Donald Trump does not have a foreign policy; he has moods regarding international affairs. Underneath the volatility of his moods, however, are some convictions: namely that other countries are robbing the U.S. through trade; U.S. allies are at best incapable of defending themselves and unwilling to spend resources in order to do so; multilateralism is for the weak; and widespread application of U.S. military power to underpin the prevailing international order is a wasted and failed endeavor. In many respects, these convictions are fundamentally wrong: over the long term, the U.S. has benefited enormously from commitment to open trade, alliances beyond immediate transactional quid-pro-quo, multilateral international order, and U.S. global power projection.
France and Germany recently decided to share the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and jointly do the agenda-setting and public communication tasks it involves, over the next two months. What could be an important symbol appears, however, more like a smokescreen to conceal the two partners’ skirmishes over their respective UN seats. France is one of the five permanent members of the UNSC, with all the privileges that brings, including a veto on any decisions it opposes. Germany has recently been elected to a two-year, non-permanent seat on the Council, with no special privileges. The Germans wish to see France’s permanent member status Europeanized—in other words, transferred to the European Union as a whole. Paris continues to respond to such suggestions with a resounding non. At first glance, this disagreement might look like French national “egoism” standing in the way of Germany’s splendid ambitions for Europe. On closer inspection, however, it is rather the other way around.
On a recent research to Taiwan, I made several visits to one of the premiere tourist attractions in Taipei: the Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Hall, which memorializes the “Generalissimo” who ruled (in various forms) the Republic of China from 1928-1975. The Hall would remind Americans of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., due to its grandiose style and architecture and the presence a large statue of the titular leader sitting in a chair. I visited the location many times because I am undertaking a research project on the Tsai Ing-wen administration’s transitional justice (TJ) initiatives to address Taiwan’s authoritarian past under the Kuomintang, and the Hall is one of the major points of controversy since as a part of the TJ efforts, the government is reviewing the status of statues of CKS and debating what to do with them.
Among the range of possible outcomes discussed before the summit, ending with nothing at all was something few, if any, had bet on. It seemed much more likely that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un would agree to measures that were relatively minor in scope but big on symbolism, such as a declaration ending the Korean War. In terms of concessions and gains, the U.S., seemed perhaps likely to get the dismantling of at least some parts of the Yongbyon plant or other facilities. North Korea may have expected specific and limited sanctions relief, perhaps a measure that would have allowed it to move ahead on economic exchanges with South Korea. The summit abruptly ended with neither, and, at the time of this writing, the North Korean and U.S. versions of what happened differ quite significantly.
Long before the Kerch Strait incident in October 2018, Russia had already begun to strengthen the forces in its Southern Military District, which spans from near Volgograd to Russia’s border with Georgia and Azerbaijan. Naturally, that has caused concern in Kiev, since the district also abuts the restive eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas and is responsible for Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. One of Ukraine’s biggest worries has been Russia’s reactivation of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division in late 2016. Posted only 50 km from the border between Russia and Ukraine, it is equipped with an unusually large number of tanks. Its force structure includes two tank regiments, rather than the standard one; and each of its two motorized rifle regiments has an attached tank battalion. Russian media refers to the division as the “steel monster.”
In only a few days, President Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, will meet in Hanoi. Both need to bring home concrete results. North Korea is under the strictest sanctions regime it has ever faced, and, with some exceptions, both China and Russia seem to continue upholding the sanctions that ban the imports of North Korea’s most crucial export goods, and severely restrict its imports of oil and fuel.
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.