The Philadelphia Papers

Parliament without Politics: The Effort to Consolidate Authoritarian Rule


General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s ruler since July 2013, brooks no dissent. Having “saved” Egypt from the Muslim Brothers, he has ruled by decree in the absence of a parliament, supported by a handpicked technocratic cabinet. His security apparatus muzzles the press, keeps dissident voices off-air, arrests secular as well as Islamist critics, and clamps down on civil society. He has built ten new prisons to accommodate the overflow, as political prisoners may now total 60,000.[1] As typical of military rulers, he announces grandiose projects – the new channel in the Suez Canal, the Dabaa nuclear power plant, million-unit agricultural and housing schemes, and a multi-billion dollar new capital city – without taking into consideration their cost, integrating them into long term plans, conducting comprehensive feasibility studies, or examining their social and environmental impact.

El-Sisi rewards the armed forces with frequent salary increases at a time of austerity budgets, and billions-of-dollars’ worth of US, French, Russian, and German high-end weapons systems: advanced fighter jets, submarines, assault helicopters, and warships that each carry an entire tank battalion and eighteen helicopter gunships. As the military and security budgets are secret, no independent body vets these massive financial outlays. However, a sitting parliament would have reviewed the potentially crushing long-term debts that the government assumes by megaprojects and also reviewed the five billion dollar World Bank lending package and $1.5 billion African Development Bank loan. Indeed, Egypt’s external debt ballooned from $40 billion in April 2015 to $46 billion six months later, by which time its internal debt was nearly $250 billion.[2] A sitting parliament might have redirected funds from megaprojects to the deplorable health and education sectors, crumbling infrastructure, and impoverished villages, where three-quarters have no sewage networks, half suffer from daily or weekly cuts in the supply of drinking water, and forty percent endure electricity cuts at least three times a week.[3] 

This assumes, of course, that parliamentarians would seek to monitor government performance and propose alternative policies in view of their knowledge of local conditions and constituents’ needs. On paper, the constitution that was endorsed by a referendum in January 2014 enhances the parliament’s ability to propose bills, approve cabinets and new ministers, and table motions of no-confidence in the cabinet and the president. The constitution also requires parliament to approve, amend or cancel the decrees issued since July 2013.

But these powers are circumscribed. For example, if parliament twice rejects candidates for prime minister, parliament itself is dissolved and new elections set – an outcome that MPs would fear.[4] Moreover, parliament has no say over the appointment of the ministers of defense, interior and justice, and cannot examine their budgets, thereby excluding the strategic sectors from its purview. 

Even though the president retains paramount authority and can declare a state of emergency after merely consulting the cabinet, El-Sisi openly worries that “the constitution…gives vast powers to the parliament, with good intentions. But the country cannot be run on good intentions.” This suggests that the constitution should be amended in order to enhance the president’s powers. In addition, El-Sisi urges “Egyptians [to] unite and avoid disputes” within parliament and expresses concern that parliament will be “either a hindrance or a blessing.”[5] The president sees the legislature not as a separate branch of government but as an adjunct to his rule.

These presidential concerns were not only evident in the long delay in holding parliamentary elections but also, as examined in this essay, in the electoral system, the elections themselves, and the initial actions by the new parliament. That the executive and the security agencies ensured the return of Mubarak-era elites, who would endorse the president’s unilateral actions, made it evident that the legislature is intended to present only a façade of democracy. The repression of political discourse in the context of growing discontent over the failure to improve the economy and redress social grievances tension raises serious questions about the regime’s future.  Click on the image to read the E-Book in full.


[1] Reported by Gamal Eid, executive director, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, who was blocked from travel abroad shortly after releasing this information., February 3, 2016.

[3] “75% of Egypt’s villages have no sewage networks: survey” by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), December 28, 2015,; scathing criticism of the government’s economic policies by Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, former deputy prime minister and former chair of the General Authority for Investment: “Egypt: At year end, floundering investment policies,” December 31, 2015,

[4] In contrast, the short-lived 2012 constitution empowered parliament (not the president) to appoint the prime minister and form the government; parliament could be dissolved only by a public referendum. The 2014 constitution eliminated the position of vice president – a position that past presidents had viewed as potentially threatening to their own hold on office.

