April 1, 2011  

In this issue

From World War ally to Cold War foe, through the breakup of the USSR and the war with Georgia, Russia’s relationship with the U.S. has been a complicated affair.

In our two-part analysis of where Russia stands now, Lt. Col. John Johnson, an Army fellow at the George C. Marshall Center in Germany, leads with thoughts on what next steps the countries’ leaders could take to continue to build on the so-called “relationship reset” that the Obama administration initiated two years ago.

History professor and Bolshevik revolution expert Dmitry Shlapentokh recently spent time in Russia, visiting cities and talking to people about their lives, concerns and hopes for the future. It’s mostly a grim picture: The breakdown of the USSR brought the downsides of capitalism — including unemployment — to many, with the upsides afforded to only a tiny minority. Given his insights, Dmitry looks at the potential for revolts in the Middle East and North Africa spreading to Russia. And if the people rebelled, where would the Russian Army and law enforcement forces place their loyalty? Chris Cavas, our resident naval expert, looks at the Littoral Combat Ship from the perspective of what it will take to operate this unique vessel during its early service years. Chris draws on the lessons of the first aircraft carriers, where experimentation was a key factor as sailors figured for themselves novel ways to use a new capability.

Peter Singer adopts a similar look-to-history approach in his essay on unmanned technologies. As budgets tighten, it would seem logical to expect the new unmanned systems that saw their wartime debut in Iraq and Afghanistan to transition from experimental to mainstream capabilities. The history books tell another story, however, as Peter explains using such examples as the machine gun and the tank.

Air Force Research Institute professor Adam Lowther’s sights are firmly fixed on the long-term future. He summarizes key points in the Air Force’s new strategic plan that sets priority capabilities through 2030. (Oddly, unmanned systems are mentioned only briefly, perhaps an indication of the accuracy of Peter’s prediction.) National War College teacher Joe Collins brings us back to now and the near future, a place looking ever more bleak from an economic and budget-crisis point of view. Joe advises the next secretary of defense to build on Robert Gates’ work and offers some specific areas in which the Pentagon can be remade “into a lean, efficient instrument of national policy.” That may be an optimistic goal, but if there’s one quality Gates’ successor is going to need in spades, it’s optimism.