Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Panetta to FP: He’ll be a Mediator in Asia

DoD responds to Middle East unrest, a secret nuclear war plan, and more.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Foreign Policy’s Situation Report.

Follow me @glubold or e-mail me at

Sign up for Situation Report here: 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Asia, where he announced that Japan would host another land-based X-band radar system as a counter to the threat posed by North Korea. The announcement comes amid ongoing fears in China that such systems are aimed to contain the Chinese, not the North Koreans. But in a joint news conference with Japanese officials, Panetta said, "We have made these concerns clear to the Chinese: North Korea and the use of these ballistic missiles is a threat to our security," Mr. Panetta said.

Panetta left Japan and is in Beijing for his first trip to China as defense secretary — he will also visit New Zealand — and is scheduled now to visit Xi Jinping, China’s heir apparent, who resurfaced recently after disappearing from public view for about two weeks. Panetta is in Asia during escalated tensions between Japan and China over a territorial dispute over a set of islands in the East China Sea.

In an exclusive interview with FP’s National Security Channel before leaving, Panetta cast himself as a mediator between the two countries. "What we’ve urged both China and Japan to do is to resolve these disputes as peacefully as possible as well, and that will be one of the things I will urge Japan to do," he told FP in his Pentagon office Friday. "In the stop in Japan as well as China, these kinds of disputes have to be, we have to find a way to resolve them peacefully." The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is attempting to develop a "code of conduct" for territorial disputes, but Panetta said the U.S. is still waiting for the group of nations to create an enforcement mechanism with "teeth."

Panetta also said that the public exchange between the U.S. and Israel over "red lines" masked a more serious conversation about what Iran is actually doing. He said countries don’t have "a bunch of little red lines" that determine what they’re going to do. "What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action has to be taken in order to deal with that situation," he said. "I mean, that’s the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner."

Regarding any rift in U.S.-Israeli relations over disagreements about what should or should not be done about Iran as a growing threat, Panetta shrugged: "Let’s just say, when you have friends like Israel, you engage in vigorous debates about how you confront these issues, and that’s what’s going on."

Unrest across the Middle East, which has subsided in the short-term in many places, nonetheless poses dangers in the long-term. Panetta said the U.S. is pre-positioning additional security forces and is looking at as many as 18 places to which to deploy them. "We’re paying particular attention to areas that we have to be prepared in the event that these demonstrations get out of control," he told FP.

Amid questions that the Obama administration may have misread warnings of how much of a tinder box the Middle East is, Panetta urged caution in drawing "big, big conclusions" about what has taken place and why before investigations conclude. "We have seen videos and commentaries and burning of Qurans that have instigated demonstrations," he told FP, "and have instigated situations where violence occurred, and I don’t think it necessarily represents that somehow the wrong policies were put into place."

On Afghanistan, not surprisingly, Panetta sounded confident that the recommendation ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen would make in November would give Allen the fighting force he will need through 2013. There are indications that Allen will want to keep as many of the 68,000 troops in the country as long as possible next year.

"My view is that the president of the United States will rely a great deal on the recommendations of General Allen as to what he needs to accomplish the mission," Panetta said.

Read the entire Panetta interview with FP here:


REVEALED! Presidential Decision Directive 59, Jimmy Carter’s classified plan for nuclear war, which sought a nuclear force posture that ensured a "high degree of flexibility, enduring survivability, and adequate performance in the face of enemy actions." If deterrence failed, the United States "must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable." In other words, the U.S. was going to try to beat the Soviets — and its guidelines still inform nuclear policy today, even though there are no more Soviets. Read it here:

Look who’s hanging with Mark Zuckerberg? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, that’s who, reports Killer Apps’ John Reed. Dempsey, along with a handful of other Defense Department officials, were in Silicon Valley in August picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats. Conversations between the Defense Department and Silicon Valley, which included officials from Google and other companies, were meant to see how private sector innovation could counter cyber-threats the government and industry confront.

An irony of the episode in Benghazi is that while Amb. Chris Stevens stood for more engagement with local populations, not less, his death will create more security around American installations, thus diminishing American diplomats’ ability to engage. Jason Pack, writing on FP, notes: "If he were still alive, Stevens would understand that cowering inside the embassy has the potential to make Libya more, not less, dangerous for U.S. personnel."


Asia, In The Heat of the Moment

No Rest for Unrest

Seeing Red Lines


  • Jerusalem Post: German Chancellor Merkel says there is still time for a political solution.
  • Haaretz: U.S. will go to war with Iran in 2013, former U.S. ambassador to Israel tells CBS.

Eleven Years and Counting

  • CS Monitor: Green on blue attacks have killed 51 in Afghanistan.
  • NYT: "Audacious raid" in Afghanistan’s south that killed two U.S. Marines shows Taliban’s reach
  • CNN Security Clearance: Melee in Afghanistan over film leaves 15 police injured.


Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.