Where the Lions Are — Gazprom’s “Energetic Pliers” and Aspirations of a Eurasian Archipelago: The Geopolitics of Russia’s Networked Energy Infrastructure

“I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”

Leo Tolstoii, “Writings on Civil Disobedience & Nonviolence” (1886)

“We intend to retain state control over the gas pipeline network in the former Soviet republics…”[1]

President Vladimir Putin



In a recent essay, George Friedman wrote with admirable clarity about an intelligence truism that is at one and the same time elemental and frequently overlooked:

“The entire principle of strategic intelligence is to ruthlessly discard the subcritical noise that is being collected in order to identify the center of gravity of events. A tiny hint may sometimes draw attention to a major process, particularly in military affairs. Finding that tiny hint, however, requires huge amounts of time and effort, and little time is left to understand the meaning. Moreover, in many cases, the process is in plain sight. The trick is to see it, and the even harder trick is to believe it.”[2]

With that charge, the objective of this essay is to look at Russia’s network of natural gas pipelines and ethnic enclaves in its near abroad in the interest of exploring whether and how the two intersect. The initial hypothesis is that ethnic separatism is instrumental to the former in two fundamental ways. First, these enclaves are located geographically along major energy pipeline routes, often at key junctures in pipeline networks. Second, they sit atop substantial shale gas reserves, the determined exploitation of which would decisively undercut Russia’s natural gas oligopoly. They constitute specific, identifiable “spheres of privileged interests” in Russian foreign policy.[3]

The idea for this essay began with a conversation with a Moldovan diplomat about Transnistria, a separatist region of his country that has amassed a staggering debt—in excess of $5 billion—for the purchase of Russian natural gas. Russia’s use of this debt to exert political pressure on Moldova is a story broadly understood.[4]

The conversation led me to reflect more broadly about Russian geopolitical goals and actions in the region, especially the association between two factors: Russia’s natural gas oligopoly and its use of ethnic enclaves and Gazprom’s network of natural gas pipelines that checkerboard the region. That relationship, it will be argued, is the basis for Russia’s attempt to redraw the map of Eurasia.

Political boundaries divide geographic space into political units.[5] Yet some networks—such as natural gas pipelines or ethnic groups—are dispersed across national borders. At times, these cross-border networks are so potent as to supersede political geography. When such networks are powerful, they reduce the influence of political boundaries and restructure territory based on their own geospatial dimensions.[6]


Click cover to continue reading.


[1] Quoted in Viacheslav Morozov (2007). “Energy Dialogue and the Future of Russia: Politics and Economics in the Struggle for Europe.” In Aalto, P., ed. The EU-Russian Energy Dialogue: Europe’s Future Energy Security. (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate), pp. 43-61. The quote is from a February 2003 speech by President Putin marking Gazprom’s tenth anniversary, the Russian language text of which is available at Last accessed 1 June 2015.

The main title “Where the Lions Are” is from the Polish intellectual Czesław Miłosz, who used it to describe the “white space on the map” between Russia and Germany. See: Miłosz (1983). The Witness of Poetry; The Charles Eliot Norton lectures 1981/82. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), p. 7. The term energetic pliers is taken from a paper by Cosmin Gabriel Pacuraru (2012). “The Pressure Groups Relationship in the Romanian Energetic Security Problem.” Challenges of the Knowledge Society. 2(2012).

The translation of all source material is by the author unless otherwise noted.

[2] George Friedman (2014). “Taking the Strategic Intelligence Model to Moscow.” Stratfor Geopolitical Weekly (2 December 2014). Last accessed 4 December 2014.

[3] Russian President Dmitri Medvedev first used this phrase in a 31 August 2008 interview. See: Dmitri Trenin (2009). “Russia’s Spheres of Interest, not Influence.” The Washington Quarterly. 32:4. Last accessed 16 December 2014.

