The news that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has invited Donald Trump for talks, and that Trump has accepted, is surely a breakthrough given the past months of sky-high tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missiles program. The two are tentatively set to meet in May of this year, but there is still a long way to go: talks could falter at the planning stage over issues such as what should be on the table, or where the parties should meet (or who should represent the countries). But for now, this is at least a step back from the brink that the world looked to be standing at only a few weeks or months ago.
Russian behavior has long influenced how safe Poles feel. Centuries of fending off or being subjugated by Russia (or, its 20th-century incarnation, the Soviet Union) have left them with an abiding mistrust of their big and often unfriendly eastern neighbor. Needless to say, Russia’s recent aggressiveness in Eastern Europe has put many Poles on edge. Adding to their unease have been worries over the reliability of Poland’s principal security partners: NATO and the United States. At times, both have appeared either slow or unprepared to counter Russia’s actions.
A recent analysis of a new variant of a widespread ransomware attack illustrated just how sophisticated, yet simple, breaching computer security has become. The attack, known as “Emotet,” hit the Pennsylvania city of Allentown, breaking through firewalls, evading the latest antivirus software, and costing the city more than $1 million at last count. The city cannot process financial transactions, and its police department cannot access key crime databases. Although the city is working to fix its systems, the end is still not in sight.
Colleagues at the U.S. Army War College recently published a piece making important arguments that largely echo the competitive approach emphasized in the Trump administration’s new National Defense Strategy (NDS). They correctly argue that U.S. strategy since 9/11 has been obsessively focused on counterterrorism and that U.S. military power has been drained by exhausting and largely unproductive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their conclusion, however, that this has left the United States at a distinct disadvantage with respect to the revisionist powers of Russia and China, is exaggerated. Moreover, an imbalanced U.S. strategy that is excessively reliant on military force fails to capitalize on America’s significant advantages in the non-military instruments of power. Furthermore, an overemphasis on building ever more offensive military capacity risks provoking even more aggressive counterbalancing by adversaries that will ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling and dangerous security dilemma, in which the international system and the United States will actually be less secure. Finally, a more muscular military strategy will do little to address the central challenges posed by Russia and China as they expressly avoid directly confronting U.S. military strengths and instead seek asymmetric advantages in the “gray zone” below the threshold of open military conflict.
The recently finished 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea took place amidst some of the highest tensions in years around North Korea’s nuclear program. It comes as no surprise that the games would be—and were—about far more than sports, particularly after North Korea’s participation went from lofty goal to reality. The two Korea’s may have marched in under a unified flag at the opening ceremony, but with the Olympics finally over, it’s important to bear in mind that whatever progress the games may have spurred, the real test begins now: will the contacts that the games facilitated actually lead anywhere?
Thanks to a near-myopic obsession with eradicating transnational Islamic terrorism, costly invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a zero-risk approach to homeland security, America’s competitive edge has eroded over the last 16 years relative to China and Russia. That’s the conclusion of the recently released National Defense Strategy (NDS), which recognizes—correctly, in our view—that the United States finds itself behind the curve today when it comes to this inter-state strategic competition and the threats it poses. However, the NDS falls short in identifying how America should best respond to it.
Corruption allegations and political unrest in Africa have too often prompted halfhearted concessions or constitutional tweaking by strongmen bent on staying in power. But the past week’s two notable counterpoints are only the latest in a string of surprising developments around the continent. Deeply unpopular President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, plagued by years of corruption scandals, complied with ruling party orders to step down on Wednesday, February 14. The next day, embattled Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn unexpectedly resigned, citing a desire to allow “reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.” Not long before this particularly eventful week, José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, two longstanding dictators, left office—the latter in a military coup.
How is the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) different from other think tanks? In some ways, as Vincent Vega said in Pulp Fiction, “it’s the little differences,” but in other ways, there are more significant dissimilarities. As most know, FPRI was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. What some may not know is that one of the reasons that it was founded, as related to me in a conversation with the late Harvey Sicherman, who served as president of FPRI from 1993 to 2010, was that it was seen as a way to democratize the analysis of foreign and defense policy. At the time, debate of such topics was largely the domain of communities in Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston, with more limited intrusion from outside voices. FPRI was also a reaction to, and a pushback against, the New Look policies of the Eisenhower administration. Books produced by Institute scholars such as Protracted Conflict discussed fighting the Cold War ideologically among other angles. (While some might fault that particular work for viewing world communism as a monolithic threat rather than as polycentric one, there are still good details to be found there about political warfare, Soviet political thought, and Russian history.)
On January 4, the People’s Republic of China announced the opening of four new flight routes over the Taiwan Strait. Instead of giving the region some time to process the announcement, planes began using these routes the same day. Due to the location of the routes and the unilateral nature of the announcement, Taiwan has protested the opening of the routes.
The current protests throughout Iran are unprecedented in its post-revolutionary history. They are driven primarily by a popular sense of economic indignity borne of decades of mismanagement, rampant cronyism, low oil prices, and tough sanctions; in other words, the catalysts are not ideological. The protests are spread across the country, remarkably making their way to the capital, rather emanating from it. They are at present leaderless, unlike 1979 or 2009. And distinct from the latter year’s Green Movement, when perhaps less than one million Iranians possessed smartphones, over 47 million now have them at their disposal. When the revolution eventually comes, it will be streamed.