High-ranking security representatives from the governments of North and South Korea met yesterday, attempting to walk-back a two week period of escalating tensions. The meetings came at the request of the North Korean government, just a day after it threatened “total war” with South Korea. Observers suggest that the North Korean regime may be becoming increasingly unstable, and some fear that war remains a strong possibility between the two states.
What do you think? Is war between North Korea and South Korea likely? What, if anything, might be done to prevent direct military conflict between the two countries? And given historical US support for South Korea and Chinese support for North Korea, what global implications might increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula have?
President Obama arrived in Kenya yesterday, the country where his father was born and where he still has close family. The trip is part of a short, two-nation trip that will also see him visit Ethiopia. The trip appears to be part of broader effort to counter growing Chinese influence in the region, and marks the first time a sitting US President has visited either country. President Obama was quick to make points, noting that Africa is “on the move,” growing economically and will be an important economic center for global trade in the future.
The trip has a broad agenda. China’s growing economic influence is one concern, but Kenya is also seen as a key outpost in preventing the spread of radical Islam in north and central Africa. President Obama is also using the trip as an opportunity to pressure the Kenyan government to improve its record on human rights, particularly gay rights, which have been under threat from a reactionary government.
What do you think? Will President Obama’s effort to improve relation with Kenya and Ethiopia be successful in achieving its multiple goals? Why?
The United States formally reopened its embassy in Cuba yesterday, reestablishing formal diplomatic relations that were terminated in 1961 amid Cold War tensions. For more than 50 years, the United States maintained an “Interest Desk” at the Swiss Embassy, permitting it to engage in discussions with the Communist-led government in Cuba without extending formal diplomatic recognition.
The move is the latest in a series of agreements between the United States and Cuba intended to normalize relations between the two countries. Separated by less than 100 miles, the two countries had tense relations throughout much of the 20th century. The Cuban government regularly accused the United States of attempting to interfere in its domestic affairs, including launching several attempts to assassinate the country’s former President, Fidel Castro, and attempting to invade the island during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. For its part, Cuba welcomed Soviet missiles on to the island, sparing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
What do you think? Should the United States restore diplomatic relations and normalize relations with Cuba? What effects might such a move have on the stability of the Communist government here?
Competing territorial claims over islands in the South China Sea are intensifying tensions between the United States and China. Last week, the United States flew a military surveillance plane over disputed waters—a move described by the Chinese as a threat to Chinese sovereignty. China has been expanding natural reefs and constructing man-made islands in the sea in an effort to assert greater control over the region, particularly in light of competing territorial claims by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The Chinese military are also using the new islands to construct forward observation posts and airbases to support operations in the region.
In response to the US mission, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States lodged a formal diplomatic complaint and called on the US to stop its operations in the South China Sea. The Chinese Defense Ministry said it would expand operations in response to US actions. The danger is that both countries reach a point at which the cost of backing down is too high, and the fear of losing face leads to escalation on both sides, creating the possibility of unintended direct conflict.
What do you think? How might the United States and China deescalate tensions in the South China Sea? How do the interest of other regional actors, including Taiwan, complicate efforts at de-escalation? How would you advise the Chinese Premier or US President to handle the situation? Why?
Ongoing talks between the six parties (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) and Iran were extended one day to provide time for the parties to reach agreement. The talks are intended to establish a framework for ongoing negotiations around Iran’s nuclear program. But domestic American politics have often interfered with the talks. Republican critics of the Obama administration have criticized the idea of talking with Iran at all, sending a letter to hardliners in the Iranian government suggesting the US Congress would not approve any deal and inviting Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress without discussing the invitation with the White House.
Republican critics have suggested that the talks are another example of a feckless and misguided foreign policy of the Obama White House, and that the United States should take a more aggressive stance on Iran, intensifying sanctions and further isolating the Iranian regime if it is unwilling to offer wider concessions. The Obama administration counters that real progress is being made as a result of the talks.
What do you think? Should the United States continue to work under the six party framework to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran? Would such a deal be effective at limiting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? Or should the United States take a more aggressive stance with Iran? Which approach would be more effective in achieving the US goal of a nuclear-weapons free Iran? Why?
The US Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant yesterday, suffering severe but non-life-threatening wounds and being rushed to hospital. The attacker was detained after the attack. He proclaimed his opposition to US military cooperation with South Korea and his desire for a unified Korean state.
The attack highlights the vulnerability of diplomatic personnel around the world, and the difficulty of protecting them as they undertake their day-to-day business.
What do you think? Should additional steps be taken to protect diplomatic personnel aboard? Would such steps undermine their ability to work effectively to achieve their goals? Why?
The G7 met yesterday, producing a statement on Russia that threatened additional “restrictive measures” on Russia if it continued its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. The G7 (which had been the G8 until Russia’s membership was suspended at the end of March over its intervention in eastern Ukraine) appears to be at a loss for how to effectively address the situation in Ukraine. The organization appears to be divided on how to proceed, with France and Germany pushing for “dialogue and de-escalation” The current meeting had been scheduled to take place in Sochi, Russia, but was relocated to Brussels following Russia’s suspension from the organization.
What do you think? Will the G7’s effort to isolate Russia be effective in changing Russia’s Ukraine policy? Does European reliance on Russia’s oil and energy production undermine the effectiveness of Western efforts to address the situation in Ukraine diplomatically? And if so, what other tools, if any, does the West have to address Russian intervention?