RealClearWorld Articles

Is NATO Debasing Its Standards for Montenegro?

Tomas Liutkus - February 23, 2017


Barring any unexpected turn of events, Montenegro looks set to become NATO’s 29th member state. On Jan. 11, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance Montenegro’s membership bid to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass.

Montenegro’s bid looks all but guaranteed, but the Senate should not just rubber-stamp the Adriatic country’s application. It should take advantage of this last chance to block it.

There is good reason for blocking Montenegro’s membership. The benchmarks laid out in NATO’s founding documents don’t hand out membership based on a country’s desire alone. Accession is conditioned on a plethora of very stringent criteria linked to protecting democratic norms and upholding the rule of law. Those conditions are the only reason NATO has managed to survive the fall of the Soviet Union and endure as the most successful military alliance in history.

The criteria were enshrined in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which NATO launched in 1999 to help guide countries that wished to join the alliance. The program set out the guidelines for the 2004 round of enlargement, when Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania were invited to join the alliance. The action plan specifies high standards for prospective members, including “demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law and human rights; establishing democratic control of armed forces; and promoting stability and well-being through economic liberty, social justice and environmental responsibility.”

The Trump Bubble Bursts in Moscow’s Markets

David Ignatius - February 22, 2017


WASHINGTON -- Financial markets have been sending an interesting message about President Trump and Russia. After Trump's election, investors seemed to be betting that sanctions against Moscow would soon be eased. But this confidence collapsed in late January, and Russian stocks plummeted.

The numbers tell the story: From Nov. 7, the day before the election, to Jan. 27, the MICEX index of leading Russian stocks rose 26 percent. The index for Russian financial stocks increased 19 percent over that same period. But this upward momentum suddenly reversed: As of Tuesday, the MICEX index had fallen 10 percent from its January peak, and the financial measure had dropped 6.5 percent.

What happened on Jan. 27? After weeks of negative stories about possible links between members of Trump's campaign and Russia, the new president told a news conference it was "very early to be talking about" removing sanctions. Regarding a call scheduled the next day with President Vladimir Putin, Trump said blandly that he would "see what happens." And according to both sides, the call produced only vague pledges to cooperate against terrorism.

Economists debate whether markets distill expectations about policy, or whether they're closer to a "random walk." But in this case, the turnaround looks very rational indeed. Investors believed something would happen, and then decided it might not.

NATO, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe

George Friedman - February 22, 2017


Over the past week, American officials have attended meetings of NATO and the Munich Security Conference. The topic has been the future of NATO, with the United States demanding once more that the Europeans carry out their obligation to maintain effective military forces in order to participate in the NATO military alliance. At the same time, many European countries raised the question of whether the United States is committed to NATO. The Europeans are charging that that Americans may have military force but lack political commitment to Europe. The Americans are charging that the Europeans may be politically committed to NATO but lack the military force to give meaning to their commitment.

The real issue is that NATO has achieved its original mission, and no agreement exists on what its mission is now. NATO’s original mission was to block a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. That was achieved in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Having achieved the mission, NATO could have dissolved, but the problem with multinational institutions is that they take on a life of their own, independent of the reason they were created. Disbanding NATO because it had achieved its goal was never an option. So it continued to exist, holding conferences, maintaining planning staff and acting as if there was political agreement on what it was supposed to do.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States, as the only global power, created a coalition going far beyond NATO to repel the invasion. There was great satisfaction at the outcome, without a realization that the Iraqi invasion was not a stand-alone event but the beginning of a massive restructuring of the Middle East that would include vast instability and terrorist attacks on the U.S. and Europe. From 1945 until 1991, the fundamental global issue was the status of Europe in the wake of World War II. From 1991 until today, the fundamental issue for Europe and the United States has been the status of the Islamic world in the wake of the end of the Cold War, which had the effect of imposing a kind of stability in the region.

NATO was created to address post-World War II Europe. That is no longer the pivotal issue. NATO was not built to deal with what came after its success. There is consensus that chaos in the Islamic world is undesirable, but no consensus on three other points. First, there is no agreement that NATO as an institution has an obligation to take collective military action to pacify the region. Second, there is no consensus over what pacification would look like. Third, there is no consensus that a coordinated and collective effort to prevent terrorist attacks on NATO countries should be undertaken.

