When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the leaders of post-Soviet Russia faced herculean challenges and fundamental questions of national strategy and direction. Would Russia continue on the Soviet path of hostility toward the West—or would it take a very different course? For Mikhail Gorbachev, the first president of Russia’s new era, the answer was clear. Russia would seek not just good relations with the West, but it also would seek to become a fully integrated part of Europe. Gorbachev spoke eloquently and sincerely of “a common European home.” He initiated twin transformations of the Russian economy away from Soviet-style socialism toward free markets and the political system from communist dictatorship to parliamentary democracy.
Several unnamed U.S. government officials recently leaked the news that Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder and its longtime leader Osama bin Laden, has been killed. Details surrounding Hamza’s death have been murky, although it now appears that the United States played a role in the operation that killed the younger bin Laden. President Donald Trump has so far declined to comment, other than to say that “Hamza bin Laden was very threatening to our country and you can’t do that.” It remains unknown where Hamza bin Laden was killed, with various reports over the past several years suggesting that he was in hiding in one of several countries—Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Syria. Given that the U.S. has publicly acknowledged a role in his death, it seems unlikely that he was killed in Iran. Available information suggests that he was killed in a U.S. airstrike, possibly in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AFPAK) border region and that it happened at some point during the Trump administration. It has also been reported that Hamza met with al-Qaeda’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri somewhere near the AFPAK border at some point within the past two years. While it is impossible to know what was discussed, it does seem that Hamza was being cultivated by Zawahiri to assume a leadership position within the organization at some point in the future.
Today marks the end of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, after more than three decades in existence. Ultimately, the treaty could not survive an increasingly complex security environment, nor the Trump administration’s broad assault on arms control.
The current trade war between Japan and South Korea makes little logical sense in a liberal worldview of international relations. French economist Frederic Bastiat (allegedly) said that “when goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.” The idea is that social and economic bonds created by trade across borders should form peaceful, mutually beneficial relationships between states. When two countries are mutually dependent on each other, neither have an incentive to fight with the other.
Over recent weeks, Hong Kong has been repeatedly rocked by mass demonstrations protesting the actions of its governing authorities. What makes these demonstrations noteworthy and very important are their scale and their location. Protest organizers estimated the crowds at one point at nearly two million—over a quarter of the entire population of Hong Kong. These are not the first expressions of mass dissent in Hong Kong; the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” paralyzed the city for days. But in several respects, Hong Kong still seems an unlikely venue for such events.
What really makes something “historic?” Surely, President Donald Trump’s steps onto North Korean soil were historic firsts. Just a couple of years ago—and this cannot be stressed enough—virtually everything that went down in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on June 30 would have seemed unimaginable. But to truly call something historic, it would have to carry significance. To that end, about Trump’s and Kim Jong-un’s impromptu summit, we just don’t know. The biggest outcome is that working groups between the two sides will get back to fleshing out the actual substance of a potential agreement. This is by far the most important aspect of the summitry between the U.S. and North Korea because like Hanoi showed, if the nitty-gritty isn’t worked out beforehand, then summits themselves matter very little.
Many of the apps we use—as smart and as fast as they appear—cannot function without people working behind the scenes to fill in the gaps. Machines are not as good as humans (yet) at figuring out whether a tweet is offensive or deciding whether an Uber driver’s authentication selfies match from one day to the next. But who are these hidden workers? Where do they live? New research from anthropologist Mary L. Gray and computer scientist Siddharth Suri unearths a key source of so-called “ghost work” outside the United States: India.
Citizens of Georgia have been protesting for the past week in response to a Russian parliamentary delegation visit. The protests in Tbilisi have shed new light on Georgian political dynamics, civil society, and the country’s future.
In the last few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Czechs have poured into the streets to protest the corrupt rule of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the “Czech Trump.” The scenes are reminiscent of 1989. The largest demonstration took place on June 23 on Letna plain, an enormous park on a bluff overlooking Prague, where a previous generation faced down the communist dictatorship. Others took place in Wenceslas Square, where the 1989 protests also originated.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is heading to Pyongyang for the first state visit by a Chinese leader to North Korea in well over ten years. It’s a high-profile event, and given how stalled the diplomatic process is between the U.S. and North Korea, there are certainly hopes on all sides that Xi’s visit will get something moving. The question is what exactly that could be. For North Korea’s part, it’s unlikely to be much in terms of what it has been most persistent in demanding: sanctions relief.