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Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog

Geopoliticus
February 19, 2019

Armenia and the Velvet Revolution: The Merits and Flaws of a Protest-based Civil Society

The 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia that swept Serzh Sargsyan from power and brought Nikol Pashinyan to power as Prime Minister was surprising. Sargsyan had brutally repressed previous protests in 2008—in which ten people died—and had managed to successfully navigate broad protests in 2011 and 2013 by offering some largely cosmetic concessions. Few would have predicted that he could be pushed out of power in the space of less than two months. Even fewer would have predicted that snap elections in December 2018 would completely remove Sargsyan’s party from power—the Republican Party of Armenia did not win a single seat. At the same time, the form the revolution took—protests carried out by a broad coalition of individuals upset at the state of political affairs—was not surprising, given the nature of Armenian civil society.

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Geopoliticus
February 13, 2019

Royal Drama in Thailand

Recent news reports from Thailand revealed that Royal Princess Ubolratana—a sister of King Vajiralongkorn—had accepted the nomination of a political party to be its candidate for Prime Minister in upcoming elections. A few hours later, the candidacy was terminated when the King announced that his sister’s proposed foray into electoral politics was “highly inappropriate.” For most Americans, this bit of news sounded like a bit of exotic trivia. Exotic, yes—but not trivial. The story provides a window into the complex political and cultural dynamics of another country—one where the U.S. has significant strategic equities.

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Geopoliticus
February 1, 2019

Japan’s New(ish) Aircraft Carriers: Reviving Japanese Naval Aviation

With remarkably little fuss, the Japanese Diet approved the latest iteration of Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines in December 2018. The new guidelines pave the way for the conversion of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s two largest warships, the Izumo and Kaga, into aircraft carriers. Though officially classified as helicopter destroyers, the two ships already resemble light aircraft carriers and embark several anti-submarine warfare helicopters. What will ultimately complete their transformation into true aircraft carriers is Japan’s expected acquisition of up to 40 American F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STVOL) fighters, as the Yomiuri Shimbun reported in early 2018.

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Israel and Palestine
Geopoliticus
January 29, 2019

The Peace Process is Back on the Agenda

The Trump administration has decided it needs a win and thinks it can achieve one most easily via the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. According to President Donald Trump, he has already simplified the conflict by taking “Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table,” referring to the official U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and subsequent relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv in 2018. Of course, the conflict that has confounded consecutive U.S. presidents and countless other world leaders must be simply waiting for a new American plan.

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Geopoliticus
January 7, 2019

Kim Jong-un’s 2018 of Contentment

Kim Jong-un offered few surprises in his annual New Year’s address. As is the wont of North Korean leaders, he characterized the past year as “historic” and touted the successes and progress of the Party and state. In Pyongyang, on the evening of the 31st, crowds filled Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, welcoming the New Year with a concert, many seemingly filming with their smartphones. Kim does have quite a lot to be proud of. In 2018, he held summits with two of the world’s most powerful leaders—Donald Trump and Xi Jinping—and crafted a remarkably positive image of himself among parts of the South Korean public. (For an illustrative example, look no further than this Kim Jong-un face mask manufactured by a South Korean company.)

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Geopoliticus
January 4, 2019

Healthy Skepticism about the Future of Disruptive Technology and Modern War

There are many candidates for examining the most salient changes in the emerging strategic environment. Many perceive the emerging era of great power competition as a mandate to prepare for large-scale, conventional wars. Others will examine smaller changes in context like urban warfare, the influence of social media or its weaponization, or potentially disruptive new technologies.

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Geopoliticus
December 18, 2018

China: Time of Reckoning

China has long occupied a unique place in America’s relations with the world. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, China was a commercial magnet. Chinese products—tea, porcelains, silks—were in high demand and drew American merchants to Cathay. The clipper ships that plied the Pacific tea trade became as much a part of American lore as the Pony Express. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a potent new actor entered the scene: Christian missionaries. For many American denominations, the prospect that China might be converted to Christianity became a lure more powerful than money. By the 1930s, Christian missionaries funded by American congregations had established an impressive network of schools, hospitals, and universities—along with churches—across much of China. Moreover, China’s political leaders at the time, Chiang Kai-shek and his redoubtable wife, were baptized Christians. Americans envisioned a China that would soon become an Asian version of the U.S.

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Geopoliticus
December 14, 2018

We Are Losing

On December 12th, the Jamestown Foundation held the organization’s annual terrorism conference. During the first panel, a member of the […]

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Geopoliticus
December 14, 2018

The Reset That Wasn’t: The Permanent Crisis of U.S.-Russia Relations

Donald Trump is the only President of the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union who has been unable to “reset” the U.S. relationship with Russia. While the Clinton, Bush, and Obama resets didn’t last, they provided periods of respite in the historically tense ties and allowed both sides to achieve important policy goals. Ironically, Trump’s affinity for Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, is the main reason for his inability to put the relationship on a more stable footing. Suspicious of his motivations and put off by his chaotic leadership style, Trump’s own administration and the U.S. Congress are essentially running U.S. policy on Russia themselves, with the president’s role reduced to endorsing their decisions. Despite being endowed with the bully pulpit of the presidency and an itchy Twitter finger, Trump is a loud but often inconsequential bystander to the process of managing the U.S.-Russia relationship.

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