[4] Nicu Popescu & Leonid Litra (2012). Transnistria: A Bottom-Up Solution. European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief (September 2012), p. 5. Last accessed 15 January 2015.

[5] Ali Haydar Alpteki̇n (2010). “Making the ‘Heart’ of Russian Territorialization: Railways and Moscow Railway Stations.” Thesis submitted to the Graduate School of social Sciences of Middle East Technical University (December 2010), 2-3. Last accessed 2 June 2015.

[6] The author adapted this definition from one offered by Andreas Hepp (2009). “Differentiation: Mediatization and Cultural Change,” in Knut Lunby, ed., Mediatization: Concept, Changes, Consequences. (New York: Peter Lang), 149. Last accessed 15 January 2015.

A Quick Guide to the Foreign Policy Views of the Republican Presidential Candidates

At a Glance

As of this writing, sixteen candidates are formally running for the nomination of the Republican Party for the presidency of the United States. Our purpose here is modest: to report on the foreign policy views of all the candidates, showing where they agree and where they disagree on a selection of issues.  On each issue, there seems to be one or two outliers among the candidates but the interesting thing is that the identities of the outliers are different on different issues. The purpose here is not to disparage or praise any one candidate, though sometimes it is hard not to notice an outright error of fact.

  • On the question of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the overwhelming majority of candidates say it was a mistake while a minority (Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal) maintain that the invasion was the right thing to do.  Marco Rubio seemed initially to agree with Graham and Jindal but then not. Jeb Bush tried out four different answers, finally concluding, “I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”
  • On the matter of sending ground troops to defeat ISIL, more than half of the candidates support sending ground troops; four have either ruled that out entirely or wish to keep that option in reserve down the line, including Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal.  Some have not made their positions clear.
  • On the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, every candidate has expressed disapproval over Obama’s handling of the negotiations but only Rick Santorum is against any deal with Iran.
  • On Israel, all the candidates advocate a stronger relationship and condemn Obama’s treatment of Israel but there are differences on the matter of the two-state solution: Some support the two-state solution (Rubio, Graham, Bush, Walker, Christie, Perry, Carson, Pataki); some oppose (Santorum, Huckabee); and others have not specifically addressed the issue. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have not expressly opposed it but have sponsored legislation that takes a stringent stance against the Palestinian Authority.
  • On the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the majority are opposed; Paul and Trump support it.
  • On the debate over the Patriot Act, the majority supported reauthorization of the Patriot Act (Rubio, Graham, Bush, Walker, Christie, Santorum, Perry, Trump, Pataki, and Jindal) but Cruz and Kasich took the middle ground and supported the alternative Freedom Act. Paul, Carson, and Huckabee oppose any bulk collection of metadata and thus did not support either act.
  • On the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trade Promotion Authority to facilitate relatively quick consideration of the Partnership, there is more than a little equivocation.  Most candidates are unified in their support for free trade deals – in theory – but the majority oppose TPA even if they support the TPP[1]; Santorum opposes both; and a minority support both TPA and TPP (Rubio, Graham, Bush, Walker, and Christie).

Continue reading A Quick Guide to the Foreign Policy Views of the Republican Presidential Candidates.

[1] Because of the logistics of trade deals, support for TPP with concurrent opposition to TPA is akin to opposition to TPP.



The Perfect Storm Ahead? An Exploration of the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism

“Today, the elements of a perfect storm are in place around the world:  an ample supply of weapons-usable nuclear materials, an expansion of the technical know-how to build a crude nuclear bomb, and the determination of terrorists to do it. This should be a grave concern for all of us.  Terrorists don’t need to go where there is the most material; they are likely to go where the material is most vulnerable.  That means the future of the nuclear enterprise, including the future of the nuclear power industry, requires that every link of the nuclear chain be secure—because the catastrophic use of atoms for terrorism will jeopardize the future of atoms for peace.”

