Challenges, Changes, and Continuity: The United States and a Fragmented Regional Order
April 15, 2019
It is brutally obvious from the proposed U.S. defense budget for FY2020 that the United States set broad goals in early 2018 for what it called a new national defense strategy that were not supported by meaningful plans, programs and proposed budgets. So far, the U.S. has not defined how it will implement any major elements of the broad concepts it chose to call a strategy, what force changes will need to take place and at what cost, and how this will affect America's strategic partners.
These issues are explored in depth in a recent Burke Chair study entitled The FY2020 Defense Budget and the Need for a Real Strategy Driven Budget . This study is available on the Burke Chair web site at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/190301_FY2020_Fiscal_Balance.Final_.pdf.
USCENTCOM has made real progress in trying to reshape U.S. strategic partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – progress explored in a separate paper entitled Shaping Effective Strategic Partnerships in the MENA Region (https://www.csis.org/analysis/shaping-effective-strategic-partnerships-mena-region).
It is clear, however, that the U.S. has not made clear decisions about the need to reshape the U.S. force posture in the region, and such strategic partnerships, at the White House level. It is also clear that the U.S. may be seriously exaggerating the strategic impact of breaking up Daesh's attempt to form a state or "caliphate," and underestimating both the need to maintain an effective force posture in the region and the need to develop an overall strategy for dealing with regional instability and the continuing threat posed by extremism and terrorism.
At the same time, many of America's strategic partners in the regional underestimate or deny the level of challenges their countries pose by ignoring key sources of internal tension and conflict and the divisiveness within its Arab states. They ignore or understate the extent to which their divisions and internal problems are the source of the region's problems and extremism, and the extent to which they must address and solve these problems at a national level.
A brief survey of these issues can only highlight selected parts of the problems involved. Such a survey does, however, make it all too clear that both sides need to take a more realistic look at the nature and causes of the region's instability, and that creating truly effective strategic partnerships requires both sides to change their present policies. This survey is provided in metric form in United States Strategic Partnerships in the Middle East and a Fragmented Regional Order. It is available on the Burke Chair web site at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/190415_Fragmented_Regional_Order.pdf.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.