On April 2, 2008, then US President George W. Bush addressed other NATO leaders at their Bucharest Summit, arguing forcefully for the Alliance to extend an invitation to Macedonia. His administration had championed Macedonia’s membership aspirations as part of a strategic enlargement of NATO into the Western Balkans, also to include Albania and Croatia, and to advance a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

As Athens and Skopje failed to settle a name dispute, Greece was unwilling to welcome Macedonia under its interim name (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and the Alliance did not extend an invitation.

A decade later, Bush is once again voicing his support for Macedonia’s aspirations. His office released a message this week encouraging Macedonians to
vote in a September 30 referendum that will pave the way for NATO to welcome its 30th member and resolve the twenty-seven-year name dispute.

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Describing energy security as “tantamount to national security,” US Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and diversify its energy sources.

Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas “is truly a cause for concern,” Perry said in remarks at the closing session of the Three Seas Initiative’s Business Forum in Bucharest on September 18.

Perry also affirmed US President Donald J. Trump’s opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will deliver gas from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany and Western Europe. Supported by Berlin, Nord Stream 2 received an endorsement from Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen at the first day of the Three Seas summit on September 17. Central European countries and the United States oppose the project.

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This is what a trade war looks like.

On September 18, hours after US President Donald J. Trump announced his decision to impose 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, China struck back. Beijing retaliated immediately, announcing tariffs on an additional $60 billion in US imports.

The new Chinese tariffs will target more than 5,000 US goods, including meat, nuts, alcoholic drinks, chemicals, clothes, machinery, furniture, and auto parts—nearly everything that China imports from the United States.

The Chinese tariffs, just like the new US ones, will go into effect on September 24.

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Trump administration slaps more tariffs on Chinese imports

The latest escalation of trade tensions between the United States and China is further proof that US President Donald J. Trump has no intention of quickly coming to an agreement over a new trade relationship with China, according to Bart Oosterveld, director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program.

“The [Trump] administration has no political or economic incentive to tone down these trade wars,” Oosterveld said.

On September 17, the Trump administration announced 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports in an attempt to pressure China to change trade practices that the president says are hurting US businesses.

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Central European leaders gathered in Bucharest on September 17 to discuss ways in which to deepen regional economic integration and send a clear message of their desire to see the region play a greater role on the world stage.

“We are here today [not only] because we are part of the European Union and NATO,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said, but also because “we want to be a significant player. We would like Central Europe to be a developed, well-integrated, and structured part of the Euro-Atlantic world.”

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis hosted the third summit and first business forum of the Three Seas Initiative in Bucharest on September 17-18. The initiative brings together twelve European Union (EU) member states from the area that borders the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas, to discuss common infrastructure and development programs to jumpstart the region’s economy.

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A no vote would be a win for extreme nationalists and Russia

While much of the United States was focused on uppercase Fear (the book) and lowercase fear (the hurricane), Defense Secretary James Mattis was going about business as usual, making the United States safer and stronger (we’ll get to more competitive in another column).  On September 17, he touched down in Macedonia to reaffirm US support for NATO and Macedonia’s bid for membership

More importantly, Mattis sent a strong signal to the world that Washington still stands firmly behind international institutions based on acceptance of common democratic principles and the free market.  His visit drew attention to Macedonia’s bid for membership—a vote of confidence in collective security. It is the requirement for NATO’s collective security that all countries aspiring to membership resolve internal conflicts as well as those with their neighbors.  Expanding NATO brings peace and stability—the key rationale for becoming a member.  This is even more compelling for the Balkan states, which experienced ethnic and interstate wars as recently as about two decades ago.  Indeed, I was in the Macedonian capital of Skopje in August celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Ohrid Agreement in 2001, which brought an end to ethnic war in Macedonia between Slavic and Albanian fighters.

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Lord George Robertson, former NATO secretary general, on the importance of voting ‘yes’ in Macedonia’s September 30 referendum

The anniversary this year of the end of the First World War should, if we needed it, be a reminder of how important the Balkans have been to our past and why we would be alert to their relevance for today.

The way in which that region affected us dramatically and shockingly in the last few centuries should be a wake-up call to pay a lot more attention today.

In today’s world there may be more tinder-box regions than the Balkans capturing the headlines but complacency in the face of danger is the gravest crime politicians can commit.

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Welcome to the new era of great power competition.

While the Trump administration’s decision to invite a Chinese delegation for a new round of trade talks has granted investors a momentary reprieve from an escalating economic conflict, the news shouldn’t distract from the new reality that Inflection Points has been observing for some time.

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On September 17 and 18, the third annual summit of the Three Seas Initiative, a regional cooperation project between twelve Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries situated between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas, will take place in Bucharest. The meeting comes as the Initiative – which aims to boost Central European trade, energy, and infrastructure cooperation and integrate a new North-South infrastructure corridor into the European economy – faces an array of obstacles from interested foreign powers and internal disagreements. CEE leaders must use the summit as an opportunity to overcome these challenges if the project is to meet its lofty goals, rather than disappearing as a weak attempt amidst the whirl of conflicting global agendas.

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