Raphael S. Cohen

Photo of Raphael Cohen
Director, Strategy and Doctrine Program, RAND Project AIR FORCE; Senior Political Scientist
Washington Office

Education

Ph.D. in government, Georgetown University; M.A. in security studies, Georgetown University; B.A. in government, Harvard University

Overview

Raphael "Rafi" Cohen is the director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE, and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He works on a broad range of defense and foreign policy issues, including defense strategy and force planning, Middle East and European security and civil-military relations.

Cohen previously held research fellowships at the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations. He has written for a variety of forums, including the Journal of Strategic Studies, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Quarterly, Orbis, Fox News, War on the Rocks, Lawfare, The National Interest and other publications. He also served as a staffer on the Congressionally-appointed 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission.

A military intelligence branched lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, Cohen has held a variety of command and staff positions in both the active and reserve components, including during two combat tours in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2007 to 2008. He holds a B.A. magna cum laude in government from Harvard University and an M.A. in security studies and Ph.D. in government from Georgetown University.

Commentary

  • Ukraine

    A Moment of Strategic Clarity

    With the Russian mobilization and declared annexation, whatever prospects there were for a negotiated peace seem to have all but vanished. Any result short of Ukrainian victory will be, in the long run, a worse outcome for the rules-based international order.

    Oct 3, 2022

    Lawfare

  • Ukraine

    Ukraine's 1777 Moment

    The Battle of Saratoga turned the tides of the Revolutionary War, ultimately leading to American independence. Nearly 250 years later, the Battle of Kharkiv may be a similar turning point in Ukraine's fight against Russia.

    Sep 19, 2022

    Foreign Policy

  • Ukraine

    The Case for Cautious Optimism in Ukraine

    While the outcome of the war in Ukraine is by no means clear, the balance of materiel, manpower, and willpower all seem to make the case for cautious optimism. Although Ukraine is unlikely to throw Russia back to its borders any time soon, the war will likely trend in Ukraine's favor in the coming months. But only if the West does not blink first.

    Aug 9, 2022

    Foreign Policy

  • Military Strategy

    The Lessons the United States Learned, and That Russia Did Not

    As dissimilar as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may be to the war in Ukraine, those conflicts taught the United States a few important lessons, often the hard way. As a result, the U.S. military probably would have avoided the problems that beset the Russians in Ukraine—not in spite of the global war on terrorism, but because of it.

    Jul 25, 2022

    Lawfare

  • Russia

    Has the War in Ukraine Damaged Russia's Gray Zone Capabilities?

    Russia's actions are to blame for the damage done to its gray zone capabilities, but it's the West's choice to see whether this respite represents a short-term aberration or presents opportunities for some long-term fixes.

    Jun 22, 2022

    The National Interest

  • Russia

    The Return of 'Don’t Poke the Bear'

    Some argue that, in order to avoid antagonizing Russia, the West should call for Ukraine to back down and move toward a negotiated peace. But this strategy comes with its own set of consequences.

    Jun 3, 2022

    The Hill

  • Security Cooperation

    The Escalation Fixation

    Fears of global nuclear annihilation should have produced a concerted effort by all sides to keep the Ukraine conflict limited. But the focus on escalation—rather than ensuring Russia's defeat—has instead made the international security picture more precarious.

    May 6, 2022

    The Hill

  • Russia

    Russia, Ukraine, and the Misuse of History

    History as playbook has been used to paint the Ukraine conflict as the start of a larger battle for Europe. But even if it is Putin's intent to knock over one domino of a European country after another, the Russian Army—unlike the Soviet Army of old—simply does not have the capacity to do that.

    Apr 6, 2022

    Defense One

  • Ukraine

    The Ukraine War's Three Clocks

    As the war in Ukraine creeps into its second month, perhaps the most common question is: How will it end? Ultimately, the answer comes down to three internal clocks—Ukraine's, which is counting down in years, Russia's, in months, and the United States and NATO's, which is stalled at the moment but could restart quite quickly.

    Apr 1, 2022

    The Hill

  • Europe

    Europe After the Ukraine War

    Russia's invasion of Ukraine has generated a massive backlash that is likely to endure even if the guns fall silent. What are the longer-term implications for Europe, and how will it affect European energy policy, military preparedness, and overall unity?

    Mar 21, 2022

    Lawfare

  • Security Cooperation

    Why It Could Be a Strategic Mistake to Rule Out a No-Fly Zone Policy

    The United States has been willing to entertain many forms of support to Ukraine, but senior administration and congressional leaders have categorically ruled out declaring a no-fly zone over the country. While American policymakers are rightfully hesitant to implement a no-fly zone policy, it could be a strategic mistake to say so in public.

