Week of April 26, 2019


The 2020 presidential race picks up speed this week as former Vice President Biden joins the race.

The Monitor analysis looks at the future of US-Russian relations now that the Mueller Report says Trump didn’t collude with Russia or Putin.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation warns that ISIS will not go quietly.  When looking at potential threats, they note, “ISIS might target Europe instead of the U.S. For one thing, they have done it before and had success. The waves of Middle Eastern migration have been exploited to put in place a network of operatives and sympathizers stretching from the UK over half of Western Europe. In addition, European police forces are struggling to keep up with the threat. They lack officers with language skills and training in community policing and intelligence-led policing, the tools most useful in rooting out local violent extremist activity. In contrast, the U.S. is a much harder target.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Saudi royal succession and the possible outcomes, including MBS not becoming king.  They conclude, “In the current circumstances, the United States should work closely with MbS in order to limit the damage from his excesses, while also maintaining links across the spectrum of the royal family. His succession may appear inevitable, but circumstances could change. Such a bridging policy—allowing for at least the possibility of a non-MbS future—may be inimical to MbS but would be very much in the interests of the United States.”

The American Foreign Policy Council looks at nuclear weapons modernization.  In their recommendation, they note, “the administration and Congress should continue their support for the Columbia-class SSBN and associated Trident life extension programs, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBM to replace the Minuteman III and refurbishment of 450 launch facilities, the B-21 Raider and the Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile. In addition, the administration and Congress should continue their bipartisan support for existing NNSA warhead and infrastructure programs, DoD life extensions and nuclear command, control, and communications enhancements.”

The Heritage Foundation praises President Trump for vetoing the Yemen War resolution.  They note, “Trump’s veto is also strongly justified on policy grounds. The Yemen war resolution from Congress is a blunt instrument that could have inflicted severe collateral damage on a range of U.S. national interests in the Middle East.  It would have resulted in abandoning allies that are fighting in Yemen to defend themselves and to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemen, which was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2015 in a bloody coup that violated a U.N.-brokered ceasefire. The Trump administration has already stopped the aerial refueling of Saudi warplanes involved in the Yemen conflict and called for a negotiated settlement…It is no secret that many in Congress saw the vote as a means of punishing the Saudi government for its involvement in the death of Jamal Khashoggi last October. But the measure would have punished not just Saudi Arabia, but also the government of Yemen, and other countries fighting against the Houthis in the Saudi-led coalition: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan.”

The CSIS looks at America’s international security assistance.  They note, “Burden shifting responsibly to allies and partners requires the United States to integrate oversight and accountability measures into the implementation of security sector assistance. Oversight and accountability mechanisms for security sector assistance allow the United States to better direct, track, and calibrate its assistance to partners to ensure the full scope of U.S. policy goals are met. However, amid reforms being undertaken by the U.S. government to adapt security sector assistance policy and processes, greater clarity is needed on how to connect policy goals of oversight and accountability to planning, operations, doctrine, and training across the security assistance enterprise.”

The Carnegie Endowment looks at the local elections in Turkey.  They conclude, “The opposition is now in command of the cities that make up 65 % of the nation’s GDP. Its immediate challenge is to match and outperform the service delivery standards achieved by AKP local governments over the past decades…For Erdoğan, the challenge will be to overcome the perception of weakness in the wake of a major electoral loss. His immediate concern will be the shape of the economy. His political fortunes will depend on how soon he can return Turkey to a path of sustainable growth…Local elections have demonstrated that despite having achieved a remarkable degree of power centralisation, Erdoğan and the AKP remain vulnerable to economic and political undercurrents, just as should be the case in a normal democracy. So, in many ways, the winner on Sunday was the image of Turkey’s polity, both at home and abroad. Despite being saddled with big problems, Turkish democracy demonstrated its resilience and vibrancy, and hinted at a future beyond populist and divisive politics.”




US – Russian Relations in the Post Mueller Report Era

Now that the Mueller Report has concluded that Trump didn’t collude with Russia and Putin to win the presidential election in 2016, the US-Russian relationship is expected to evolve.

