On November 25, Russian border service patrol boats opened fire on two Ukrainian navy gunboats and rammed a Ukrainian tugboat as they attempted to transit through the Kerch Strait from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, a body of water sandwiched between Russia, Ukraine, and the disputed territory of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to explain that Russian border guards fired on the Ukrainian vessels after they illegally entered Russia’s territorial waters and ignored orders to stop. Six Ukrainian sailors were wounded. Ultimately, Russia seized all three boats and captured two dozen Ukrainian sailors. At this writing, those sailors remain in detention after being moved to Moscow. While Russian and Ukrainian forces have faced off before, the incident marked the first time they openly clashed.
These familiar words were penned at the conclusion of World War I and captured the sense of foreboding and despair that shadowed Europe. As it happens, November 11 was the centenary of the Armistice that ended that cataclysm. But Yeats captures a new foreboding that shadows our own time. Once again, there is fear that the center may not hold; that things are falling apart.
Israel and Hamas are on the brink of war again. There were sustained conflicts between Israel and Hamas in 2008/9, 2012, and 2014. The most recent spasm of violence may burn out as fast as it has erupted; however, growing political pressure on both sides may lead to a confrontation that both Benjamin Netanyahu and Yahya Sinwar have tried to avoid in recent months.
Analysts have heralded the Khashoggi scandal—the mysterious killing of Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October—as the biggest rift in U.S.-Saudi relations since the September 11 attacks. The truth is, as repugnant as this crime was, it was simply the latest play in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MbS) aggressive domestic and foreign policy.
I study civil wars. While I don’t believe a civil war is yet likely in the United States, I do see some unnerving parallels between the current American political environment and those in the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The combination of constitutional crises, nationalist demagoguery, and weak institutions proved fatal to national unity in those cases, spawning wars that tore countries apart and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
On October 28, Georgia held a presidential election that is now set to have a runoff. The Georgian Dream (GD), the governing party, supported independent candidate Salome Zurabishvili, who received 38.63% of the vote, while the United National Movement’s (UNM) Grigol Vashadze received 37.74%. With the 15,000 vote difference, the battle looks to be very tight, something that the GD was not hoping for.
Western Balkans countries’ hopeful integration into European institutions and the greater transatlantic community is reaching a pivotal juncture. The comparative neglect Washington, London, and Brussels has displayed over the past several years has left the region’s gradual transition in jeopardy. Russia and China are effectively filling voids where existent and cost-effective. Their destabilizing in-roads are paved in good part by local ethno-nationalist forces whose preference for authoritarianism conflicts with the democratic institutions required by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). Accordingly, ultranationalists’ relative rise proportionately diminishes the prospects for regional stability. For the sake of greater European security, they need to be sidelined.
President Donald Trump has announced that his administration plans to withdraw the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, which prohibits Washington and Moscow from testing and deploying all ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km. While the United States believes Russia to be in violation of the treaty through its deployment of the 9M729 cruise missile, U.S. withdrawal now will damage American diplomacy without delivering significant military advantages.
At first glance, one could imagine that China and Japan are getting ready to thaw the decade-long chill in their relationship. Diplomats from both countries have been busily preparing for a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe in late October. The meeting will commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Japan-China Peace and Friendship Treaty as well as provide a forum for companies from both countries to discuss how they can cooperate in places where China has extended its “Belt and Road” Initiative. It will be the first time a Japanese prime minister will travel to China for a bilateral meeting since December 2011.
The announcement of a new trade agreement among Mexico, Canada, and the United States (the so-called U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA) made headlines earlier this week. But beneath those headlines, it is difficult to discern what the agreement would mean for those countries and how it differed from the arrangements already in place. The issues at hand—including, among others, Canada’s dairy market, intellectual property, and dispute settlement between member countries as well as investors—have been controversial since the inception of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and even before.