    Mar 16, 2022

    Fox News Channel

  • International Diplomacy

    The False Choice Between China and Russia

    Some China hawks have argued that any U.S. response to Russia would detract from America's ability to deter China. But it's a mistake to think of China and Russia as independent problems.

    Feb 21, 2022

    The Hill

  • Politics and Government

    American Deterrence's Missing Half

    If American deterrence fails, it may not be because adversaries doubt U.S. military capabilities so much as they doubt American willpower. Shifting those perceptions will require not just defense authorizations, but also repairing the social fabric here at home.

    Jan 24, 2022

    The Hill

  • Military Strategy

    The Big Unanswered Question of the Afghanistan War

    The United States' war in Afghanistan may be over, but the debate over the legacy of America's longest war has just begun. The U.S. defeat raises many questions. For the future of American defense strategy, one big question perhaps stands out above all: Does the United States still have the grit necessary to fight and win long wars?

    Oct 4, 2021

    Lawfare

  • Israel

    The Real Tragedy of Israel's Wars in Gaza

    Israel's strategy in Gaza of repeatedly cutting back Hamas's military capabilities before it gets strong enough to do Israel any serious harm is known as “mowing the grass.” Unfortunately this approach offers no alternative to continued bloodshed.

    Jun 22, 2021

    The National Interest

  • United States Department of Defense

    It's Time to Drop 'Competition' in the National Defense Strategy

    What should the U.S. Defense Department do during peacetime if the United States is not competing with China and Russia? Simply put, it should prepare to win the next war, while defeating any military aggression below the threshold of conflict.

    May 18, 2021

    The Hill

  • International Diplomacy

    Book Review: 'Liberalism, the Blob, and American Foreign Policy: Evidence and Methodology' by Robert Jervis

    Robert Jervis' “Liberalism, the Blob, and American Foreign Policy: Evidence and Methodology” is a thoughtful review of two books written by prominent international relations theorists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. Jervis focuses his critique primarily on methodology and argues that the actual historical record is more complicated than either Mearsheimer or Walt suggests.

    Mar 12, 2021

    H-Diplo

  • Security Cooperation

    What the UAE Weapons Deal Says About the United States and Its Alliances

    Various U.S. administrations have long wanted U.S. allies to do more, but in many parts of the world the most logical partners are authoritarian states with different interests than those of the United States. The sale of military equipment to the United Arab Emirates provides just the latest example.

    Mar 1, 2021

    Lawfare

  • Iran

    Why Biden Can't Turn Back the Clock on the Iran Nuclear Deal

    Enacted in 2016, the Iran nuclear deal was predicated on a geopolitical context that no longer exists. Addressing Iran's nuclear program today may require a different solution.

    Mar 1, 2021

    The Hill

  • Base Realignment and Closure

    Why Overseas Military Bases Continue to Make Sense for the United States

    Voices on the left and right have proposed downsizing America's overseas military footprint. While the merits of basing in a particular location should be open to debate, the underlying twin logics of deterrence and reassurance behind permanently stationing American forces overseas remain operationally, economically, and strategically as sound as ever.

    Jan 14, 2021

    War on the Rocks

  • Economic Development

    Why We 'Send Them Money'

    Why does the United States send foreign countries American taxpayer money? The answer, in short, is because it serves U.S. self-interest to do so. Aid is not some act of charity at the American taxpayers' expense; it can help keep Americans safer, more prosperous, and secure.

    Dec 30, 2020

    The Hill

  • Military Strategy

    The Future of Warfare: Q&A with Raphael Cohen

    What will the next decade of warfare look like? Raphael Cohen led a project to answer that question for the U.S. Air Force. The team considered not just technological or force changes, but also how global politics, economics, and the environment will shift and evolve between now and 2030.

    Sep 8, 2020

  • International Diplomacy

    Why the United States Will Need a New Foreign Policy in 2020

    Even before the pandemic, the United States faced a growing strategic predicament: U.S. challenges are mounting, and America's international commitments increasingly outstrip its means to fulfill them.

    May 26, 2020

    The Hill

  • Globalization

    Why COVID-19 Will Not Stop Globalization

    Commentators have predicted that the outbreak will upend how we think about the flow of people and goods across borders and leave a markedly different world in its wake. But while COVID-19 will change the mechanics of globalization, it will likely not spell globalization's death knell.

    Apr 13, 2020

    Lawfare

  • Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

    What Do You Do with a Problem Like COVID-19?

    Over the last several decades, Americans' trust in their government and its institutions crumbled. Beyond that, the value of truth and expertise, the common bedrock of sound policymaking, was decaying in American society. COVID-19 might present an opportunity to correct some of these ills.

    Apr 10, 2020

    Fox News Channel

  • Low-Intensity Conflict

    The Politics of Man-Hunting and the Illusion of Victory

    Captures and strikes are important accomplishments and the countless nameless professionals who carry them out deserve the credit for executing them. But leaders are charged with something larger and should be judged by a higher standard: namely, seeing beyond the illusion and producing actual strategic victories.

