In the Tank: Don’t Forget About the Sequester

This week’s best research and commentary on the latest in national security and foreign policy issues from top think tanks around the world. By Kedar Pavgi

Welcome to “In the Tank,” Defense One’s weekly think tank roundup. Every week, we’ll present the latest research and commentary published by think tanks from around the world on defense, national security, foreign policy, technology, and management. If you’d like to submit your latest research, or articles, email Kedar Pavgi at

‘More Pain’ is Coming if the Sequester is Left in Place
Bipartisan Policy Center
Steve Bell, Blaise Misztal, Maj. Gen. Arnold L. Punaro, Shai Akabas, Brian Collins and Ashton Kunkle

The government shutdown may have ended on Thursday, but continuing budget cuts from sequestration will cause “permanent damage” to the national security establishment, according to analysts from the Bipartisan Policy Center. “Essential government services, especially in defense, are not being performed, and will not be if sequester continues,” the researchers said. “The combination of sequester cuts and unaddressed cost increases will erode force readiness, stall modernization, and reduce the fighting forces by at least 50% by 2021.” Should it stay in place, sequestration will have double the impact in fiscal 2014 that it did in fiscal 2013, and triple in fiscal 2015.  “More pain is coming and it will be more intense,” the analysts warn.

The Possibility of a Bad Deal With Iran
Maseh Zarif
American Enterprise Institute

The Obama administration has promised a strong stance when negotiating with Iran, but a current “emerging framework” suggests that officials are falling for a “half-measure” that will harm U.S. interests in the Middle East, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Maseh Zarif. “It would allow Tehran to retain and continue developing its fissile material production capability and its delivery systems and effectively grant it a pass on its weaponization-related activities,” Zarif writes. Iran’s lead negotiator has already brushed off the possibility of using a U.N. Security Council resolution as a “basis for talks” and Tehran’s rhetoric only “reflects an obvious desire to neuter the IAEA,” Zarif argues. “We have no reason to assess that Iran is preparing to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability by verifiably suspending and dismantling its nuclear program,” Zarif writes.

Could Obama Give Iran Sanctions Relief on His Own?
Patrick Clawson
Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The Obama administration doesn’t need to wait for Congress to ease up on some of the U.S. sanctions on Iran, argues the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Patrick Clawson. “If he is willing to pay the political price, President Obama can give Iran as much economic relief as he wishes by simply not enforcing existing sanctions,” Clawson writes. The administration would have precedent in doing so: the Clinton administration refused to implement portions of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act in the mid 1990s, to the consternation of Congress. Still, in today’s toxic political environment in Washington, Congress may prefer that Obama take the lead in unilaterally lifting sanctions. “In the case of Iran, such an approach could allow Washington to reach a nuclear accord without Congress having to vote on rescinding, even temporarily or conditionally, certain sanctions,” Clawson writes. “No matter how stiff and far-reaching sanctions may be as embodied in U.S. law, they would have less bite if the administration stopped enforcing them.”

Is the Arab Gulf Hedging Against Washington?
Frederic Wehrey
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Washington’s “retreat” from the Middle East will spur Gulf countries to adopt a more “muscular” approach to safeguard their security, writes the Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Wehrey. “If history is any guide, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf more generally, will continue to pursue policies that align with the broad contours of U.S. strategy—but with a creeping preference for hedging and unilateralism that will, in some cases, clash with U.S. interests,” Wehrey said. Saudi Arabia is especially worried about the possibility of warming relations between the U.S and Iran, which fears that any compromise “will come at the expense of Arab Gulf states and Arab countries in general.” Riyadh was especially shaken by Obama’s decision to accept a deal with Russia to dismantle the Syrian chemical weapons program, and their cancellation of a U.N. General Assembly speech this year was seen as a snub towards Washington. Still, the Saudis will need to rely on U.S. help in the near future to maintain a tricky security balance in the Gulf. “Like it or not, Washington is still the only game in town, given Europe’s disarray and China’s unwillingness to shoulder a security burden for the region.”