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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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The Wrong Way to Measure ‘Strength’

March 10th, 2014

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The ancient Greek military historian Thucydides famously noted that in war, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Today, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, concurs.

“It’s a dangerous world, and we’re making it more so by cutting defense,” said McKeon,  responding to the president’s defense budget. “We weaken ourselves, and that is how you get into wars. You don’t get into wars if you’re strong.”

The idea that “weak” countries must fight to uphold their status might seem self-evident. However, while McKeon’s logic might have made sense in the Bronze Age, it makes little sense in the modern age.

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The World Is Failing Failed States

January 28th, 2014

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Representatives of the Syrian regime and rebel groups currently meeting in Geneva face an arduous task: ending a bloody civil war that has lasted three years, cost  130,000 livesdisplaced nearly 9 million people and turned a developed,middle-income state into a failed one. Syria’s problems — ethnic and sectarian tensions, weak institutions and little rule of law — aren’t uncommon in the international arena. What is common among failed states is the international community’s inability to effectively deal with them. According to the 2013 Failed State Index, there are 35 states that have already failed or are in serious danger of failing.

State failures rarely occur in a vacuum; they can destabilize entire regions, as Syria has already done. Some on the right and the left argue that military intervention is the best way to hasten a peaceful political solution and restoration of order. Perhaps they are correct, but only in the short-term; even if a political solution is found, it would be built upon an unsteady foundation of poor civilian institutions. Fixing failed states involves a long-term effort to help them build better, more inclusive institutions. Otherwise, a political solution will only prolong the inevitable. Read the rest of this entry »

How the U.S. Can Do More for Syrian Refugees

January 14th, 2014

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The conflict in Syria has created a massive refugee crisis. The number of refugees that have fled the country, already estimated at 2 million, is expected to double by the end of 2014. The refugee crisis is the largest displacement of people in decades, producing more refugees than either Rwanda or Bosnia.

So, how many Syrian refugees has the United States – a nation that prides itself on opening its doors to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – allowed into the country?

90.

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The Peril of Credential Creep in Foreign Policy

October 3rd, 2013

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In the late 10th century A.D., China’s Song dynasty expanded its civil service exams to select the best and the brightest to be the future bureaucrats of the expanding Chinese Empire. These examinations were rigorous and arcane, less concerned with management and more with Confucian metaphysics. Success catapulted a student into the ranks of the successful elite – but failure provoked an existential crisis, or even suicide. Contemporary observers were appalled by the fierce competition. “A healthy society cannot come about when people study not for the purpose of gaining wisdom and knowledge but for the purpose of becoming government officials,” a Song-era Chinese philosopher wrote.  Read the rest of this entry »

For Syrian Weapons, Quick-and-Dirty Beats Slow-and-Steady

September 20th, 2013

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Now that Syria has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international community’s focus is shifting to how to destroy the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. The choice is simple: either the slow and methodical approach stipulated by the treaty that could take up to 10 years or more, as it has in the U.S., Russia and other countries; or a faster, cheaper approach that has been used in other countries such as Iraq after the Gulf War.

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