    Jan 22, 2020

    War on the Rocks

  • Iraq

    Baghdad Siege Wasn't Benghazi, and Never Will Be

    Given the heightened tension between the United States and Iran and the ongoing instability in Iraq, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad may very well be attacked again. If such an attack were to be successful, it would be more akin to the fall of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon than the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

    Jan 6, 2020

    Fox News Channel

  • Military Strategy

    The Flawed Logic of Proportionality

    President Trump halted a retaliatory strike against Iran on the basis that it would have claimed many Iranian lives and was not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. There are many good reasons to avoid attacking Iran, but if Washington must resort to force in the future, it should avoid the flawed logic of proportionality.

    Jul 1, 2019

    The Hill

  • International Diplomacy

    What Ronald Reagan Can Teach Us About Dealing with Contemporary Russia

    Politics loves its historical analogies and today, perhaps, there is no more common a comparison to the Trump presidency than the Reagan administration. Reagan's tenure was marked by his successful competition with the Soviet Union. Does Reagan provide a blueprint for triumphing over modern Russia?

    May 13, 2019

    Lawfare

  • Russia

    Russia's Soft Strategy to Hostile Measures in Europe

    They've been called political warfare, measures short of war, gray zone warfare, and a host of other terms. Russia has used a wide range of hostile measures to expand its influence and undermine governments across the European continent. These tactics should be appreciated for what they are: part of a larger, coherent Russian effort, but ultimately not an insurmountable one.

    Feb 26, 2019

    War on the Rocks

  • Border and Port Security

    What Border Walls Can and Cannot Accomplish

    States have been building walls since ancient times. Some were arguably quite successful, others less so. At the core of prudent policy lies a basic question: What can walls realistically accomplish?

    Jan 8, 2019

    Fox News Channel

  • Military Strategy

    The More Things Change: Explaining Continuity in Defense Strategy

    United States presidential administrations from Clinton to Trump have championed different approaches to military and defense policy. The verbiage of the National Defense Strategy, however, remains relatively the same and the numbers reflect more incremental rather than monumental shifts.

    Apr 25, 2018

    War on the Rocks

  • Information Operations

    Political Warfare Is Back with a Vengeance

    The United States' principal adversaries are fighting and gaining ground by employing a host of tactics short of all-out war. This form of warfare, once called political warfare, is back with a vengeance, empowered by new tools and techniques.

    Apr 13, 2018

    The National Interest

  • Civil-Military Relations

    Minding the Gap: The Military, Politics, and American Democracy

    The gap between Americans' confidence in the military versus its civilian counterparts has widened over the last several decades. This has led former military officers to play an increasingly prominent role in politics and changed the civil-military balance in potentially unhealthy ways.

    Dec 18, 2017

    Lawfare

  • Asymmetric Warfare

    Five Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    After a decade of operating against Hamas in Gaza, the Israel Defense Force has learned many lessons about urban warfare against hybrid adversaries. The last confrontation teaches five basic lessons that apply well beyond Gaza.

    Aug 3, 2017

    War on the Rocks

  • Military Strategy

    Why Strategies Disappoint — and How to Fix Them

    Strategies fail because leaders are unwilling to make difficult decisions at the risk of being wrong. Can the new U.S. administration succeed in fixing the strategy process?

    Mar 20, 2017

    Lawfare

  • Military Strategy

    Five Simple Strategy Lessons for a New Secretary of Defense

    Secretary of Defense James Mattis will need to lay the intellectual groundwork to fulfill President Trump's promise of “a great rebuilding” of the United States military. History suggests that how the strategies are developed may be as important to their success as what they say.

    Mar 2, 2017

    RealClearDefense

  • Military Personnel

    Understanding the U.S. Military's Morale 'Crisis'

    The military's discontent may stem from dissonance between the commitment to, and pride in, the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and the knowledge that these sacrifices have not yielded the desired results. Those wars arguably have prompted a crisis of confidence within the military itself.

    Jun 29, 2015

    Lawfare

  • Military Strategy

    The Foreign Policy Essay: Hearts, Minds, & ISIL

    Defeating ISIL will not come from winning hearts and minds and soft power, nor will it come from a handful of precision airstrikes. It will require hard, bloody ground combat. The United States may not want to admit this, but it is the grim truth nonetheless.

    Oct 13, 2014

    Lawfare

  • Military Strategy

    The Grim Lessons of 'Protective Edge'

    For all the attempts to find technological quick fixes or enforce a permanent settlement, Operation Protective Edge has highlighted that a war of attrition, known as a 'long war,' remains the only viable strategy in the current environment.

    Sep 3, 2014

    The American Interest

Publications

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