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Security Dilemmas
Washington, DC
Richard Purcell is a freelance writer covering international security affairs. He holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and worked as a legislative staffer on Capitol Hill for nine years. You can follow him on Twitter at @SecurityDilems.
Recent Activity
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On February 9, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence each held hearings on worldwide threats facing the United States. Testimony was provided by James Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence. For the fourth year in a row, Clapper’s written report opens with a discussion of U.S. vulnerabilities in the realms of cyber and information technology. This section differs significantly from last year’s assessment, which downplayed the likelihood of a “Cyber Armageddon” and stated that the United States was more likely to be faced with ongoing low- to moderate-scale cyber attacks. The new report warns... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at Security Dilemmas
The National Interest published my article on the debate over whether or not the U.S. should build a new nuclear-armed cruise missile. You can read it here. -- Richard Purcell Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2016 at Security Dilemmas
In 1983, the United States and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to nuclear war. That is the conclusion of a recently declassified report by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) written during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Declassification of the report, entitled “The Soviet ‘War Scare,’” was the result of a twelve-year effort by researcher Nate Jones and his colleagues at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The board, which conducts oversight of the U.S. intelligence community for the White House, appears to confirm that by 1983 the Soviet leadership had become very fearful of a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2016 at Security Dilemmas
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Iran is widely considered the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Its history of terrorism dates back to the earliest days of the 1979 revolution when militant students who supported Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized sixty-three hostages from the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held them captive for 444 days. Over the years since then, Iran has embraced international terrorism as a way to advance its interests throughout the Middle East and beyond. However, its sponsorship of terrorist acts has declined significantly since the mid-1990s. In the post-9/11 era, a time when the primary terrorist threat has come from al Qaeda... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, public concern about international terrorism has largely focused on Sunni extremist groups such as al Qaeda, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State. Often overlooked is Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist organization in Lebanon whose origins date back to the early 1980s. Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah was responsible for more American deaths than any other group. Hezbollah’s origins are somewhat difficult to discern. It appears to have first emerged in 1982 in response to Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon intended to evict the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from its... Continue reading
Posted Dec 25, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
I wrote a review of ISIS: State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger for the SAIS Review. You can read it by clicking here. -- Richard Purcell Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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The military campaign led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebel movement in Yemen is now well into its sixth month. Much of the international community’s concern about this conflict has been rightly focused on the humanitarian toll it has taken on Yemen’s population. However, there is also a growing awareness among many observers that the campaign is benefitting al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Despite the recent rise of the Islamic State, U.S. intelligence considers AQAP to be the most potent threat to the U.S. homeland. In December 2009, it sponsored an attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines... Continue reading
Posted Oct 11, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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In a recent editorial in the Washington Post, Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute criticized the Obama administration for arguing that the only alternative to the agreement that was reached earlier this month between the P5+1 and Tehran is war. Kagan describes this as a “false dichotomy.” Instead, he argues, “the choice at hand is between accepting this deal now or continuing to press and negotiate for a better deal later.” Kagan’s perspective on this topic is more or less universal among conservatives in the United States and Israel who believe that if the Obama administration had threatened Iran... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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Earlier this month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey released the 2015 National Military Strategy, the first one to be published in four years. Its release follows the recent publication of two related documents, the U.S. National Security Strategy and the national maritime strategy, both of which were made public earlier this year. In his foreword to the 2015 report, General Dempsey describes the current environment as “the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service.” He states that the U.S. now faces “multiple, simultaneous security challenges from traditional state actors and transregional networks of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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The plight of Burma’s Rohingya population has been the focus of increased attention in recent weeks as a result of the refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. However, the immediate focus on the humanitarian situation, while merited, should not distract the international community from the ongoing persecution the Rohingya face in Burma, which is a longer term problem. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority of approximately 1.3 million concentrated in western Burma’s Rakhine State, have been described by some observers as one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Their presence in Burma dates back to at least the 1800s, but... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
The SAIS Europe Journal published my article on the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. You can read it here. -- Richard Purcell Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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Today was supposed to mark the start of United Nations sponsored talks aimed at resolving the conflict in Yemen. The announcement of the planned negotiations by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 21 had seemed to offer a glimmer of hope that the fighting between the Yemen’s Houthi movement and a coalition of Sunni Middle Eastern countries led by Saudi Arabia could be brought to an end. However, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s exiled president, declared just a few days later that he would not enter into any discussions with the Houthis until they have withdrawn from the Yemeni cities they... