Epic saga or black comedy, Brexit is a moving tale with an unchanging cast, and a central paradox: states are located in a world of continual interaction across their borders, but the international system rests on nations with borders and a sense of identity. An emphasis on the latter point can be dismissed as ‘populism,’ the new term for democracy, or can be supported, but the key point is that Britain and Europe more broadly are facing a significant collision between populism/democracy and transnational cooperation. This is not simply a matter of right-wing disaffection, but is a matter of more profound failure of transnational institutions such as the EU to deliver on their promises and to engage with public concerns. The Brexit referendum was not the first mark of this failure. Referenda in Continental Europe in the 2000s has already revealed this, as, separately, had the two referenda over whether Norway should join.
Motivated by his fear of automation and limited opportunities, as well as by a shortage of resources that he reasoned would be exacerbated by climate change and immigration, Patrick Crusius carried out a terrorist attack to advance his racist population control mission, targeting Latinx individuals and killing 22 Walmart shoppers in El Paso, Texas. Michael Todd Wolfe, who was sentenced to nearly 7 years in prison for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State, was ready to “hop into Syria [and was] ready to die” for his “righteous brothers” there. A few minutes before committing a vehicular attack in Toronto that killed 10, Alek Minassian declared the “Incel Rebellion” and praised Elliot Rodger, who in 2014 killed six people at U.C. Santa Barbara before ultimately killing himself.
After Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi drove Uber out of China in 2016, it threw support behind companies trying to do the same thing in other countries. Now, a global anti-Uber alliance of scrappy startups is leveraging Chinese money and expertise to thwart competition, while China’s influence has steadily grown in a range of markets. This Chinese strategy of backing “insurgent” artificial intelligence (AI) startups is a minor, but important, insight of Kai-Fu Lee’s 2018 book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Lee calls the strategy localization, and predicts that it will reshape geopolitics in the AI era. It’s a compelling tactic to explore as U.S.-China competition draws increasing attention.
Months after the collapse of its territorial caliphate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains a viable threat to the United States and the international community writ large. The organization’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is alive and on the lam, while in the group’s former strongholds, it is reconstituting its networks and waging a low-level campaign of political assassinations, ambushes, and guerrilla warfare-style attacks. ISIS will be able to continue making money, even without a stranglehold on territory, and still has access to hundreds of millions of dollars that will aid its efforts to rebuild.
The recent firing or resignation of President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton has heightened speculation that Trump will meet with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhani on the margins of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session beginning next week. Bolton is renowned for his hawkish views on Iran—long advocating for forceful U.S. military action against Iran and pushing regime change as the “only long term solution” to the threats posed by Iran.
Even after eight years of civil war and the U.S. intervention to combat the Islamic State (IS), the future of northeast Syria still is unsettled. Washington faces the various divergent interests of powerful external actors, including Russia and Turkey—one a great power competitor and the other a NATO ally—in the country. To complicate matters further, the United States has sought to shift the goals of its presence in Syria from a narrow, counter-terrorism effort to defeat IS to denying the Bashar al-Assad regime a victory, with the intent of forcing Assad to make political concessions and making Syria a focal point of the so-called “Maximum Pressure” strategy aimed at using economic coercion to change Iranian foreign policy. Amidst the expansion of Washington’s desired political outcomes in Syria, President Donald Trump ordered the military to withdraw forces in December 2018, only to reverse course, so long as the United States worked to increase the European commitment to the ground war in Northeast Syria.
With anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong showing few signs of abating, speculation is growing as to what China might do next. Already, China’s Hong Kong Affairs Office head warned, “If the situation worsens further, and there is turmoil that the Hong Kong government is unable to control, the central government absolutely will not just watch without doing anything.” To that end, Beijing has assembled thousands of paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP), China’s internal security force, just outside Hong Kong’s border. Were they to enter the city to quell the unrest, it would likely be a bloody affair. Largely unarmed, the demonstrators will likely get the short end of the stick.
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.