This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 20 April 2017.
April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?
On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 21 April 2017.
The US has been contending with the challenge of the North Korean nuclear program for decades, yet we are no closer to the goal of convincing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, that goal now appears unattainable under current circumstances.
Meanwhile the most serious threat facing the world today is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Both North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear weapons production capabilities. If they succeed, their regional neighbors will go nuclear in response, triggering a global cascade of proliferation. The resulting worldwide availability of nuclear weapons and fissile material to rogue states and terrorist groups will rapidly lead to a chaotic situation out of control.
The end goal of this strategy is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, a North Korean economy that can sustain itself, a regional security environment free of military threats from North Korea, and decisive actions addressing the deplorable human rights situation throughout North Korea.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 April 2017.
Ahead of the Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit this week at Mar-a-Lago, Taiwan is understandably anxious. Trump’s ascendance to the American presidency has injected uncertainty into the U.S. approach to China and Taiwan — an element of foreign policy that is traditionally carefully calibrated to avoid upsetting the precarious cross-strait arrangement. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s unprecedented phone call with then-President -elect Trump in early December seemed to herald a new, more muscularly pro-Taiwan approach. This impression was subsequently belied by Trump’s suggestion that Taiwan could be traded away as part of a grand bargain with China. Speculation about Trump’s interest in upending this long-standing U.S. policy died down after the president affirmed his support for the “one China policy” in his first conversation with Xi. The next month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopted China’s verbiage regarding a “new model of great power relations” during his trip to Beijing.
Whether and how Trump and Xi will address the one China policy remains to be seen. “We are preparing for every scenario,” one unnamed Taiwanese official told The Washington Post. Yet the underlying problem is clear. As Taiwan’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review argues, Chinese military power is increasing at the same time as the new administration’s plans for “the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategic direction and troop deployment” remain uncertain. These shifting geopolitical currents come at the same time as growing strain between Taiwan and China. Beijing regards Tsai’s traditionally pro-independence political party as antagonistic to its interests and, since her inauguration last May, has undertaken a campaign of increased economic, political, and military pressure.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 15 March 2017.
“To pursue peace through strength, it shall be the policy of the United States to rebuild the U.S. Armed Forces.” President Donald J. Trump, January 27, 2017.
“[Gen. Martin Dempsey] told American troops based in Japan on Thursday that ‘the best way to avoid war is to prepare for it.’” Associated Press, April 25, 2013.
The idea of “peace through strength” can be traced back to at least Roman times and almost certainly goes back even further, but in U.S. history, it is associated with Ronald Reagan. In his essay, “The Ancient Foreign Policy,” historian Victor Davis Hanson salutes its origins and links this “common wisdom” to the concept of deterrence.
From Vegetius’s Si vis pacem, para bellum [If you want peace, prepare for war] to Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength,” the common wisdom was to be ready for war and thereby, and only by that way, avoid war, not to talk bellicosely and to act pacifistically … Deterrence (and with it peace) often was not defined only in material terms; it rested also on a psychological readiness to use overwhelming power to confront an aggressor … Again, deterrence (“the act of frightening away”) rested not just on quantifiable power but also on a likelihood to use it.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 19 January 2017.
Roughly one year has passed since Tsai Ing-wen, presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a party supporting Taiwan’s de jure independence from China, was elected president of the Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan). Throughout Taiwan’s 2015-16 election cycle, Tsai refused to endorse the “1992 Consensus,” an understanding whereby both sides agree that there is one China, but hold different interpretations as to what this means. The arrangement enabled Taipei and Beijing to move relations forward and reduce cross-strait tensions to an unprecedented level from 2008 to 2016. Rather than employ this approach, Tsai sidestepped the issue by claiming she supported the “status quo” and would handle relations with Beijing in accordance with “the will of the Taiwan people” and Taiwan’s constitution.
Following Tsai’s election, Beijing has slowly applied different measures to convince her administration to return to the “1992 Consensus.” In June, Beijing suspended all official contact with Taiwan. The Chinese government then cut the number of mainland tourists allowed to visit Taiwan, a move igniting protests by those dependent on the tourism industry. The island was also locked out of the 39th assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization. And Beijing began to accede to requests by Taipei’s few remaining diplomatic allies to switch recognition to Beijing (São Tomé and Príncipe dropped Taiwan in December). Perhaps most worrisome, however, are recent threats by China’s state-run media outlets and the military exercises in the waters surrounding Taiwan. How should Taiwan respond to these developments?