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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It has now been a little over a month since a coalition of ten Sunni Arab nations, led primarily by Saudi Arabia, began launching air strikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels intended to restore the country’s deposed president Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power. Riyadh and its allies initiated the military campaign in response to Hadi’s request for outside help in late March just before he was forced to flee the country by advancing Houthi forces. The bombing and the accompanying naval blockade have plunged the nation into a humanitarian crisis but has so far failed to force the Houthis to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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On March 13, the Pentagon released an updated version of the U.S. maritime strategy put together by the three U.S. maritime services (the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard). Entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready,” the report is revision of the previous strategy that was published in October 2007. The decision to put forth a new one was motivated by a number of developments, including China’s ongoing ascension as a global power, the increasing threat posed by anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons, increasing global demand for energy resources, and changes in the U.S. fiscal outlook.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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The Senate Armed Services Committee received testimony on Thursday from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency head Vincent Stewart about the global threats facing the United States. Clapper’s written testimony submitted for the record spanned 29 pages and surveyed transnational threats as well as regional challenges to U.S. security. On the global front, the first topic discussed in the report is cyber security. It notes that cyber threats against the U.S. from state and non-state actors continue to proliferate. However, it downplays the risk of a devastating cyber attack, emphasizing instead that the country is likely... Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his much anticipated speech to Congress yesterday about the ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. His address did not break any new ground. In it, he depicted Iran as a fundamentally aggressive state on par with Nazi Germany that threatens not only Israel but “the peace of the entire world.” Netanyahu also warned that if the current nuclear negotiations between the P5+1, led by the United States, and Iran leads to an agreement it “would all but guarantee that Iran gets [nuclear] weapons – lots of them.” He argued that any such deal would... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 mandated that the executive branch annually produce a written report on U.S. national security strategy. However, this requirement has not always been followed. Only two were written under the George W. Bush administration, one in 2002 and one in 2006. The Obama administration issued its first national security strategy in 2010, a year after taking office. The new version released last week is the first in five years. A great deal of things has changed over that time, many of them not for the better. Russia illegally annexed Crimea and is... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
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In a recent interview, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work was candid about the challenges facing the Pentagon in countering the growing array of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons being fielded by China and other potential U.S. adversaries. He noted that it is much more expensive for the U.S. to field missile defense systems to protect its ships and bases overseas than it is for the Chinese to deploy the cruise and ballistic missiles they are intended to defend against. “Right now,” he said, “we’re on the losing end of a cost imposing strategy.” The United States is a geographically isolated... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2015 at Security Dilemmas
World Politics Review published an article I wrote about the Pentagon's new "third offset strategy" initiative. You can read it here. -- Richard Purcell Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
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As the Pentagon has begun to reorient its focus back toward conventional warfare after more than a decade of fighting counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has become apparent that the U.S. ability to project military power is increasingly under threat. Since the end of World War II, the United States has relied on its ability to sustain military operations far from its shores in support of its national interests. However, the proliferation of advanced “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) capabilities by potential adversaries has cast growing doubt on the U.S. military’s ability to deploy to, and operate effectively in, distant... Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
Much ink has been devoted to the national security rationale behind the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and for good reason. The assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed a growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, and that his regime provided meaningful support to al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups, are acknowledged by all but the war’s most die-hard supporters to be untrue. The arguments for invading Iraq that were convincing to so many Americans proved hollow, and it is no surprise that they have been the subject of considerable scrutiny. Considerably less attention has been paid to pre-war... Continue reading
Posted Sep 28, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
As the fallout from the November 26 U.S. air attack that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers continues, it’s still far from clear what actually took place. It’s difficult to even find a clear description of the known facts from a credible news source. What does seem clear is that U.S. and Afghan forces were conducting night operations against a Taliban training base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border when they came under fire. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan have asserted that the fire originated from the Pakistani side of the border, but Pakistani officials dispute this. U.S. AH-64 attack helicopters and AC-130... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
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The Washington Post published an interesting article on Thursday by reporter Joby Warrick that discussed Iran’s growing ability to challenge U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and the surrounding region. It’s a topic that merits examination. With no end in sight to international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program and the ongoing possibility of a shooting conflict erupting in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s military capabilities should not be overlooked. No one doubts that the U.S. military is vastly superior to Iran’s armed forces, or that the U.S. would prevail in the event of a conflict if sufficiently determined. In fact,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
In his recent book entitled Toppling Qaddafi: Libya and the Limits of Liberal Intervention, Christopher Chivvis, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, explores the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya that ultimately brought down Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. Toppling Qaddafi, which came out in late 2013, is a detailed account of the events that transpired from the perspective of policymakers in Washington and other NATO capitals. Along the way, Chivvis does a thorough job in examining the many different aspects of the campaign, including the international political climate that existed at the time, the intense debate within the Obama administration... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2014 at Security Dilemmas
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Japan and China are locked in an ongoing standoff over the status of a series of uninhabited islands and rocks located 170 kilometers northeast of Taiwan. These islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China, are part of the larger chain of Ryukyu Islands that extend southwest from the Japanese mainland. The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan, have a total area of only seven square kilometers, making them about twice the size of Central Park. On their face, they do not seem like an obvious source of international friction. Over the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2014 at Security Dilemmas