The accusations had made President Trump’s actions towards Russia suspect.  Despite accusations that he was too close to Russia, Trump had accused Russia of violating the “spirit and intent” of the 1987 intermediate range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.  He had also imposed sanctions against eight Russian companies for trading with Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

On 26 March 2018, following the United States National Security Council’s recommendation, the U.S. supported the UK’s position on the Salisbury poisoning incident and President Trump ordered the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats and closure of Russian consulate in Seattle.

Despite these actions, Trump was described as weak towards Putin during their talks in Finland last year.  Many said it was a “payoff” for Russia’s help in the 2016 election.

Now that the Mueller report has come out, Trump now has the freedom to carry out normal relations with Russia.  That includes negotiations to reduce tensions, especially in terms of nuclear weapons, and the normal “back and forth” one normally sees between to powers that have opposing policies.

Here is what we can expect to see soon

US – RUSSIA SUMMIT.  Ever since the Cold War began, it has been a policy for the leaders of Russia (or the Soviet Union) and the US to meet in a major summit that took several days.  That hasn’t happened with Trump and Putin because of questions about Russian collusion with Trump.

With the Mueller Report out of the way, we can expect to see planning for a major summit – probably in 2020 – in time for the election.

Since the US and Russia control 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons talks will take priority.  Some of the issues will be the cancellation of the INF Treaty, anti-missile systems, nuclear proliferation, and a recognition that China must be made a co-signer of any major nuclear weapons deal.

The INF treaty will be a major issue and the US is expected to push for a new INF treaty that includes China.  How far Russia will go will depend on other issues with China.  However, since Chinese intermediate nuclear weapons are a threat to Russia, there is no doubt that Putin will be receptive to the issue.

An area of “push back” by Russia will be the deployment of anti-missile systems, especially in Eastern Europe.  The problem is that the US sees these systems as protection of eastern NATO nations that are afraid of a more aggressive Russia.  These missile systems also have some use against Iranian ballistic missiles.

A comprehensive deal is possible between the US and Russia that would re-impose some restrictions on intermediate nuclear weapons and limiting the number and placement of anti-missile systems.  However, the long-term chances of such a deal will depend on China’s willingness to join in negotiations.

CHINA AND RELATIONS WITH THE US AND RUSSIA.  For half a century, there has been a complex dance between Russia, the US, and China.  Starting with Secretary of State Kissinger, the US started warming relations with China in order to offset the Soviet Union.  The result was improving economic and trade relations with China, as well as a natural limitation on Russian ambitions.

Today Russia is looking towards China to limit American expansionism, especially by forcing the US to focus on the South China Sea.  It is also improving economic relations by expressing interest in the “Silk Road” economic initiative that will link Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.  The initiative will include 30% of the world’s GDP and 40% of the world’s population.  Most important, it excludes America.

By improving relations with Russia, the United States can encourage Russia to turn towards Europe again.  The fact is that the new Silk Road is underdeveloped and lacking in infrastructure and money to buy Russian goods.  Europe, on the other hand, has the resources to buy Russian goods and invest in the Russian economy.

However, reopening the economic links between Russia and Europe require a lessening of tensions between Russia, the US, and NATO.  This, in turn requires a serious summit between Putin and Trump, followed by a G-7 Meeting.

SYRIA, RUSSIA, AND THE US.  Although there are neocons in Congress and the Administration that continue to encourage the overthrow of Assad, it appears that Trump wants to reduce the American presence in that nation and eventually to resume normal relations with president Assad government.

The reality is that Russia has won in Syria by backing president Assad and the US should recognize it.  That, however, isn’t that bad for the US.  Russia wants a stable, secular government that will side with Russia and grant Russia military bases.  This, in turn, limits Iranian influence in the area, since Iran desires a stronger influence and isn’t interested in a Syria with a major Russian presence.

This is clearly a case where Russian and American interests coincide.

An advantage for America is that a Syria backed by the Russians will necessarily negatively impact Turkish-Russian relations.  Although Turkey is buying Russian anti-aircraft systems (the top of the line Russian S-400), Turkey and Russia have been enemies for over a millennium.

Turkey sees itself as having the right to interfere in Syrian affairs and will not easily condone Russian interference.  We are already seeing an Erdogan weakened by local elections and in the long run, Turkey will have to realize once again that Russia and Turkey have conflicting policies in the region.  At that time, it will realize that it may be best to “play its NATO card” instead.

