2011 Global Forecast

International Security in a Time of Uncertainty

We have witnessed a number of significant challenges to international security in recent years. Some crises have arisen so quickly and with so little warning that national security professionals have had difficulty responding in ways that maintain strategic balance. Other challenges have emerged so slowly and over such a vast scale that near-term options appear limited. How to determine in real time what is a tectonic shift and what is merely a low-magnitude tremor. How to anticipate events and set clear policy goals at a time of such dynamism?

A factor often overlooked in efforts to forecast what is happening “over there” is the effect of what is happening here. CSIS carried out a study for the National Intelligence Council in 2010 looking at foreign assessments of U.S. power. The study demonstrated that while countries see the U.S. position declining relative to rising powers like China, most see the current international order as durable so long as the United States continues to play its traditional leadership role. In fact, foreign expectations of U.S. power remain great and are increasing despite our economic troubles. The long-term worry in Europe, Asia, and the Gulf is not over U.S. capacity, but U.S. resolve.

In this context, the most important effect of killing Osama bin Laden may be the signal it sends to allies and enemies alike about the continuing ability of the United States to achieve its stated national security objectives. The lasting misfortune of the past decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the impression overseas—rightly or wrongly—that the United States has failed to bend the environment to our stated vision. Washington needs to signal strength, particularly in a time of uncertainty.

This brief volume is an effort to capture CSIS’s collective wisdom of the changing international security picture at this moment of great fluctuation. Included are essays by more than 30 CSIS experts, offering economic, military, regional, and global perspectives on the newly emerging security landscape.