Potential Conflicts for U.S. Military Abound – Can They Be Managed Simultaneously?

By Chris Adams

Three experts from the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank focused on foreign affairs, led Paul Miller fellows through an overview of the key foreign policy challenges the United States faces in the first year of the Trump administration.

From the longstanding stalemates with foes Russia and North Korea, to the ongoing quagmire that is the war in Afghanistan, the nation is facing an array of traditional challenges as well as modern ones. But, as Stimson co-founder Barry Blechman pointed out, “we’ve lived under that threat for decades.”

Stimson has a staff of experts on a range of global issues. In a series of presentations and a Q&A, Stimson covered three of the hottest hotspots now confronting U.S. leaders: Russian, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Blechman detailed the current stalemate with Russia, the role Russia played in the recent U.S. presidential election, and escalating political and military tensions in Europe, renewing fears of a war between Russia and NATO. He said that while relations between the U.S. and Russia are bleak in the near-term, they could move toward normalization after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expected reelection in 2018.

Sameer Lalwani, a senior associate and co-director of Stimson’s South Asia Program, described one of the thorniest questions facing U.S. military leaders: Is it possible to “win” the war in Afghanistan?

That’s the focus of Washington, including top politicians such as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who recently said, “Instead of trying to win, we have settled for just trying not to lose.” Trump recently said that wasn’t enough: “The men and women who serve our nation in combat deserve a plan for victory. They deserve the tools they need, and the trust they have earned, to fight and to win.”

But is winning even possible? Lalwani reviewed studies on how likely it is to defeat a counterinsurgency (not very). And even if there is a victory, will it be durable? (Again, not likely.)

Yun Sun, a senior associate with Stimson’s East Asia program, reviewed the escalating conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, including the war of words between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She reviewed North Korea’s accelerating nuclear program and described why that country sees development of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles as pivotal to its long-term security.

“North Korea will not engage until they have the missiles,” she said.

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