The best move for the US is to recognize Russian influence in Syria, which will slow Iranian expansionism in the Levant and force Turkey to reconsider its relations with Russia.

IRAN, THE US, AND RUSSIA.  Historically Russia and Iran have never been natural allies.  Even during the times of the Czars and Persian Shahs, they have fought over influence in Central Asia.  Until recently Iraq was a Russian backed nation while Iran was Western.

That battle over influence continues today, which is one reason for Russia’s interest in a new Silk Road.  They are probably less interested in the commercial advantages than countering Iranian influence in the region.

While Russia and Iran have conflicting interests, the overriding policy is the old proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Chinese and Iranian expansionism has tied down much of the American military and left areas like the Mediterranean empty of American warships.  This gives the resurgent Russian Navy more influence, although their ability to neutralize the US Navy is questionable.

By sanctioning both Russia and Iran, the US has created an economic alliance between the two nations that would have never occurred normally.  With the end of the Mueller investigation, Trump has more flexibility to work with Russia.  This could entail the end of some economic sanctions and closer ties with Europe in return for joining the rest of the world in economically isolating Iran.

One powerful tool that the US has is offering to end the sanctions against Syria.  This would solidify relations between Syria and Russia, build relations with Europe and the US with Syria and would reduce Iranian influence in the region.

SOUTH AMERICA, RUSSIA, AND THE US.  As mentioned in a previous analysis, the United States has historically considered the America’s its own sphere of influence.

Russian and Chinese influence in Venezuela has worried the Americans.  In addition to economically supporting the nation, both countries have sent small numbers of troops to Venezuela to support president Maduro and his government.

Although Russia has supported the status quo, the number of troops is small, and the size of the Russian contingent makes it clear to Washington that there is no interest in making Venezuela area of contention between the two nations.  Washington still hoping that eventually the current regime will collapse, and the Russian troops will be only used to conduct an orderly evacuation of Russian citizens and current Venezuelan government officials.

NORTH KOREA, RUSSIAN, AND THE US.  North Korea, which has closely allied itself with China, is now expanding its diplomatic horizons by holding a summit with Putin.  This is the first meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un although Putin has visited South Korea and the South Korean president has spoken before the Russian Duma.

Russia joined the rest of the United Nations in condemning the NK nuclear testing and imposing additional sanctions.

Russia sees better relations with North Korea as a counter to Chinese influence.  It also gives North Korea more diplomatic influence in its negotiations with the US.  However, economic relations are limited due to North Korea’s underdeveloped economy.

Since Russia and North Korea have had a long-term relationship, Trump could use Putin to put pressure on Kim.  However, the chance that Russian influence could lead to a breakthrough is unlikely.  In the end, relations between the US and NK will depend on Kim and Trump.

As with the North Korean relationship, improvements between the US and Russia offer limited opportunities. The end of the Mueller investigation will improve the atmosphere between the two nations but will not open a “golden age” of peace and understanding.

The US and Russia will have their disagreements and agreements – as seen in Libya.  However, the current atmosphere allows Trump to work with Russia on several fronts where both nations have similar interests.

It is likely to see more initiatives by the Trump administration in the coming months aiming to reduce tensions with the hope that a breakthrough should occur if and when Trump is reelected, such outcome is looking slim

As time passes.



Strategic Primer – Nuclear Weapons Modernization

By Richard M. Harrison and Mark A. Bucknam

American Foreign Policy Council

March 20, 2019

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been woefully underfunded. The relatively benign appearance of the strategic environment facing America at the start of the 21st century’s second decade led the Obama administration to make “preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism” the top priority of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The 2010 NPR also made clear the president’s policy of “reducing U.S. nuclear weapons and their role in U.S. national security.” Not surprisingly, then, for two-and-a-half decades—a quarter of a century— the U.S. nuclear deterrent mission, and the weapons that underpin it, became an afterthought for the Pentagon’s policy-makers and acquisition officials. Additionally, little coordination took place between the DOE and DoD, the two organizations chiefly responsible for nuclear warheads and their delivery systems, leaving vital scientific and engineering experience to erode.

