The CSS Blog Network

Japan’s Five Futures

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This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 16 March 2017.

If Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo wakes up these days with an extra bounce in his step, it’s with good reason.  He has overtaken Nakasone Yasuhiro to become the sixth longest serving prime minister in Japanese history, and he will soon pass Koizumi Junichiro, who set the standard in the post-Cold War era. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) just agreed to revise party rules to extend the maximum presidential tenure to three consecutive three-year terms for a total of nine years. (The previous limit was two.) If Abe completes a full third term, he will become Japan’s longest serving prime minister ever.

Changing the rules is a smart move. While in office, Abe built and cemented his party’s parliamentary majority, bringing stability to a political system that was marked by uncertainty and hobbled by ineffectual leaders. The economy has regained its footing, with growth on the upswing, unemployment shrinking, and business confidence surging. Abe has set the standard for a good working relationship with US President Donald Trump and reduced tensions (somewhat) with Beijing and Seoul (although neither relationship can be counted on to continue its current path untended). He has made good on his promise to secure Japan’s place among the first tier of nations and to make it a force to be reckoned with in international relations.

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How Will Trump Wage War? What Early Signs of a Risk-Acceptant President Mean for US Military Operations

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This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 7 March 2017.

Since inauguration, President Trump has signaled a strong commitment to the use of force – especially to secure U.S. interests in the Middle East and to protect against the threat of terrorism. In his inaugural address, Trump promised to eradicate Islamic terrorism “from the face of the earth” and he reiterated this policy objective during his speech to Congress last Tuesday. Yet the question remains – how will Trump use military operations to accomplish these objectives?  Trump has at various times promised to “bomb the hell out of ISIS” and commit 20,000 to 30,000 troops to a ground campaign, all the while sending “very few troops” to the Middle East. Given these contradictory statements, it is difficult to discern a coherent military strategy. Will Trump keep the U.S. footprint small by relying – like Obama did – on drone strikes and arming partner militaries? Or will he be more willing to send U.S. ground troops to the Middle East?

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One Year after the Sanctions: Is Europe Ready for the Belarus Crisis?

This article was originally published by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) on 9 February 2017.

The results of the ongoing normalization in relations between the EU and Belarus have been very modest, as have the domestic changes, which the turn in the European policy was intended to assist. Meanwhile, Moscow reacted to Alexander Lukashenko’s perceived “drift to the West” by toughening its approach towards Minsk. A new crisis in the east of Europe may be in the making.

On February 15, 2016, the EU decided not to prolong the sanctions it had imposed five years earlier on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in response to brutal repressions against the Belarusian political opposition. The sanctions were lifted as a reward granted to Minsk in return for the release of remaining political prisoners, for the less oppressive presidential campaign of 2015 and – perhaps above all – for Belarus’s refusal to fully support Russia in the conflict over Ukraine. At the same time, the decision was driven by hopes and expectations that the normalization of relations between Europe and Belarus would stimulate the latter to start domestic liberalization and economic reforms.

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Empire by Other Means: Russia’s Strategy for the 21st Century

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This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online on 2 February 2017.

During the first phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on 28 January, both sides agreed on the need to improve the US-Russian relationship. While it’s still uncertain how this new relationship will evolve, the conclusion of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing that “we’re not likely to ever be friends” is telling. More importantly, Tillerson noted that the Kremlin has “a geographic plan” and that it is “taking actions to implement that plan.”

Russia has much more than a simple territorial plan. In fact, in recent decades Moscow has actively pursued Putin’s long-term vision of reestablishing Russian power and influence in the former states of the Soviet Union and not shied away from redrawing borders and launching military campaigns.

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Donald Trump and the Emergent Dominant Narrative in US Foreign Policy

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This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 4 February 2017.

It is difficult to find experts that approve of President Donald Trump’s emergent foreign policy. Neoconservatives and internationalists complain that, by abandoning the leading role the United States has taken in world affairs since the end of World War Two, he is contributing to the collapse of the liberal world order and the emergence of a more dangerous, Hobbesian alternative. Libertarians and economists worry that he risking a global depression with his protectionist policies. National security hawks argue that his anti-Muslim rhetoric could bolster ISIS; and regional specialists warn that he is wrecking relationships with key partners such as Europe, China, and Mexico.

To a considerable extent, Trump’s detractors are correct. His assessment of the prevailing state of affairs—that a corrupt, globalist political establishment has allowed other countries to take advantage of the US and that the best way to remedy this is to put ‘America First’ by reducing imports and extracting substantial concessions from allies and international institutions—is as simplistic as it is delusional. Whatever one thinks of US foreign policy, a belligerent, neomercantilist, unilateralist approach would be destabilizing overseas and would only exacerbate the problems confronting the country at home.

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