China Moves to Put North Korea in Its Place

Rodger Baker - February 22, 2017


In response to North Korea's latest missile test, and perhaps to the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, China has declared it will cease coal imports from North Korea for the entirety of the year. Beijing's threat to North Korea could significantly impact Pyongyang's finances, already stretched as the North continually seeks ways around international sanctions. But it also shows the limits of Beijing's actions toward North Korea. Even as China takes a more assertive role internationally, in finance, politics and even militarily, it views its global role — and potential responsibilities — far differently than the United States or earlier European empires.

The lens of China's latest actions on North Korea is a useful prism to understand how China throughout history has dealt with its periphery and beyond — and how it is likely to do so in the future.

For on a nearly daily basis, there are reports suggesting the decline of U.S. global power, and the attendant rise of China. This despite the slowing pace of Chinese economic growth, high levels of domestic bad loans and the massive undertaking of a shift from an export-led economic model to one based on domestic consumption, with the attendant structural shift in political and social patterns. China is seen as the next major global power, overshadowing the former Soviet Union and giving the United States a run for its money.

This view of China contrasts with how the country has been viewed for much of the past century: as the passed-by Asian power, the country that was most upended from its former glory by European colonialism and imperial competition, a Middle Kingdom carved into spheres of influence, forced to capitulate to Western concepts of trade and access, and left vulnerable to Japanese aggression at the turn of the last century. China is now seen as awakening, as consolidating political power domestically, building a strong and outwardly focused military, and spreading its economic reach across the globe, most recently with the network of infrastructure and trading routes characterizing the One Belt, One Road initiative

Venezuela Is a Ticking Time Bomb

Ed Feulner & Ana Quintana - February 21, 2017


Over the last two decades, the now-deceased Hugo Chavez and his handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, have wreaked havoc in Venezuela. Socialist economic policies and government corruption have destroyed a once-thriving economy sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves.

 For the past 21 years, The Heritage Foundation has published its annual Index of Economic Freedom, which looks at the economic freedom of countries throughout the world. In that period of time, Venezuela’s score has declined the most out of any country, going from 59.8 to 27.0 (on a scale of 1-100). It is now in second-to-last place, right behind Cuba and better only than North Korea.

Adding to Venezuela’s economic crisis is its skyrocketing inflation rate. The International Monetary Fund estimates a 2016 inflation rate of 475 percent, an enormous increase from 2015’s already crushing rate of 275 percent. For 2017, the situation is estimated to become much worse, with a sharp rise of 1660 percent.

Mismanagement of the economy has created a humanitarian disaster beyond comprehension. The capital city of Caracas is now the most dangerous non-war zone in the world, with 120 murders for every 100,000 residents. Venezuelans live in fear knowing they are more likely to be kidnapped in their own country than are the citizens of Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.

Can the Dutch Turn Back the Populist Tide?

Kaj Leers - February 20, 2017


After the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the Brexit referendum in Great Britain, eyes now turn to a slew of elections taking place in Europe. The Dutch vote first, on March 15, and elections in the political powerhouses of Germany and France are to follow. The Netherlands is often seen as a bellwether for broader European political sentiment. Will Dutch establishment parties turn back the populist tide?

Incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte has led a government coalition of his free market-conservative VVD party and the left-centrist social democrats of the PvdA. The coalition was born of necessity. In 2012, left-leaning Dutch voters voted PvdA to keep the VVD out of government. Right-wing voters likewise voted VVD to keep the PvdA out of power.

Eleven parties were voted into Parliament. Of 150 seats, with 76 seats needed for a majority, VVD and PvdA together won 79. By mutual exclusion both parties won, and by the same mechanism they were condemned to work together.

Unsurprisingly, neither voter block appreciated this coalition very much.

Could "Nexit" Follow Brexit After Dutch Elections?

Mike Corder - February 20, 2017


ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — For a small nation that has grown hugely wealthy thanks to centuries of doing business far and wide, the political mood in the Netherlands has turned surprisingly inward.

As a March 15 parliamentary election looms in the Netherlands — one of the founding members of the European Union — popular lawmaker Geert Wilders is dominating polls with an isolationist manifesto that calls for the Netherlands "to be independent again. So out of the EU."

After Britons voted last year to divorce from the EU, could a Dutch departure — known here as "Nexit," after "Brexit" — be close behind?

"I see the European Union as an old Roman Empire that is ceasing to exist. It will happen," Wilders said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Can Trump and Putin, Despite Uproar, Still Make a Deal?

Richard Weitz - February 20, 2017


Most commentators see the resignation of US National Security Michael Flynn this week as presenting a major setback to Russia-US relations, but a more balanced perspective suggests the departure could help ties in the long run. Flynn had become a lightning rod of criticism for his Russia ties and was an ineffective policy manager. With his removal – providing no further damaging revelations about Russia and the Trump administration emerge – the White House’s policymaking process could improve and Trump could engage Putin, who will likely remain Russia’s leader for years, on issues requiring Russian-US dialogue and coherent presidential direction.

Trump and Putin held their first official phone conversation on January 28. Compared to Trump’s other calls that day, this conversation appeared to have gone smoothly. According to Kremlin sources, Trump and Putin discussed nuclear nonproliferation, regional security, counterterrorism, and rebuilding bilateral trade and economic ties without yielding specific results.

The limited results were expected, given enduring constraints on bilateral ties. Both presidents express a desire to improve Russian-US ties, but their ability to progress beyond the traditionally tumultuous relationship is uncertain even with Flynn’s departure. Trump has raised both hopes and fears that his presidency will result in drastic changes to the relationship, but the impact of individuals on bilateral ties, even at the presidential level, is easy to exaggerate. For decades, there has been a recurring cycle of incoming US administrations coming to power, followed by initial improvements, stalemate, frustration and eventually regression.

Still, both men may have more impact than previous presidential pairs in shaping relations. Trump and Putin have similar worldviews. They regard traditional liberal internationalism and elite-driven globalization, such as that associated with the European Union, skeptically. They do not value international institutions in the abstract – they view nation states as the bedrock of world order and assess other structures in terms of how they advance national interests. Both are pragmatic leaders, seeking concrete deals for specific results, and esteem values like respect, patriotism and personal loyalty rather than transnational or ideological ties.

What Truly Makes a Terrorist?

David Benson - February 16, 2017


No issue has drawn more public scrutiny during the first month of the Trump presidency than the travel restrictions placed upon nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. The Trump administration frames this issue as one of national security: restricting travel from these countries will make us safer because security agencies in those countries are simply unable or unwilling to cooperate with the United States. Opponents’ arguments vary, but some contend that the order harms national security by acting as fodder for militant groups seeking new recruits. A casual observer might reasonably wonder if the competing schools of thought exist in alternate universes. The divergence is not the fault of so-called alternate facts, but of different frameworks for analyzing where terrorists come from and where they are going.

Counterterrorism hawks believe that force is the primary, if not only, solution to terrorist threats, and that the recruitment base for these organizations is largely fixed. In other words, for jihadi recruiters, followers and foot soldiers are found almost exclusively within defined ethnic and religious circles. Some people are Muslims, and others are not. Within those groups some are extremists, and others are not.

People are radicalized when they are plucked from the bin of potential radicals and turned into terrorists. Making changes to that framework of analysis is not particularly helpful in counterterrorism, because there are only so many people in the bin, and their individual transformation into terrorists is not all that important. What matters is that they make that transformation at all. Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake captured this worldview well in a recent article, writing “the process by which an individual gets sucked into the death cults of al Qaeda or the Islamic State cannot be reduced to a single cause.” This statement is not only factually correct, but uncontroversial among experts. What is controversial, however, is the role that factual statement plays in determining policy.

Counterterrorism doves, on the other hand, believe that counterterror efforts can include measures such as policy concessions, in part because the potential recruitment base for terrorism can change. While doves accept that primal identity, like religious identity, rarely changes, they do not see primal groups as the source of terrorism. It is in fact smaller groups, whether a sub-group of a primal identity or not, that make up the bulk of the terrorist threats.

Trump's Border Plan for Canada? So Far, Not a Wall

Jessica Trisko Darden - February 16, 2017


President Donald Trump has said little about the world’s longest undefended border – the one between the U.S. and Canada.

Trump barely addressed the issue at his first meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 13 in Washington. Although Trudeau’s vision of openness and diversity may conflict with Trump’s vision of “America First,” the leaders parted ways with an amicable handshake.

The two leaders have different views on their borders. While Trudeau announced that Canada is open to the world’s refugees, Trump has focused the world’s attention on the U.S.-Mexico border by drawing up plans for a US$21.6 billion border wall.

The Romania Playbook

Srdja Popovic & Cristian Sallai - February 16, 2017


Lessons for democracy from Romania's protest movement

What makes Romania’s protests so captivating is that unlike protests by Serbs in the 1990s, or by Zimbabweans and Venezuelans today, they take place in a genuine democracy. Moreover, Romanian protesters made it clear from the very beginning that they are not challenging the results of an election, but are denouncing the abuse of power by elected officials. Like recent protests in Poland, they are defending democratic institutions through people-power. And that is a precious gift to democracy.

It is fruitful to shed some light on the lessons Romania’s protests might offer to those across the world who are fighting corruption and authoritarianism, but also to those who are challenging abuse of power in any form. Romania may soon become a source of inspiration on how to challenge populist leaders in more famously democratic countries.

First let us take a look at the context: The latest wave of protests, with its final effects still unknown, overwhelmed Romania’s cities in recent weeks. Romania’s left-leaning Social Democratic Party, led by Liviu Dragnea, easily won the parliamentary elections in December 2016, just one year after a major anti-corruption drive forced the last socialist prime minister from power. In April, Dragnea got a two-year suspended prison sentence for inflating voter numbers in a July 2012 referendum to impeach then-President Traian Basescu. The sentence made Dragnea ineligible to serve as prime minister. President Klaus Iohannis nominated Sorin Grindeanu in his place.

Here we acknowledge a crucial fact: Turnout in this election was only 39.5 percent. Such low participation apparently led the new government to believe that its citizens are indifferent to the political process and wouldn’t react to the announcement of a decree meant to decriminalize certain corruption-related offenses.

Have U.S.-Europe Relations Changed Forever?

Eric Le Boucher - February 15, 2017


PARIS — The 2008 financial crisis had forced the European Union and the eurozone to fire back with a new artillery of budgetary and banking mechanisms. "Economic Europe" thus moved further toward integration. The current geopolitical situation will lead it to do the same, in the face of a new emergency, regarding defense policy. Donald Trump's statements against NATO have convinced Europeans of the need to take action on its own when it comes to security and financial policy. And since things are moving very quickly these days, these actions will be put to the test right away.

The recent spike in violence in Ukraine around the city of Avdiivka, located just north of Donetsk, on the frontline in the eastern part of the country, are the first test laid down by Vladimir Putin for Donald Trump's policy of isolationism. NATO military officials are issuing calls for a response. What will the new American president do against the Kremlin's first provocation? And what will Europeans say in the face of this new battle over territory?

The minimum 2% of GDP spent on defense required by NATO has quickly become a sort of "reverse Maastricht." All European countries will have to fulfill this requirement very quickly, starting with Germany. But many more decisions in favor of "integration" will be needed. Everything will have to be put on the table, including the conditions for the French atomic bomb — the only one on the continent — to become the EU's atomic bomb. 

Still, this military advance won't suffice, given the new international context. Ahead of the Feb. 3 informal EU summit in Malta, another Donald, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, sent a letter to European heads of state and governments in which he placed Trump's America on the same level as "China, Russia or radical Islam."

The Flynn Drama

George Friedman - February 14, 2017


President Donald Trump’s national security adviser resigned late Monday night. Michael Flynn admitted in his resignation letter to having conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States and providing then Vice President-elect Mike Pence with an incomplete account of those calls. There is speculation that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador to the United States concerning U.S. sanctions against Russia before Trump’s inauguration. The Washington Post reported that the acting attorney general told Trump last month about the calls and suggested that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

I am missing something here. This isn’t meant to defend Flynn. It just means that I am missing something. There are two things that do not make sense. The first is that Flynn was an intelligence officer in Afghanistan and Iraq and at one point was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn knows intelligence. It is a stretch to believe that Flynn could have placed himself in a position to be blackmailed by the Russians. This is because there is no way Flynn didn’t himself know that phone calls he had with representatives of Russia or another foreign government were monitored. There is something mysterious in this; we still do not have clarity over precisely what happened.

The second reason this doesn’t make sense is that talking to the Russian ambassador by itself would not have been grounds for dismissal or resignation. Under the Logan Act, which dates to 1799, it is illegal for someone not in the U.S. government to conduct foreign policy negotiations with a foreign power on behalf of the United States. However, no one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act. Logan Act or not, private citizens are constantly engaged in conversations with foreign officials. Frequently, the conversation has some substance that might be transmitted back to a government official he might know. He might wind up as a go-between – not authorized to negotiate, but nevertheless negotiating. The issue here is not necessarily that Flynn had contact with the Russian ambassador. It is that Flynn did not accurately portray the contents of their conversation.

Consider this. Anyone named to the post of national security adviser knows numerous officials from foreign governments. It is a job requirement. Before an election, he is simply a private citizen, as free as anyone else to speak to foreign officials within the limits of the Logan Act, which is never enforced but widely violated.

