a large increase, there was no escaping the trade-off among readiness, modernization, and force structure. Readiness came first so that forces could meet a minimum standard. The next priority was to increase modernization by expanding…
The industrial base review coupled with policy and strategy documents gives DoD and its inter-agency network a great deal of homework for the upcoming year. While it is clear that the Department will be rigorously working toward supporting and reinvigorating industries as well as deeply engaging with its partners and allies, it will have to overcome the challenge of the competing interests associated with these two core strategic goals.
As we reach the endgame of 2018, it is hard to be sanguine about the state of defense. DoD leadership should be commended for pushing forward with daily business amid myriad distractions and obstacles as their approach has led to greater normalcy compared to counterparts at other agencies. Yet far-reaching changes are necessary to advance the defense agenda laid out by Secretary Mattis.
Later this spring, the Trump administration will release its 2018 Missile Defense Review (MDR), which is expected to better align U.S. missile defense policy with the present security environment. President Barack Obama’s 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) reflected the security environment of the time and the aspirations of the Obama administration. In particular, technological advances by U.S. adversaries and a renewed focus on long-term competition with Russia and China drive the need for a new review.
As we enter 2018, the stage for defense is now set. The president has signed the NSS. The secretary of defense has released the NDS and NPR; the MDR is soon to follow. The White House has made its FY 2019 budget request, and posture hearings are close at hand. However, ambition often outpaces resources, and as with the Obama administration, there is reason for concern with the administration’s plans.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed into law on February 9, is in many ways a victory for defense hawks in Congress and the administration. It increases defense funding by $165 billion over the next two years—the most that anyone could have reasonably expected. But defense hawks shouldn’t start popping the champagne corks just yet. While this deal may ease the budget pressures on the Department of Defense (DoD) for now, it comes with many risks—namely that policymakers will lose interest in much needed defense reforms and squander much of the additional funding.