Analysis

The dust has yet to settle on the collapse of conventional French politics caused by the results of the first round of the presidential elections on April 23, yet we can already discern the broad features of a Marine Le Pen, or more likely an Emmanuel Macron, foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis the United States and the transatlantic alliance.

One of the sacred cows slaughtered at the altar of the first round was Charles de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic: namely the “presidentialist” constitution that affords the Elysée Palace especially predominant powers in the domaine réservé of foreign and security affairs.
At first glance, Russian actions since the 2014 annexation of Crimea appear to signal a resurgence of power in the international system. Increases in military spending, forays into the Middle East, and a foreign policy punching above its weight have all served to remind the world that Russia maintains influence on the global stage.

However, behind the Cold War-levels of military activity and violations of international laws are fundamental issues which will plague Russia going forward. Demographic struggles have stricken the state since World War II, commodity price fluctuations and sanctions have crippled economic output, and the current defense spending trends are unsustainable. Against the backdrop of harsh economic reality, the illusion of Russian resurgence can only be maintained for so long, and NATO policymakers should take note.
While Russia was “probably surprised” by the US missile strike on a Syrian air base, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will respond with escalatory force, according to a former deputy secretary general of NATO.

“They’re surprised, but I don’t necessarily think their reaction will be to escalate the situation,” said Alexander Vershbow, who now serves as a distinguish fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “The Russian reaction, while harsh in rhetoric… they’re going to try to draw a line around this incident,” he said.

“For the Russians, and I would hope for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, they would not provoke an open-ended conflict with the United States,” said Vershbow. However, he said, this incident “might convince the Russians to reign in their client more effectively than they ever have.”
US President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” policy—marked by a retreat from multilateralism—has paved the way for China to step into the void and for its president, Xi Jinping, to realize his “Chinese Dream,” according to two Atlantic Council analysts.

Trump and Xi met at the US president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 6 for a two-day summit.

Trump’s “America First” policy is a “double-edged sword” for China, said Robert A. Manning, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and its Strategic Foresight Initiative.

“On the one hand, Trump is handing the ‘Chinese Dream’ to Xi on a silver platter,” said Manning. Xi has described the “Chinese Dream” as “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” But on the “flip side is American nationalism… and Trump’s indictments of China,” Manning added.

Jamie Metzl, a nonresident senior fellow for technology and national security at the Scowcroft Center, said Trump’s “America First” policy has “so far proven mostly bluster by talking loudly but carrying a very small stick and undermining elements of America’s strengths in the Asia-Pacific region, including our alliances and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Dear European friends of America,

In these challenging times, I am writing to ask that you not abandon your American ally. We have fallen on hard times, and our new leader, Donald Trump, is different from any other in our history.

I know that some have compared Trump to one of his predecessors—Andrew Jackson. But Jackson was president in simpler times, when news moved at the speed of the pony express, and there was no country that could destroy ours in a matter of minutes. Or, for that matter, we were not able to wipe out virtually any other country on Earth.
US President Donald J. Trump’s draft budget, which proposes to increase defense spending by slashing funding for the US Department of State and foreign aid, would imperil national security efforts and weaken the US stance on the world stage, according to two US lawmakers—one a Democrat and the other a Republican.

“You cannot balance the budget on the back of discretionary spending,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA). “If [increased defense spending] comes at the expense of the State Department, it’s not a recipe for success; it’s a recipe for making our national security weaker.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) echoed Moulton’s concern over the proposed budget, warning: “If you’re going to cut State, you’re going to have to increase the bullets. That does translate into body bags.”
Three years ago this month, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and laid the groundwork for its ongoing campaign to destabilize Ukraine.  That moment marked the end of a period of more than twenty years when the countries of the West looked to Russia as a partner. Of course, even before 2014, Russia had demonstrated a pattern of destabilizing countries in its neighborhood, particularly Moldova and Georgia. But Russia’s aggression against Ukraine—including the first changing of borders by force in Europe since World War II—represented a new strategic reality, and a wake-up call for the United States and its allies.

That new strategic reality is even starker today:  Russia has not only continued to undermine the post-World War II and post-Cold War international order through its illegal occupation of Crimea and its continuing war of aggression in eastern Ukraine; Russia has also engaged in political aggression against our societies, using cyberattacks, disinformation, propaganda, and influence operations to affect the outcome of elections and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.   
When approaching security in the Asia-Pacific region, new trends such as deepening intra-Asian defense cooperation and significant increases in Asian defense spending, now on par with that of North America, must be considered, said an Atlantic Council analyst.

“There is a trend of very significant increases in Asian defense spending, as well as concomitant intra-Asian defense cooperation” which provide opportunities for “multilateral hedging against some of the uncertainties associated with China’s rise,” and “in some cases North Korea,” said Barry Pavel, senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Pavel said recent agreements between Singapore and Vietnam, Japan and Australia, India and South Korea are all examples of how Asian countries can “train together, exercise together, develop new capabilities together,” with the broad mission of promoting security and prosperity in the region.
In the aftermath of Russian cyberattacks during the US presidential election last year and amid concerns about a repeat of such a strategy in Europe as Germany, France, and the Netherlands go to the polls this year, British officials are calling for greater cooperation on cybersecurity between NATO and the European Union.

“NATO is the first and most important part of an international response, but it cannot be the whole answer,” Stephen Lovegrove, the British defense ministry’s permanent secretary, said at the Atlantic Council on March 6.

Citing threats from Russia’s “hybrid model” of warfare, Lovegrove called for military and non-military responses, which, he said, includes building on the agreement from NATO’s Warsaw summit in 2016 to reinvigorate the NATO-EU relationship through cooperation on cybersecurity and boosting counter-hybrid capabilities.

NATO needs to be configured quite clearly to meet the threat posed by Russia, said Lovegrove. “This is not an aggressive posture, it needs to be a defensive posture,” he added.
US President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on February 28 marked “a new trajectory” for the administration by reassuring allies while ensuring continuity of US foreign policy when it comes to international alliances, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

Trump’s speech “covered some ground that needed to be covered, NATO, commitment to allies, working with Muslim allies… and so this was a necessary and critical first step,” to address uncertainties about US commitment and reassure US allies, according to Barry Pavel, Atlantic Council senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. In light of Trump’s statements, Pavel said the new administration “will pursue a lot of continuity in US foreign policy.”

“A lot more needs to happen,” said Pavel, “but this is a step we’ve all been waiting for, and now we can get going.” Pavel joined Alex Ward, associate director of the Scowcroft Center, for a Facebook Live discussion on March 1.  


    

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