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A useful piece by David Shambaugh considers the direction of US-China relations under the Obama Administration.  Key points:

  • under Bush, the US had a dualistic approach: a China encouraged to be a responsible stakeholder, and a China to be hedged against.  The latter was pushed in particular by a ‘strong contingent’ within the Pentagon, and through appropriations, bureaucracy and programs, retains a significant amount of momentum.  
  • Obama’s policy thus far has been one generally of continuity.  But it emphasises strongly partnership with China, and downplays considerably the hedging strategy.  
  • The Administration is looking to ‘broaden the strategic partnership’ between the United States and China, with talk of a trilateral US-Japan-China dialogue and speculation of a regarding a number of initiatives to deepen the relationship, resolve outstanding issues and avoid conflict.


Shambaugh, D. (2009). Early Prospects of the Obama Administration’s Strategic Agenda with China. E-Notes, Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Based on its analysis of US military space programs, the GAO offers some insights into the drivers of costs and delays: 

  • the US DoD starts more weapons programs than it can afford, generating a competitive dynamic whereby advocates and industry drive down cost estimates to unreasonable levels and DoD is forced to constantly shift costs around and between programs, resulting in further overheads and uncertainty;
  • because DoD tends to start its programs too early, technology invention extends into acquisition, resulting in ongoing technical fixes that push out deadlines, and making cost estimates even more uncertain;
  • the tendency of programs to try to satisfy all requirements at once, regardless of circumstances, stretching technological capabilities; and
  • the character of and changes in government oversight–and GAO flags the erosion of capability, in particular cost estimation and engineering capability, within government.

(One dynamic the GAO doesn’t mention is that identified by Luttwak: the increasing complexity of such systems.)  Such organisational and political behavioural dynamics are hardly restricted to the US space industry, of course–they’re evident in Australia as well.  As behavioural dynamics, they cannot be solved simply through restructures or efficiency drives.  Indeed, such ‘solutions’ are likely to exacerbate, not improve, problems.  

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January 2020
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