Read more at:


Shifting the Burden Responsibly: Oversight and Accountability in U.S. Security Sector Assistance

By Melissa Dalton, Hijab Shah, Tommy Ross, and Asya Akca

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 24, 2019

The United States increasingly relies on allies and partners to accomplish shared security objectives around the globe. In recent years, a greater emphasis has been placed from burden sharing to burden shifting—enabling allies and partners to assume responsibility for their own security challenges through security sector assistance. Burden shifting responsibly to allies and partners requires the United States to integrate oversight and accountability measures into the implementation of security sector assistance. Oversight and accountability mechanisms for security sector assistance allow the United States to better direct, track, and calibrate its assistance to partners to ensure the full scope of U.S. policy goals are met. However, amid reforms being undertaken by the U.S. government to adapt security sector assistance policy and processes, greater clarity is needed on how to connect policy goals of oversight and accountability to planning, operations, doctrine, and training across the security assistance enterprise.

Read more at:


U.S. Must Never be Complacent about ISIS Threat

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

April 19, 2019

Nobody expects ISIS to go quietly into the night. That’s not what Islamist terrorist groups do. What this particular group wants now is revenge for their humiliating defeat in Syria and Iraq. The question is: Where will they strike to try to save face? America is on watch to make sure it doesn’t happen here. Make no mistake about it, losing its self-proclaimed caliphate was a devastating blow to ISIS, psychologically as well as militarily. In the Middle East, power is honor. By controlling a vast territory with over 10 million inhabitants, ISIS commanded honor and attracted more followers eager to back this “strong horse.” But that once strong horse is now seen as powerless in the wake of a counteroffensive that eliminated its control of every last village. Nothing could be more degrading. The only way to get back in the game and regain their “honor” is to demonstrate they can continue to kill innocents and the bigger the numbers the better.

Read more at:


Trump’s Veto of Yemen War Resolution Protects U.S. Security Interests

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

April 18, 2019

President Donald Trump rebuffed congressional efforts to withdraw U.S. support from the war in Yemen on Tuesday, vetoing a bill that would have forced the U.S. to cease support for the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

In his veto statement, Trump explained: This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future. Trump clearly had strong legal, constitutional, and policy reasons for exercising his veto.  For starters, his statement challenged the use of the War Powers Act as a basis for the legislation, S.J. Res. 7, because U.S. military forces were not directly engaged in hostilities in Yemen apart from occasional military operations against al-Qaeda and associated forces, which were explicitly exempted from the legislation. As the president said:  This joint resolution is unnecessary because, apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.

Read more at:




A Fifty-Year Reign? MbS and the Future of Saudi Arabia

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

April 2019


King Salman is eighty-three years old and appears to be in increasingly poor physical and mental health. Although he continues to have a packed schedule of meetings, such occasions appear carefully staged. He receives prompts for remarks on a screen often partially hidden by flowers set on a table. He also stoops when he is standing and walks with a stick. When he addressed the Arab League–European Union summit in the Egyptian city of Sharm al-Sheikh in February 2019, he made embarrassing mistakes when reading his speech and, on at least one occasion, lost his place in the text until an aide assisted him. For many months, MbS, thirty-four this year, has clearly been the top decisionmaker in the kingdom. The young royal has been crown prince and heir apparent since mid-2017, when he forced his cousin Prince Muhammad bin Nayef to resign. MbS had previously been deputy crown prince, a position to which he was promoted in April 2015—three months after his father succeeded to the throne on the death of King Abdullah.

Read more:


Turkish Democracy Is the Winner in These Momentous Local Elections


Carnegie Endowment

APRIL 3, 2019

Sunday’s local elections in Turkey resulted in a major setback for the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his ruling alliance. The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and nationalist MHP coalition lost Turkey’s major cities to an opposition ushering in an era of change at the local level. The political transitions in Istanbul and Ankara are critical given that these cities have been held by Erdoğan’s political “family” tradition since 1994. The loss in Istanbul (now subject to a challenge by the AKP) is also laden with symbolism since the city is linked with Erdoğan’s ascendance to the pinnacle of political power in Turkey. He entered national politics as the young and promising mayor of Istanbul, winning a tight municipal race 25 years ago. So the question is how a hitherto invincible leader and political movement has lost its footing, having been able to consolidate power for such a long time.

Read more at: