Saturday 23 Feb 2019 | 06:07 | SYDNEY
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United States

Trouble in Munich: the transatlantic breakup

Since 1963, the Munich Security Conference has been a fixture on the international scene. During the Cold War it was an important forum for debate on the West’s policy towards the Soviet Union. It was often described as a “transatlantic family meeting.” Last weekend I attended the 2019

The Vietnamese venue will shape the second Trump-Kim summit

The news is in. US President Donald Trump will meet North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un for the second time on February 27-28. Instead of Singapore, this time Vietnam will play host. Although there are many concerns regarding the prospect of success for the second summit and North Korea’s

Getting a better outcome from the second Trump-Kim summit

If press reports are accurate, US President Donald Trump and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un will again meet this month. They met for the first time last June in Singapore. Rumour suggests this meeting will be in Vietnam. The first summit was sharply criticised as a photo-op for Trump –

US, Taliban, Afghanistan peace talks: timing is critical

The Taliban and the US have agreed, in principle, on a peace framework that will ensure the Taliban part ways with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda leading to a possible withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan. The negotiations also focused on a comprehensive ceasefire and

Pacific collateral from the INF Treaty collapse

Washington intends to begin withdrawing from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty early next month. President Trump indicated late last year that the US is pulling out because “they’ve (Russia) been violating it for many years.” The concern for Australia is that

Book Review: the Clinton fiction

Review: The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Aldred A. Knopf, 2018) Former US President Bill Clinton is a man of singular gifts – a highly intelligent policy wonk with an unmatched capacity to connect with voters through mastery of what we are obliged these days to

Philippine alliance angst

Last month, at his end-of-year press conference, the Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana called for a review of the 1951 US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Under the terms of this treaty, either side can unilaterally withdraw. When asked if post-review options

Book review: Grappling with the legacy of Barack Obama

Book review: The World as It Is: Inside the Obama White House, by Ben Rhodes (Random House, 2018). The slew of books that find their way to the shelves once a president has departed are often cagey, self-interested and read suspiciously like job applications. Ben Rhodes tries hard to avoid

Best of The Interpreter 2018: The US-China trade war

In recent months, the US-China relationship has accelerated from rivalry toward adversarial antagonism. In the US, a policy shift on China has been propelled by a sense that China is winning and America is losing in a competition for global hegemony.  “I want tariffs,” Donald Trump&

Was Jim Mattis really the “last adult in the room”?

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has resigned. And yes, I use that term advisedly, because even though President Donald Trump is tweeting about Mattis’ “retirement”, it’s pretty clear that this is a resignation letter, not a retirement letter. And a pretty brutal one, too, by the formal and

What happens next? Trump’s sudden Syria exit

Donald Trump’s announcement that he is pulling troops out of Syria is another example of the New York property developer turned president's decision-making style. If you don’t understand or don’t like the deal, then get out of it. All that matters is the bottom line. In business this may

What I missed this year: America pushes back

A series where Lowy Institute experts look back on what surprised them in 2018. For some years now I have believed that the United States is on the losing end of a long struggle with China for strategic hegemony in Asia. My position is summarised in a long article I wrote for the Financial Review

US killing by drone: continuity and escalation

Recent revelations confirm that under President Donald Trump, the use of armed unmanned aerial systems, drones, in US combat operations has increased significantly. For example, in 2017–18, the Trump administration launched 238 drone strikes on Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, according to data from

US-China competition is all about us

We are not entering a new Cold War, despite both Chinese President Xi and US Vice-President Pence finding the term a useful rhetorical tool. The Americans have decided to compete against China because they think the last two decades of cooperation has failed. The Trump Administration,

How the US can prevent a China-dominated Asia

The US military is dangerously under-funded and could lose the next big war it wages. That is the key message from a new report by the influential National Defense Strategy Commission. Established by Congress to provide an independent, non-partisan assessment of the 2018 US National Defense

Xi and Trump at G20: A tariff truce

This truce is by no means the end of trade tensions between China and the US. Over what was undoubtedly a delicious dinner last Saturday night on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to extend the deadline for the

George H W Bush: the internationalist president

George Herbert Walker Bush, who has died at age 94, will not reside in the top rank of American presidents, the Washingtons, the Jeffersons, the Roosevelts the Kennedys to name a few. But he will be remembered as a decent man who did his best in a long, distinguished public career. In his

North Korea’s emerging blackmail strategy

A recent New York Times article has drawn much criticism from the US intelligence community for depicting North Korea’s continued missile development as “a Great Deception.” Analysts have responded by proclaiming that North Korea has never agreed to cease its missile and nuclear

Russia-Ukraine: soggy response to Kerch aggression

With its doctrine of scrupulous media balance – “they said, he said, we don’t know” – Western reporting on the latest phase in Russia’s relentless imperialist aggression against Ukraine has been as misleading as what has gone before. Even the sight of Russian special forces swarming

Chipping away at trust in democracy

With a series of state elections due and the federal election looming, there are important lessons that Australia needs to learn from the tone of US politics. In particular, there is a responsibility for Australia’s political leaders to act in ways that ensure, and do not undermine, the integrity

More than words needed to meet the China challenge

Newly announced US ambassador-designate to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse, comes to Australia at a moment of significant tension in US-China relations, with a growing consensus in the US that it is entering a period of competition with Beijing.  Policy documents such as the National Security