Senator Sam Nunn
11 November 2013

I. Introduction

The international community has for some time been alarmed by the prospect of a terror or criminal organization acquiring possession of fissile material with the intent to weaponize it in a nuclear explosive device. A potential malefactor has two options for the acquisition of fissile material: first, to steal or divert the material from a state; or second, to manufacture the material.  Of these, the former is considered more likely though the latter cannot, and should not be discounted.

For reasons explored later, it is more likely a terrorist or criminal organization would seek to move fissile material across transnational borders rather than attempt to transport a fully assembled nuclear explosive device, since the former is comparatively difficult to detect when properly shielded and concealed whereas the latter is susceptible to discovery. This being the case, nuclear smuggling more likely involves the movement of illicit fissile material than illicit nuclear explosive devices. Once illicit fissile material reaches its intended destination and is in a malefactor’s possession, the malefactor can leverage its disruptive effect by means of an adequately supported claim simply to have such material in-country, without necessarily having taken the additional step to weaponize the selfsame material.  However, fabricating an actual explosive nuclear device allows a malefactor to leverage both the disruptive and the destructive effects.

This paper explores the nature of weapons-usable fissile material; the several options by which a malefactor could gain possession of it; and the method and effect of weaponizing fissile material in an explosive nuclear device.  That discussion is preamble to an exploration of the phenomenon of nuclear smuggling and detecting the movement of illicit fissile material for the purpose of interdiction. …

Click here to read the full E-Book (33 pp ).

Discriminate Power: A Strategy for a Sustainable National Security Posture

NB: The Philadelphia Papers are offered in the spirit of promoting thought, discussion, and debate on important issues related to foreign and defense policy.

This study began with the proposition that U.S. national security policy faces a looming means-ends gap with interlocking financial, political and strategic elements.  Left on its current trajectory, our posture will be unaffordable, misaligned to emerging challenges, and increasingly dominated by patterns of spending that do not directly support the most relevant forms of national power.  While fiscal and budgetary pressures are most immediate, more fundamental constraints lie in the rising multipolarity of the international system and the fact that leading challenges, from fragile states to cyber harassment, are less subject to influence by traditional instruments of statecraft.

The study concludes that the current debate over U.S. national security policy suffers from a false dichotomy:  that the United States can be “either” strong “or” discriminate and selective.  A basic conclusion of this analysis is that it can—and must—be both; that we can continue to play a vibrant global role while addressing the ways in which we pursue our objectives.  Austerity need not undermine what the United States does, if we are prepared to think creatively about how we do it.  We must deal with the widening gap between ends and means, not by abandoning American leadership, but by repeatedly asking how we can accomplish existing tasks in new ways.

The study undertook an assessment of the strategic environment over the next decade.  Basic findings included:

  1. The essential systemic reality of the coming decade is the emergence of a dominantly multipolar context.  More states and non-state actors want growing influence in setting norms and resolving complex challenges.  This reality demands a more shared approach to leadership, and investments in the tools to accomplish it—from vibrant diplomatic and economic instruments of power to personal relationships and international institutions.  The United States will have to be more comfortable in a catalytic role, allowing others to lead and to have the running room they increasingly desire.  Yet there is a clear tension:  Even as the environment demands working with partners, many emerging powers have not yet demonstrated a true appetite for leadership.

  2. The need to deter consciously-directed, aggressive inter-state war, while still an important role for U.S. power, is likely to remain moderate.  The potential for aggression will not disappear; in at least one context, the Korean Peninsula, it remains an urgent concern.  And the risk of conflict through inadvertent escalation is rising in some regions.  But the barriers to intentional major war—its declining utility, the likelihood of multilateral responses and continued U.S. military dominance—mean that, to the extent major military power can help deter it, this task is over-determined by U.S. military strength.

