Tom Stevenson

13 June 2024

War Chariots

The number of Trump administration officials who could be called ‘very competent’ is small, but the former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger is one of them. A private school boy from Massachusetts who learned to speak excellent Mandarin, Pottinger was once the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent in China (where he was punched in the face in a café by someone he described as a ‘government goon’).

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21 May 2024

Integrated Vision

The military protection of Saudi Arabia has been the centrepiece of US power in the world’s major hydrocarbon-producing region for decades. For most of that time the US has also committed itself to the protection and support of Israel. American strategic planners have usually managed this balancing act without trouble, but on occasion it has posed problems.

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1 February 2024

Why is the US in Jordan and Syria?

Rural fort soldiering is a classic imperial mode, so it isn’t unusual that the US does it in the Middle East, except that so many of the outposts in Syria and Iraq have become liabilities. So why haven’t they been shut down? 

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10 January 2024

Guarding Prosperity

The Red Sea is usually one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Nearly 30 per cent of maritime container trade, and a significant quantity of oil, passes through the Suez Canal and the Bab al-Mandab. Or it used to, before the Houthis in Yemen began trying to shut it all down last month.

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13 December 2023

The Three Bomb Problem

We are used to a thermonuclear dyad. For most of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow commanded massive arsenals far in excess of those of other nuclear-armed states. However pre-eminent the US may have been in other ways, in nuclear terms the world was bipolar. That picture still more or less holds true. But for how long?

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18 August 2023

Pressure, Isolate and Punish

Last month, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee finally published a report on China on which it had been working, on and off, for almost four years. The main finding, reported approvingly across British media, was that China represents a threat to the UK because of Beijing’s ‘global ambition to become a technological and economic superpower’.

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28 July 2023

Gallant Work

Countries that purport to hold democratic values do not like admitting that they run death squads and carry out night-raid executions. So instead they talk of special forces on ‘deliberate detention operations’. But there is a limit to the concealing power of language when you are flying helicopters into mud-brick villages and killing people in front of their families.

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8 June 2023

Paradoxes of Planetary Defence

‘If we can perturb an asteroid out of impact trajectory,’ Sagan and Ostro wrote, ‘it follows that we can also transform one on a benign trajectory into an Earth-impactor.’

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19 April 2023

Everyone’s a China Hawk

The current US government has tried to tie its domestic political projects to a confrontation with China. As Scipio Nasica said of Rome’s relations with Carthage, the existence of an official enemy can have a stimulatory effect on the home state. But the risks are too high. The US military used to have reasonably friendly contacts with the Chinese military. US undersecretaries of defence would visit Beijing. They now travel to Taipei. The hotlines are quiet, the rules unclear. Without a framework for managing Sino-American relations, too much depends on the personal moderation of a few leaders.

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24 March 2023

Fifty Degrees in the Persian Gulf

You can’t escape the heat by dodging between patches of shade. It’s more a case of driving between climate-controlled buildings, and better not to move around at all. Around the Persian Gulf, fifty-degree days are no longer aberrations. In Iraq and Kuwait they have become routine.

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