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Category: Policy Briefs

July 1, 2011

The Evolving Threat of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

The United States faces an important strategic question in northwest Africa: what level of activity by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) would constitute a sufficient threat to U.S. national security interests to warrant a more aggressive political, intelligence, military, and law enforcement response? AQIM already poses the greatest immediate threat of transnational terrorism in the region, and its operational range and sophistication continue to expand. Since 2007, the group has professed its loyalty to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s senior leadership and claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks in the subregion. These attacks have included the use of suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, kidnapping operations, and assassinations.

April 1, 2011

Iran’s Islamic Revolution: Lessons for the Arab Spring of 2011?

The Islamic Revolution surprised senior U.S. policymakers as well as the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. On the eve of revolution, Iran—a key U.S. ally—seemed relatively stable despite bouts of urban terrorism in the early and mid-1970s. At the first signs of escalating unrest in early 1978, neither Iranian nor U.S. officials considered the possibility that Iran’s armed forces, the largest and most modern in the region (next to those of Israel), would prove unable to deal with whatever trouble lay ahead. The fall of the Shah a year later, therefore, raised searching questions regarding the role of the armed forces during the crisis and its failure to quash the revolution. The recent emergence of popular protest movements that have overthrown authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt—and that are challenging similar regimes in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria—has revived memories of the Shah and his fall. These developments have again raised questions regarding the role of armed forces during revolutions and whether Iran’s experience during the Islamic Revolution and after holds relevant lessons for current developments in the Middle East.

March 1, 2011

Brazil and the United States: The Need for Strategic Engagement

Washington’s identification of Brazil with Latin America and the Third World hampers its appreciation of Brazil’s power and importance to the United States. It is true that Brazil is geographically part of Latin America, and it is also true that Brazil, a founder of the Group of 77, was, with India, among the original leaders of the “Third World.”

Feb. 1, 2011

Finland, Sweden, and NATO: From “Virtual” to Formal Allies?

The “Open Door” policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been an article of faith for Allies and aspirants alike for more than a decade. Its most recent formulation, approved at the November 2010 Lisbon Summit, states: “The door to NATO membership remains fully open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability.”

Feb. 1, 2011

European Energy Security: Reducing Volatility of Ukraine-Russia Natural Gas Pricing Disputes

On January 7, 2009, the existing energy relationship among Europe, Russia, and Ukraine broke down over a natural gas dispute, just as it had done 3 years earlier. Amid subzero temperatures in many parts of Europe, Russia turned off its gas supply to Ukraine, causing shortages in more than 20 European countries. Thousands across the continent were left in the dark, and government services were closed.1 While the flow of gas was eventually restored, Russian gas disputes with Ukraine continue, and the prospect of another Gazprom shutoff has become an annual event for European consumers. Despite earlier indications that another breakdown in negotiations would lead to blackouts in Europe early in 2010, the potential crisis was averted via a Russia-Ukraine deal that restructured earlier payment and pricing arrangements.2 However, it is doubtful that Ukraine can continue timely payments for its domestic gas consumption and maintain its own pipeline infrastructure. Fundamental changes to Russia-Ukraine energy transport agreements are coming.

Feb. 1, 2011

Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Strategic Asset or Unusable Liability?

The Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) concept calls for a U.S. capability to deliver conventional strikes anywhere in the world in approximately an hour. The logic of the CPGS concept is straightforward. The United States has global security commitments to deter and respond to a diverse spectrum of threats, ranging from terrorist organizations to near-peer competitors. The United States might need to strike a time-sensitive target protected by formidable air defenses or located deep inside enemy territory. Small, high-value targets might pop up without warning in remote or sensitive areas, potentially precluding the United States from responding to the situation by employing other conventional weapons systems, deploying Special Operations Forces (SOF), or relying on the host country.

Feb. 1, 2011

Small Nuclear Reactors for Military Installations: Capabilities, Costs, and Technological Implications

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has become increasingly interested in the potential of small (less than 300 megawatts electric [MWe]) nuclear reactors for military use.1 DOD’s attention to small reactors stems mainly from two critical vulnerabilities it has identified in its infrastructure and operations: the dependence of U.S. military bases on the fragile civilian electrical grid, and the challenge of safely and reliably supplying energy to troops in forward operating locations. DOD has responded to these challenges with an array of initiatives on energy efficiency and renewable and alternative fuels. Unfortunately, even with massive investment and ingenuity, these initiatives will be insufficient to solve DOD’s reliance on the civilian grid or its need for convoys in forward areas. The purpose of this paper is to explore the prospects for addressing these critical vulnerabilities through small-scale nuclear plants.

Jan. 1, 2011

Maximizing the Returns of Government Venture Capital Programs

The stories of Google and Segway certainly end differently. With a market capitalization of over $180 billion, Google is arguably the biggest success in the information technology (IT) industry in the last decade. The phrase google it has worked its way into everyday language and dictionaries. On the other hand, Segway remains a privately held company whose products are largely relegated to use by tourists in major cities and security personnel at airports. We certainly do not hear people say that they “segwayed” to work this morning.

Jan. 1, 2011

Getting Beyond Taiwan? Chinese Foreign Policy and PLA Modernization

Since the mid-1990s, China’s military modernization has focused on deterring Taiwan independence and preparing for a military response if deterrence fails. Given China’s assumption of U.S. intervention in a Taiwan conflict, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been developing military capabilities to deter, delay, and disrupt U.S. military support operations. The 2008 election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, however, has contributed to improved cross-strait economic and political cooperation and dramatically reduced the threat of Taiwan independence and war across the Taiwan Strait. Cooperation has included full restoration of direct shipping, flights, and mail across the strait, Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly, regularized cross-strait negotiation mechanisms that have already reached several agreements, and the recent signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.

Oct. 1, 2010

Private Contractors in Conflict Zones: The Good, the Bad, and the Strategic Impact

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the use of contractors reached a level unprecedented in U.S. military operations. As of March 31, 2010, the United States deployed 175,000 troops and 207,000 contractors in the war zones. Contractors represented 50 percent of the Department of Defense (DOD) workforce in Iraq and 59 percent in Afghanistan. These numbers include both armed and unarmed contractors. Thus, for the purposes of this paper, the term contractor includes both armed and unarmed personnel unless otherwise specified. The presence of contractors on the battlefield is obviously not a new phenomenon but has dramatically increased from the ratio of 1 contractor to 55 military personnel in Vietnam to 1:1 in the Iraq and 1.43:1 in Afghanistan.