  3. This era will see growing risks, threats and opportunities in areas other than classic state-on-state conflict, such as cyber, biological pathogens, terrorism, identity politics and psycho-social grievances, space systems, economic aggression, and manipulating the information environment to affect societies.  These threats will underscore the growing vulnerability of advanced, networked societies to various forms of homeland attack and systemic volatility.  Increasingly political leaders and populaces may view these nontraditional threats as the leading security priority.

  4. An essential characteristic of the emerging environment is volatility—the potential for a wide range of developments and scenarios.  Over-investing in capabilities focused on one or a narrow range of possible futures risks being unprepared for the unexpected.

  5. Key categories of emerging technologies (robotics, cyber, 3-D printing, bio) will become more diffuse and allow a wide range of actors to have strategic effect.

  6. In dealing with issues ranging from disputes over territorial claims, fragile states, radicalism, nationalistic and prideful rising powers, and nontraditional security threats, the military instrument of power will be unable, on its own, to resolve problems.  Taking counterterrorism as an example, it is the combination of international financial enforcement, covert and clandestine operations, intelligence, multilateral coordination, and domestic law enforcement that will keep the United States secure.

  7. Socio-psychological forms of insecurity and conflict—from nationalism to resentment at the intrusive effects of globalization to grievances connected to economic crises—are likely to pose a serious danger over the next decade.

These realities suggest a number of major implications for strategy, which helped to guide the recommendations below.

  • Substantial and potentially growing sources of uncertainty, tension and volatility require a continuing American leadership role to help underwrite international order.  U.S. global interests and commitments leave its security bound up with the international system; aggressive retrenchment would create certain and unnecessary risk.

  • As a result, resolving the ends-means gap by abandoning ends—commitments—risks creating higher insecurity.  With means more constrained, the basic route to addressing the ends-means gap is through more innovativeways.  Key reforms lie not so much in what the United States seeks to do, but how it pursues those objectives.

  • The United States must improve its resilience in facing nontraditional security challenges.  The priority of these categories of national security, relative to regional contingencies, must continue to increase.

  • A central answer to uncertainty is to invest in flexible qualities and capabilities (including human capital and awareness) that provide responsiveness against many possible futures.

  • A fundamental strategic goal is to bring a number of key rising powers into the management of the international system in more profound ways.

  • The key challenges in the global environment prioritize a wide range of non-military tools of power.  The United States must develop synergistic combinations of civilian tools of statecraft, while the role of the Department of Defense must become more streamlined.

  • Emerging technologies in a variety of categories favor the small, fast and agile over the large, slow and ponderous.  This will demand a shift in U.S. approaches to defense planning.

  • The coming decade represents an opportunity to rebuild the foundations of U.S. strength and rebalance our assets to prepare for emerging threats, rather than to express the highest degree of deployable military power to deter immediate dangers.  Some of the most important emerging challenges do not require expensive capabilities centered on the Defense Department, but widely distributed, diverse investments across society.

On the basis of these findings, the U.S. global role should be guided by the strategic concept of discriminate power—the practice of sustainable global leadership through more collaborative, focused and selective ways, especially in the application of military power.  The United States could seek discrimination in three broad categories:

  • Pursuing targeted, catalytic areas of competitive advantage, both capabilities and practices, that we bring to relationships or challenges;

  • Pursuing existing goals and interests in more innovative, selective and asymmetrical ways, becoming more discriminate in our concepts for the application of power; and

  • Enabling and spurring others to do more in the combined, multilateral approach to crises, conflicts and persistent challenges.

The cardinal principle of strategy under this concept will be to discover the capabilities, issues, and moments that possess the highest leverage potential.  Cardinal mistakes will be wasting strategic effort on secondary problems, measured according to several criteria of significance and the potential of U.S. power to make a difference; investing in capabilities that can be neutralized with modest expenditures; or buying systems that achieve for vast expense and high sophistication what could be done for far less of both.

Based on the nature of the strategic environment and the concept of discriminate power, this report makes a number of recommendations for U.S. national security strategy.

  • The United States should modify its approach to forward presence to focus on more streamlined deployments optimized to develop the capacities of others rather than large-scale forces-in-being for the purposes of short-notice warfighting.

