In the Tank: A Shutdown Won’t Hurt the Pivot

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, email Kedar Pavgi at

A Shutdown Won’t Hurt the Pivot
Michael Auslin
American Enterprise Institute

Missing this week’s meetings in Indonesia due to the government shutdown will not hurt the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, but Washington’s budget cuts “may call into question” the United States’ long term role in the region, argues the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Auslin. “Yes, it would have been better for Obama to join his fellow Asian leaders for several days of schmoozing,” Auslin writes.  “But Secretary of State John Kerry [traveled] to those four countries instead of Obama; ongoing negotiations and dialogues on security and economics will continue. When the shutdown ends, and the government returns to business as usual, Obama's cancellation will be quickly forgotten.”  The “bedrock” of U.S policy in Asia is its relationships and alliances, along with the thousands of government and military personnel working in the region.  Auslin says that budget cutbacks, including $1 trillion over the next decade to the Pentagon and diplomatic corps, will set back military training, joint exercises and consular services, which inevitably are more harmful to U.S. regional interests than the embarrassment of partisan gridlock.

Going Back to Africa Won’t Be Easy
J. Peter Pham
The Atlantic Council

Last weekend’s counterterrorism raids in Libya and Somalia shined a critical light on the limits of U.S. military capabilities in Africa, according to the Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham.  “Despite the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars that the US has poured into building up what are supposed to be capable and reliable local government partners in militant safe havens like Libya and Somalia, the results have been desultory at best,” Pham writes. Moreover, the U.S. faces gaps in intelligence capabilities and limited military resources, which “remain at levels far below where they should be” for such an important part of the world. A burgeoning battle in Washington over the future of U.S. Africa Comman which may be divided between Europe Command and Central Command -- could endanger future planning towards threats in this part of the world. Still, unless things change, the U.S will need to go it alone for the near future. “The United States and its allies have undoubtedly come a long way since the Battle of Mogadishu two decades ago, but, as with many things in that part of the world where, notwithstanding the tremendous advances made, there is more than a trace of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” Pham says.

Rouhani's Negotiating Strategy: Divide and Isolate
Steven Ditto
Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Is Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani actually warming relations with the West, or is he trying to exploit divisions between the powers negotiating with his country over its nuclear weapons capabilities? According to Steven Ditto of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, it’s the latter.  “Since his inauguration, Rouhani has met with four of the six P5+1 leaders and shown signs of driving a wedge between the EU and Washington's strategic outlooks,” Ditto writes. Rouhani’s past writings outlined his thinking on this strategy; in one instance, he said that a “foundational principle” of U.S-Iran relations was to “prevent compatibility and consensus between America and other world powers” on Iran. To counter this strategy, Ditto says that the U.S. must present a “united international front” towards Tehran, and reassure Europeans about the overall plan to handle Tehran’s nuclear weapons. “Doing so would clarify whether Tehran is serious about a deal, paving the way for a permanent and meaningful agreement while preserving Washington's preeminent role over the Iranian nuclear file,” Ditto says.

Why Didn’t China Step in on Syria?
Paul Haenle
Carnegie Tsinghua Center for Global Policy

By misreading President Obama’s intentions on Syria, China missed its opportunity to show the world that it is a “great power and constructive global leader,” according to Paul Haenle. “Because of its unique relations and influence with the parties involved—from Moscow to Damascus and Tehran—Beijing has an important role to play in identifying and negotiating creative diplomatic efforts in Syria,” Haenle writes. “China could have reached out to the United States and other key players to try to be part of the solution. Instead, it stood on the sidelines and offered criticisms and empty rhetoric.” Though China has long run its security policy within the confines of its global neighborhood, the conflagrations of the Middle East “are likely closer than Beijing realizes,” and will affect China for decades. 

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