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Washington’s World: October 24th – October 30th, 2016

Although the final presidential debate did touch on some foreign policy subjects, the discussion between the candidates was too politically heated to give much helpful insight into their respective thinking on this topic. We will therefore reserve a future issue for a calmer look at how they might structure their national security approaches. For more immediate purposes, operations to recapture Mosul, the Islamic State’s stronghold in Iraq, is fully underway and has already cost the life of one American serviceman. Pentagon contacts to whom we have spoken express confidence that success is within reach and also that the IS ‘capital’ of Raqqa in Syria will soon follow – with the participation of Turkey about whose intions prompted an unscheduled visit to Ankara by Secretary of Defense Carter. Mindful of the mistakes made in Iraq, the US-led coalition has developed extensive plans for post-contingency stabilization. Nonetheless, even if IS is successfully displaced from its territorial bases, there are fears that may still represent a significant terrorist threat especially in Europe. Meanwhile, Administration officials are quietly pleased that their exchanges with Saudi Arabia over Yemen have allowed a ceasefire to emerge there and set the stage for diplomatic negotiations. This agreement has allowed the tensions between Washington and Riyadh to abate. This state of affairs is not true of the Philippines where President Duterte has stated that he wishes to walk away from the US relationship and “realign with China.” If this were to go forward, US officials conceded that it would represent a bad setback for US interests in the South China Sea, not least for the constraints it would place on US Navy operations. However, to date official reaction has been muted on the basis that the US-Philippine relationship, based not incidentally on deeply entwined family ties, is very deeply rooted over many decades and is not subject to sudden disruption. Nonetheless, a senior State Department official is on his way to Manila to assess the situation. Still in Asia, US concerns about North Korea continue to build. Despite the failures of recent North Korean missile tests, military analysts have concluded that it is only a matter of time before Pyongyang develops the means to deliver a weapon against US territory. One result is that the military relationship with South Korea is growing steadily closer with sophisticated technology for extended deterrence being installed there.

Key Judgments

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