  • On technology and acquisition policy, the United States should pursue a “high-low mix” focused on tailored comparative advantages—keeping many highly-effective current systems or capabilities; buying a small handful of catalytic “wedge” systems at the high end; and pushing a general rule of “lowest cost / technology level necessary.”

  • The United States should deemphasize highly ambitious and resource-intensive concepts for employment of power in favor of more restrained and if possible asymmetric approaches that put the United States on the right side of cost-imposing dynamics.

  • Especially in its military services, the United States needs a reformed approach to personnel policies—career paths, qualifications for promotion, education and training—to provide more flexible, innovative careers that broaden perspectives and keep the prospect for senior leadership open to a wider range of personnel.

  • To maximize comparative advantages, the United States should prioritize its security investments in areas of particular strength and disproportionate impact.  Our judgment of the qualifying capabilities appears in the text box below.



Capabilities to Meet Security Challenges of Emerging Environment

  • Capacities for resilience against new array of threats to societies—cyber, bio, economic

  • Nonmilitary instruments of power—foreign service, aid, public diplomacy, economic diplomacy, capabilities that build networks and relationships, diplomatic organization and size to build new norms and rules of the road on key international issues; but reformed and rethought

Capabilities of Comparative Advantage

  • Diplomatic skill to build new norms and rules of the road on key issues
  • Human capital and quality of personnel
  • Research, development and innovation
  • Intellectual capital of the national security enterprise (education, training, research, awareness)
  • Global awareness—transparency, ISR, intelligence; increasingly open-source
  • Wedge capabilities in selected areas:  Advanced tactical air, C4/ISR
  • Timely stand-off strike
  • Survivable space systems
  • Classic Special Forces for training, partner relations, long-term advising
  • Maritime forces, though with different balance than today’s service


We believe that the United States can take additional risk over the coming decade in a number of specific areas of defense policy and capabilities.  These include:

  • The active/reserve balance in ground forces relative to expected long-term ground contingency risks, and particularly the role of the United States as provider of large-scale, short-term ground surge forces from the active inventory.

  • The use of aircraft carriers as on-station providers of deterrence and as the default timely strike platform in time of war, which would allow a reduction in their number.

  • The degree of investment in next-generation technologies now on the drawing board or beginning production as the centerpiece platforms for the next decade.  This requires a rethinking of the scope and scale of purchases of a number of leading-edge systems.

Based on these considerations, the leaders of the U.S. defense and security establishment could take several initial steps to signal the need for change in ways of doing business:

  • Develop new concepts of integrated civilian power across domains to achieve U.S. objectives and reflect U.S. presence in key regions.

  • Work with other agencies to help sustain and expand investment and a more coordinated interagency process on a key nontraditional security risk, such as biological pathogens.

  • Develop a plan to transform the military personnel system to promote creative and innovative career paths, sensible assignment patterns, and related goals.

  • Propose an initiative designed to symbolize a commitment to multilateral efforts, promotion of stability and crisis management; one example would be an open-access ISR and awareness network in the Pacific.

  • Develop an elaborated concept for timely, long-range strike across domains to bolster global deterrent and warfighting capacity when local deployments may shrink.

  • Reverse recent cuts in military education, research and exchange programs to promote critical thinking leaders across the national security enterprise.

  • Request a plan for the long-term collaborative enhancement of defensive area denial capabilities in the hands of allies and partners, such as an integrated BMD network in Asia.

  • Request a plan for increasing the emphasis on basic and applied research within Defense RDT&E as opposed to systems development.

  • Order the Army to go back to the drawing board on its plans for future combat vehicles.

  • Order the Navy to plan for a future fleet of similar overall size, but based on a more comprehensive power projection concept that relies less on large-deck carriers and restricts or eliminates further purchase of the Littoral Combat Ship.

  • Order the Air Force to develop a revised modernization plan using a modest purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters as a “wedge” capability while continuing to modernize with additional purchases of current generation strike aircraft.