The prospect of a “Trumpier” foreign policy

Donald Trump came to office with a more coherent worldview than other recent American presidents. For decades, he has held four core beliefs about the world. First, Trump scoffs at the longstanding American commitment to international leadership and cooperation. Since the 1940s, American

US midterms: the no-joke elections

The US midterm results are rolling in. The House of Representatives appears to have fallen under Democrat control, while former presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won himself a seat in the Senate, where the Republicans have comfortably retained a majority. As of a few minutes ago, The New York

Trump scores a win over Russia

Typically, Vladimir Putin answered Washington’s decision this month to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by making new nuclear threats against Europe. His posturing underscored why this was the right decision. Better known as the INF Treaty, this agreement was signed in 1987

Disinformation campaigns and US elections

A New York Times article this month revealed a new tactic in the US war against election disinformation. US election officials had notified Russians suspected of involvement in online disinformation campaigns in the lead up to the mid-term elections that they were “on notice”, and that their

With Trump in Mind, China Realigns

The past week says a lot about the quagmire that Chinese President Xi Jinping has found his country in, as his American counterpart Donald Trump has shown no sign of de-escalating the trade war rhetoric. It also offers a glimpse into the most powerful post-Mao leader’s political and strategic

Jamal Khashoggi: shifting law in a deadly turf war

The alleged extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the international condemnation that followed, reflects not only rivalry in the Middle East, but also greater anxiety about the direction of liberal democracy and the international rule of law more broadly. Last week, US President Donald

The one Iran deal the US should keep

For all the talk about the broken nuclear deal, it might seem a surprise to learn of an old agreement between the United States and Iran that is still in force. The move to dismantle international agreements only makes diplomacy harder and belligerence easier. The US-Iran Treaty of Amity,

America builds on development aid

In the biggest reform of US foreign aid policy in recent history, the US Senate this month passed the Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development, or the BUILD Act. This legislation, signed into law by President Donald Trump on 5 October, will create the new US International

Friends like these … allies and the Pence speech

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech was tasty red meat for anyone desiring a more confrontational US policy toward the People’s Republic of China. Pence’s speech reflects a strengthening bipartisan consensus in Washington, and suggests that a long-term policy of competition and confrontation

Killing Chimerica

Over a decade ago, the term “Chimerica” was coined to describe the symbiotic relationship between the US and Chinese economies. While offshoring manufacturing to China and opening access to US markets and universities benefited American interests, it also saw China’s share of world GDP jump

Is the second Trump-Kim summit necessary?

The third summit between the leaders of North and South Korea last month was a huge accomplishment for Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. At home, Moon’s approval rating shot up from 49% in early September to 65% a week after the summit, largely due to his successful efforts to jump start the

Beware of fighter pilots bearing gifts

In late September, an interesting news story populated some portions of the internet. A person purporting to be a (possibly retired) Russian fighter pilot flying one of Moscow’s most modern jets, a Su-35, claimed to have engaged in (and won) a mock air-combat against America’s premier fighter

Decoding the bombshell story for China

It is near impossible to find any mention of the Chinese chip hacking story in Bloomberg Businessweek that does not use the words “bombshell” or “explosive” to describe the piece. These descriptions have become cliché. But the cliché is fitting because even if the story unravels amid

Courting supreme mistrust

The past month or so has seen immense social change in India. Gay sex was decriminalised, two lesbians were given the right to live together against the wishes of their families, and adultery was decriminalised. These important progressive changes were not made by the government of Narendra Modi,

Will geopolitics trump trade?

Geopolitics may be rapidly moving to the forefront in deciding how the US-China trade war will play out. If so, the odds of a rapprochement are dwindling fast. The trade conflict has always been about many things, clouding how different analysts understood it. Initially, it seemed best understood

A slap in the face for diverse diplomacy

The US appointed its first openly gay ambassador in 1999. President Bill Clinton gave James Hormel a recess appointment as US Ambassador to Luxembourg after two years of a blocked Senate campaign. Since then, an additional six openly gay male ambassadors have been appointed by the US, including

Pence on China: reviving a neoconservative dream

Ever wondered who is now the culprit for many of the woes of the United States? Then look no further than a major speech delivered by US Vice President Mike Pence last week. Given just days after the “leaked” photos showing close encounters between US and Chinese destroyers in the South

Fawning and flummery winning over love-sick Donald

In the last six months, US President Donald Trump has “fallen in love” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He has also been persuaded that Kim respects him, likely because he called him “your excellency” in his “beautiful letters”. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has claimed Trump

Time to fill the big hole in US-Australia ties

“We want to know to whom should we talk”, asked one South American diplomat in frustration at staffing problems in the US State Department. The question underscores, again, the failure of the Trump Administration to adequately staff its foreign service. This failure is not merely a curiosity,

Korean peninsula and the Moon-shot

The 12 June Singapore Summit has aged badly, as the declaration signed by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un has proven as useless as most analysts imagined. Consequently, the current US-North Korea diplomatic process is disintegrating under the weight of the parties’ misaligned

Trump to take on Iran at UN Security Council table

As it happens, the United States holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council during the annual diplomatic gabfest at the UN General Assembly. Traditionally, that means the president of the US can choose to chair a Security Council meeting if he or she desires to spotlight a

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