Since 1945, the United States has promoted European economic, political, and energy integration, and one recent way it has promoted these goals is by supporting the Three Seas Summit and Business Forum, which took place in Bucharest, Romania, on September 17-18 this year. The Three Seas Summit is a flexible, informal, presidential political platform launched in 2015 and now comprises all states between Germany and the former Soviet Union as well as the Baltic states.
In late August 2018, China, Russia, and the six other countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) wrapped up the group’s seventh joint anti-terrorism exercise, called “Peace Mission 2018.” Participating for the first time were troops from India and Pakistan, which became full members in the SCO last year. Leaving aside the questionable realism of the exercise—whose scenario, if in line with those of earlier exercises, involved terrorists armed with tanks and fighter jets bent on a coup—the exercise’s expanded scale would suggest that the SCO had grown more robust.
On August 31, the Royal Navy’s amphibious assault ship Albion exercised its freedom of navigation rights by sailing past the Chinese-occupied Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. As has been its practice, Beijing directed the British warship to leave and its foreign ministry issued a statement that demanded the United Kingdom end such “provocative actions.” This time, however, China’s state-run media chimed in too. It pointedly warned London that its actions could have wider repercussions. They could hamper talks on a free trade agreement between China and the United Kingdom at a time when its withdrawal from the European Union has left it economically vulnerable.
Under the Trump administration, U.S.-China relations have moved rapidly and dramatically from a prevailing mood of engagement to one of sharp rivalry. The arena has been primarily economics (trade and investment) as the administration has imposed tariffs on a growing range of Chinese exports to the U.S. and has threatened to extend new tariffs to all Chinese exports to this country. The administration presents a litany of complaints about Chinese behavior to justify these measures ranging from the theft of intellectual property to the manipulation of currency values. The Chinese government has cried foul, declared the tariffs to be a violation of international law, and has promised to respond in kind. In some respects, it is surprising that this change in the tone and tenor of U.S. relations with China has not come sooner. Chinese power and ambitions have been growing spectacularly, and by their own statements, it is clear that China’s leaders envision a 21st century Middle Kingdom soon displacing the U.S. as the world’s dominant superpower. As that realization has grown, it is no surprise that attitudes in Washington have hardened.
On September 9, the people of Sweden went to the polls. It was an election in which all parties wanted to avoid defeat, but few really seemed to want to win. There are many upsides to short election seasons, but when the main strategists of the major parties all seemed to still be on vacation mode throughout July—at least that’s what it looked from my vantage point in Stockholm this summer—you’ve got to wonder whether anyone truly cared about winning.
Step-by-step and bit-by-bit, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is chipping away at the West’s core while restoring its influence in the post-Soviet space and reinforcing the image of Russia as a global power on par with the United States. Many in the West, downplaying the post-Cold War reality and Russia’s capacity to spoil, continue to focus extensively on the numbers, graphs, and technicalities and ignore the realities on the ground. Policymakers and analysts constantly emphasize Russia’s backwardness, corruption, declining demographics, and relatively small gross domestic product (GDP) as the defining factors for its looming demise. However, they widely dismiss the relevance of its hard power, the significance of its will to fight, as well as the effectiveness of its hybrid tactics designed to confuse, subvert, and undermine democracies while avoiding conventional response.
In August 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte did something unusual: he publicly criticized China. He asserted that China did not have the right to drive away aircraft and ships passing by its man-made islands in the South China Sea. He explained that no country can create an island and then claim sovereignty over the airspace above it. Hence, he hoped that “China would temper . . . its behavior.” His comments raised eyebrows, including in China, whose foreign ministry promptly issued a statement that dismissed them.
When two drones, each equipped with a kilogram of powerful plastic explosives, were used on August 4 to attempt to assassinate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, it may have ushered in a foreboding new era—terrorism by unmanned aircraft.
After weeks of silence surrounding the substance of President Donald Trump’s July 16 discussions with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, some details are beginning to emerge. These fragments do not provide a comprehensive picture of the talks, but they give some indication of the possibilities for U.S.-Russia cooperation on issues of mutual interest. As such, they should not be discarded out of hand or forgotten in the uproar over Trump’s performance at Helsinki, but taken seriously as a way to preserve and strengthen strategic stability between Washington and Moscow during this tumultuous period in U.S.-Russia relations.
British Prime Minister Theresa May was in Northern Ireland yesterday and today to address what has become Brexit’s thorniest issue: the Irish border. A steady barrage of statements, agreements, and hot takes makes it challenging to follow the situation as it unfolds across the Atlantic. Here’s an update from the border.