The Trump Factor in the French Election

Francois Godement - February 13, 2017


If you asked a Wisconsin farmer why he voted for Donald Trump when his great-grandparents supported Senator Robert La Follette, a maverick progressive, he might not have an answer. If you asked a French voter from the wider suburbs what he might have in common with a Wisconsin farmer, he would give a bewildered laugh.  

Yet there is a link between the upsurge for Trump, which surprised even the Republican establishment, and the tide of French voters for the National Front and its vocal candidate, Marine Le Pen, who just launched her raucous campaign. Each combines disaffection from the established parties -- all liars, damn liars -- a sense of dispossession where one cannot separate economic and job safety issues from wider cultural insecurity, which leads to a reversal of attitude towards newcomers and foreigners. Voters come from both the right and left.

The reversal towards foreigners is particularly telling. France alone in Europe shares a unique characteristic with the United States: It has long been an immigrant country. Every other European nation saw large waves of emigration from the mid-19th century to the 1930s. Millions of Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Poles, North Africans and Western Africans came to France in the heyday of economic growth, and while there was friction, xenophobic groups were not a significant force. In fact, the strongest discrimination targeted competitors from within -- antisemitism defined the French far right more than xenophobia in the pre-WW2 era. Republicanism was the functional equivalent of “In God we trust,” also serving to paper over obvious inequalities and common prejudice.

Post-war, immigration turned to non-European newcomers. Still French speaking for the most part, and despite of racism, they gradually integrated in what was, until a decade ago, the world’s most functional melting pot, as measured, for example, by the rate of intermarriage. Two events tipped the balance: a generous policy adopted in the late 1970s, allowing family relatives to join immigrants already in place, at the same time that unemployment rates began an inexorable rise. The French-born children of the previous generation of immigrants are not integrating and often revert to imagined communities from their countries of origin. The simultaneous shift of policy from integration to multiculturalism transformed into a political disaster. Never mind what is really responsible, whether the rise of militant Islam, which reduces intercommunity exchanges and marital unions, or mass unemployment, now at 10 percent and reaching 50 percent in the most disaffected neighborhoods. Communitarianism and destitute ghettos are worse in the United States, but fear pervades France too: Marseille’s roughly 30 violent murders per year are talked about as much as Chicago’s 700 victims.

No, Trump Did Not Back Down From China

Harry Kazianis - February 11, 2017


Have you ever seen a boxer get knocked out in a fight before the bell even rang? 

If you follow the rush-to-judgement analysis coming out of some outlets when it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Friday-night chat with Chinese President Xi Jinping, you might believe Trump just signed away Hawaii. You might think the new U.S. administration has been completely crushed before the first punches are even thrown in what will be a historic, great power struggle over the next few years. 

We should be clear: In fact, Trump did not “change tack," as said in a report by Reuters, or back down to Beijing, as judged by the New York Times, implying that the new administration made some major concession to China in acknowledging the reality that is the One China policy. 

What Trump did was simple and quite expected -- he followed a standard line of thinking that dates back to the Nixon administration. Clearly no ground was ceded. 

Targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Is the Right Move

Alex Vatanka - February 10, 2017


The Trump administration is said to be considering listing a powerful state actor in Iran as a terrorist organization. Indeed, listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, would be unprecedented and would constitute the biggest escalatory step by Washington against Tehran in years.

There is reportedly plenty of pushback already from senior U.S. intelligence and defense officials against adding IRGC to the State Department’s terrorism list. Critics fear such a step would do more harm than good to U.S. interests. Yet irrespective of the decision to officially designate it or not, a review of the IRGC’s actions has its merits.

IRGC leadership seizes every opportunity to flaunt its anti-American ideological mission in words and in practice. It is explicit in its core aim of forcing the United States out of the Middle East. For the sake of American interests in the region, the United States has no option but to first single out the IRGC before rolling back its noxious influence.

A Toxic Force

Trump's Conventional Foreign Policy

George Friedman - February 9, 2017


Things have not been dull since President Donald Trump took office almost three weeks ago, but something that has been little noticed is the increasing traditionalism of some parts of his foreign policy. Certainly, his order to suspend visas for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries was explosive, but in point of fact, whether people from Yemen can come to the United States is not a central issue in U.S. foreign policy.

