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Keep Your Friends Close, But Keep Russia Closer

May 20th, 2014

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As Russia’s stock market continues to plummet, so too has Russia’s stock among the American people. Polling from earlier this year indicates a majority of Americans view Russia “as unfriendly or an enemy,” the highest unfavorable rating since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Some in Congress are capitalizing on this discontent by inserting a section into an upcoming defense bill that suspends “contact or cooperation” between the Pentagon and its Russian counterparts. This break in relations would continue until Moscow left Ukraine alone and fulfilled its obligations under two military treaties.

Slashing military ties with Russia after its Crimean land grab might feel emotionally satisfying in the short term, but it’s ultimately counterproductive in the long term. After all, unilaterally halting the Pentagon’s contacts in Russia would undermine our ability to collaborate on shared interests, confront shared threats and manage global crises.

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3 Ways a Corrupt Chinese Military Hurts the U.S.

April 22nd, 2014

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China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army, is currently engulfed in the worst corruption scandal in its history. Two of its top officials have been detained and accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power, including a cash-for-promotion racket that benefited hundreds of officers. More heads will roll as dozens of senior personnel must have offered bribes — or had been bribed — to get ahead in the ranks, calling into question the very leadership of the 2.3 million-strong army.

It’s easy to look across the Pacific and feel a twinge of schadenfreude. But if Beijing can’t get this metastasizing scandal under control, it’s bad for America’s strategic interests for three basic reasons.

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It’s Good News When Terrorists Break Up

February 24th, 2014

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What happens when you’re the meanest player on a team with a history of violence (say, the Philadelphia Flyers from the 1970s), but you disobey the coach too many times? No matter how good on the field, pitch or ice you may be, the head office has no choice but to cut you from the roster.

This happened recently in the world of international terrorism, where al-Qaida Central became fed up with one of its franchises and disavowed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, or ISIS. This is the first time al-Qaida cut ties with one of its regional groups — surprisingly so since ISIS has been successfully driving the jihadist agenda in the heart of the Middle East.

This split is good news for the U.S. and its allies. Here’s why:

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During the Olympics, the greatest terrorism threats are outside Sochi

February 3rd, 2014

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Olympian Roberto Carcelén wouldn’t be competing in Sochi if it weren’t for his wife, Kate. She was the one who introduced him to skiing after he gave up elite surfing in Peru to move to Seattle and marry her. She convinced him that it was like surfing on frozen water.

When Carcelén skis for his native Peru on the cross-country track this month, however, Kate and their daughter will be at home. Amid reports about the possibility of terrorist attacks at the Winter Games, they decided it would be safer that way — and less stressful.

“I’m going to be up training in the mountains, while the family would be down in the city outside the Olympic rink,” Carcelén told CNN. “So that puts a lot of pressure on me as an athlete.”

The security threat during the Olympicsisn’t hypothetical. As has been widely reported, the Winter Games are being held in a country with an active insurgency capable of coordinating devastating attacks, including two suicide bombings in December. In the past seven months, Chechen terrorists have twice issued statements targeting the Olympics.But if there’s a terrorist attack during the Games, it’s far more likely to happen outside Sochi.

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Freezing Out U.S. Security at Sochi Is a Counterterrorism Fail

January 29th, 2014

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Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, recently had a disturbing opinion about the personal risk of attending this year’s Olympic Games, saying on CNN, “I would not go, and I don’t think I would send my family.” When a senator who sits on both the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees tells Americans it is unsafe to attend an international event in Russia, people should take note. Despite the threat, Moscow, which is spending some $2 billion on security, or almost $118 million a day, for the 17 days of the 2014 Games, would prefer to freeze out America’s efforts to help secure the Winter Olympics.

Putin should think twice if he thinks the Olympics are secure. Russia’s preeminent jihadist group, the Caucasus Emirate, or CE, intends to disrupt the games, even if Russian forces may have killed its leader, Doku Umarov. GivenCE’s decentralized cell structure, terrorist violence in or around Sochi is still likely to occur and revenge can be a powerful motivator.

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Keeping the Peace in Asia

December 12th, 2013

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If you’re an Asia-focused security analyst, you’ve certainly been earning your paycheck these last few months. To wit: In late November, Beijing unilaterally declared an Air Defense Identification Zone over a broad swath of the Pacific Ocean; the U.S. responded by flying two B-52 bombers straight through it a few days later. South Korea and Japan then followed suit. Just this week, South Korea declared its own zone that overlaps waters and a submerged rock that China also claims.

The situation underscores why the U.S. needs to maintain a robust naval and air force presence in Asia: because it keeps all the regional powers — rising, declining or otherwise — from escalating a crisis into a conflagration. Treaties and trade help ameliorate the jagged regional political dynamics, but American hard power on the seas and in the air is what keeps tensions from rising to a fever pitch.

How can the U.S. continue to stabilize Asia without firing a shot? One way is to continue to blunt Japan from making a serious move that would further enflame Chinese nationalist passions, and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. Once these nationalist fires are re-lit in Asia, it could burn down the whole continent, as we saw a few generations ago.

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