Much ink has been spilled in the last 12 months over whether President Donald Trump can have a grand strategy and, if so, what form it takes — or should take. Before Trump had even assumed office, Micah Zenko and Rebecca Lissner accused the president of “strategic incoherence” and a transactional approach to international relations focusing on bilateral deals. Hal Brands differed from this view by characterizing Trump’s grand strategy as “resurgent nationalism,” while other scholars argued that the president is following a Jacksonian tradition of American foreign policy based on “national honor” and “reputation.” More boldly, Richard Burt, a Cold Warrior who served at the highest levels of the U.S. national security establishment, harkened back to Nixon and Kissinger in prescribing “a grand strategy of great-power balancing” or else “all bets are off.”
An American, a German, and a Chinese gentleman walk into a bar in Prague. The first two order a beer, and the bartender then turns to the Chinese man to ask, “What can I get you?” He simply replies, “The accounts please, I own the place.”
The joke is not entirely removed from reality. The Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI – an economic agenda billed as the Silk Road reincarnated – is putting meat on the bones of Chinese interaction with Central and Eastern Europe. BRI investments play a role in the increased priority attached to the “16+1” – a political format that brings China and the region together. The sixth meeting of heads of states of the Central and Eastern Europe countries and China in Hungary has revealed four faces of Chinese activity in the region: connector, shaper, investor and challenger.
On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said of North Korea that the current U.S. “focus is on diplomacy to solve this problem that is presented by the DPRK. We must, however…be prepared for the worst, should diplomacy fail.” Not surprisingly, most recent commentary and analysis on the current North Korea crisis has focused on the prospects of either a near-term conflict or a diplomatic way out. That focus is understandable, but fixates on the two least likely outcomes. Rather than preparing for diplomatic or warfighting scenarios with a nuclear-armed North Korea, the United States should be preparing for a sustained period of deterrence, coercive diplomacy, and rollback. This is the best approach to achieve the international community’s long-stated goal of the eventual peaceful denuclearization and reunification of the Korean Peninsula at an acceptable cost.
Moscow’s policy isn’t about becoming a leader in the region but accumulating influence to use closer to home.
A new balance of power is solidifying in Syria. Iran, Turkey and Russia have all played a role in the conflict there – jockeying for position and even agreeing in September to set up zones of control. But Russia in particular has deftly managed the game up to this point, and it is emerging from the Syrian civil war with a strong hand. Ultimately, Russia’s goal is to parlay its position in the Middle East into advantages in areas that matter more to Moscow. To some degree, it has achieved this, but it’s still unclear whether its strategy will be successful enough to score Russia an advantage in the area it cares about the most: Ukraine.
It is high time for the EU to move beyond ‘stabilocracy’ and stand up to ethnic nationalist kleptocrat political leaders.
The Balkans are not as exciting as they once were. The large-scale violence that made the region a central concern of European policy in the 1990s is no longer a feature of Balkan politics.
That’s progress, of course. But the absence of violence does not mean an absence of problems. Persistent economic weakness, growing public frustration with leaders, and renewed ethnic tensions have created a volatile mix beneath the surface calm. As Europe’s attention to these issues wavered, outside actors – most notably Russia, but also Turkey and China, began to assert themselves. If the European Union wants to maintain stability and influence in its own troubled backyard, it will need to re-engage with the Balkans.