What is central is the future of U.S. relations with NATO. Before the election, Trump gave clear indications that he was unhappy with NATO’s structure, performance and relevance to American strategic needs. On Feb. 7, Trump declared his commitment to NATO without any mention of alternatives.

Similarly, during the election, Trump suggested a massive revision of relations with Russia, arguing that he would welcome warmer ties. His position now is that the sanctions on Russia should remain in place, and he has given no indication that the reconciliation he spoke of during the election is going to happen. He spoke to and expressed his support for the Ukrainian president, something not designed to please the Russians.

China was going to be Trump’s first target. Thus far, little has happened but rhetoric, and even that has died down. There have been some recent exchanges over the South and East China seas. But such rhetoric was common during former President Barack Obama’s administration and represents continuity more than a radical shift.

Trouble in the North American Empire

Reva Goujon - February 9, 2017


Eighteen minutes of history condemned Mexico to live in the shadow of its northern neighbor. The year was 1836, and the scene was a tallgrass prairie between Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River. Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was brimming with confidence: He had sacked an army of Texian rebels at the Alamo and, if he could stamp out the remainder of the rebellion, he would soon have the keys to North American empire — the mouth of the Mississippi River Basin, at the port of New Orleans — within his grasp. But as fate would have it, Santa Anna’s siesta in a field one spring afternoon turned into a deadly ambush as Gen. Sam Houston led his exhausted, demoralized and outnumbered troops to an unlikely victory that would change North America's course forever.

In the Texas Capitol in Austin, a famous oil painting shows a wounded Houston lying against a tree holding out his hand in respect to a solemn Santa Anna standing above him, ready to surrender. Over hits of opium, the two battle-worn generals sat down together to negotiate an end to a war that would eventually pave the way for Texas' annexation by the United States and raise the question of whether the U.S.-Mexico border would be determined by the Nueces River, as the Mexicans argued, or the Rio Grande, as the Americans insisted. When money and diplomatic pressure failed to sway the Mexican government in negotiations a decade later, the United States invaded its southern neighbor, bringing the country to its knees in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Mexico ceded nearly a million square miles comprising present-day California, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Nevada to the United States, fulfilling U.S. President James Polk's Manifest Destiny dream to extend America's continental domain "from ocean to ocean."

The Battle for Empire

This is a history that is easily romanticized in the United States. It is also one that breeds deep resentment in Mexico. Both countries were infant republics in the early 19th century, and each arguably had a shot at claiming the North American empire. They hadn't yet succumbed to their own civil wars, and they were each a product of Old World intrigue, one spawned from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism and the other from Hispanic Catholicism. The United States gained its independence nearly four decades before Mexico did, but it was still a largely untested republic trying to build an empire from a clean slate once it could clear out American Indian tribes. Mexico, on the other hand, had roots in ancient civilization well before the Old World colonists arrived.

Refugees in the Mind of the West

Bruce Stokes - February 8, 2017


The Trump administration’s executive order temporarily banning admission to the United States for refugees and emigres from seven Muslim-majority countries was a reminder that immigration has been a hotly contested issue in American politics at various times in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Surges of people arriving from abroad have often raised questions about the social impact of new arrivals, about cultural diversity, and about what it means to be a “true” American.

Yet, in the international backlash in reaction to President Donald Trump’s executive order -- not to mention the intervention of the U.S. court system -- it is easy to forget that debates over refugees and national identity trouble many societies, particularly in Europe.

Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is the Emma Lazarus poem offering refuge to the world’s downtrodden: “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” And in 2015, 13.9 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. But the American public has often been opposed to accepting large numbers of refugees.

In January 2017, 46 percent of Americans said a large number of refugees leaving Syria and Iraq posed a major threat to the United States. Earlier, in October 2016, 54 percent of registered voters said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria.

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

Agnia Grigas - February 6, 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.

Since the 2000s Russia has shown increasing tendency towards “reimperialization” of the post-Soviet space, especially in regards to the territories inhabited by ethnic Russians, as I argue in my book "Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire." Moscow counts some 35 million Russians and Russian speakers abroad as compatriots concentrated in states such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia and Estonia and has repeatedly demonstrated commitment to engage and protect these populations. In other words, broad reimperialization is the end-goal of Moscow’s policies, and Russian compatriots are among the means for Moscow achieving that end.

The concept of reimperialization should not be solely understood in the narrowest sense of the term. An empire does not simply result from acquisition of territories. Rather, reimperialization should be understood as a process allowing a dominant country to have indirect control over the sovereignty of other states.