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Washington’s World: February 8th, 2016 – February 14th, 2016

The new projections for defense spending are prompting intense debate in Washington about an apparent return by Pentagon strategists to a doctrine in which preparations for a possible future conflict with China or Russia or both constitute the highest priority. At a time of rising concern that a multi-year US presence in Afghanistan will be needed, when there are suggestions that a new intervention in Libya is under consideration, when the Syria peace talks are in disarray and when there are widely contrasting views about the state of operations against the Islamic State questions are being asked about whether the Pentagon has got its threat assessment right. The answer appears to be that the Pentagon is indeed looking beyond the current engagements in the Middle East, for which it feels adequately resourced, to a time when it may face adversaries armed with equal or even superior technology. To compensate for this perceived threat, for example, an initiative is underway to consolidate the Pentagon’s links with Silicon Valley, equipment and personnel are being moved to the Baltic States and patrols in the South China Sea are being stepped up. Our Administration contacts tell us that these long-term dispositions do not imply any reduction in the immediate priority of defeating the IS. Ironically, cooperation with  Russia, whose help for the Damascus regime has transformed the military dynamics in that country, has become ever more important for this purpose. As a State Department official commented to us: “Foreign Minister Lavrov is both Kerry’s main bugbear and his main focus of finding a solution in Syria.” Also with regard to the IS, despite US statements of caution, we understand that intelligence assessments warning that certain Libyan oil fields in the vicinity of Sirte may be on the point of falling under IS control have led to active exchanges with US allies about the possible need for renewed airstrikes or even the deployment of combat forces. There is little reason to believe that the US will follow the latter course, but new air strikes appear increasingly likely.

Key Judgments

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