Recent Events

US President Donald J. Trump made a bit of news in his State of the Union address on February 5 when he announced that he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on February 27 and 28.

The choice of Vietnam is a significant one.

“Vietnam was chosen at least in part because it is a country that has friendly relations with North Korea,” said Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and a former US ambassador to South Korea.

Decision could spark "unpredictable and unconstrained US-Russian arms race," Atlantic Council's Alexander Vershbow says.

The US decision to suspend participation in a decades-old nuclear arms control treaty with Russia has raised the probability of a US-Russian arms race, according to Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and a former US ambassador to Russia.

“Although the US withdrawal will not take effect for another six months, today marks the effective end of the INF Treaty, the only nuclear arms agreement to ban an entire class of missiles,” Vershbow said. “The loss of the treaty creates a real possibility of an unpredictable and unconstrained US-Russian arms race in Europe and, potentially, in Northeast Asia as well.”

The charges announced by the US Department of Justice against Chinese telecom giant Huawei, “stand on their merits” but are “difficult to view. . . in isolation” from the Trump administration’s strategy to get Beijing to undertake meaningful economic reform, according to Robert A. Manning, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

The US Justice Department detailed thirteen charges against Huawei, its affiliated firms, and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on January 28. Meng has been in Canada since being detained on December 1 at the request of the United States for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran. Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker confirmed that the United States would formally file an extradition request to bring Meng to the United States by January 29.

US President Donald J. Trump will meet Kim Jong-un for a second time in late February to push the North Korean leader to take steps toward denuclearization, the White House said on January 18. It did not announce a location. The two leaders last met in Singapore on June 12, 2018. That was the first meeting between a leader of North Korea and a sitting US president.

Is a second summit a good idea?

US President Donald J. Trump on January 17 unveiled a plan to defend the United States and its allies from a missile attack—the first update to the United States’ missile defense strategy in almost a decade.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States—anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” Trump said at the Pentagon.

The Missile Defense Review lays out the new technologies that the Pentagon wants to combat what it sees as a growing missile threat. It identifies North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran as adversaries that are “increasing the number, accuracy, and sophistication of their missiles.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 10 repudiated former US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies while seeking to reassure allies of the United States’ commitment to the region. Ironically, allies have been rattled of late by US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. This decision, Pompeo insisted, is not a change of mission.

“Let me be clear, America will not retreat until the terror fight is over,” Pompeo said in a speech at the American University in Cairo, adding that the United States “will labor tirelessly alongside you to defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and other jihadists that threaten our security and yours.”

Describing the United States as a “force for good,” the secretary said: “For those who fret about the use of American power, remember: America has always been a liberating force, not an occupying power, in the Middle East. We’ve never dreamed of domination. Can you say the same of the Iranian regime?”

We reached out to Atlantic Council analysts for their reactions to the speech. This is what they had to say:

Rivalry between the United States and China is deepening in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. While China is actively promoting its Belt and Road Initiative, the United States, together with its allies and partners, has put forward a Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. Both the United States and China are asking countries in the region to make a strategic choice between the two competing conceptions, making it difficult for partner countries to live in both worlds.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ departure removes the strongest Cabinet voice against dismantling the US-led post-World War II international order. Mattis’ stunning resignation letter is a historic rebuke of the policies and person who chose him two-plus years ago to lead the US armed forces.  There were disquieting trends in the Mattis Department of Defense, but there is little doubt that the outgoing secretary served the nation with distinction and was able to thwart some of US President Donald J. Trump’s worst impulses. 
Many of the “risks” we highlighted a year ago were suggestive of the serious structural problems at the heart of the global system. We wrote last year of a United States in crisis; if anything, it could be worse if US President Donald J. Trump is impeached in 2019. We correctly predicted then that populism would not be on its way out in Europe. The recent eruption in France of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement is testament to the nagging torments in Europe and in the United States of a middle class that feels ignored and its plight underappreciated by the political system. The tension between the United States and China is more acute than ever, fueled partly by a growing realization that China is more technologically advanced and savvy than was assumed. The current trade truce may hold up and an eventual agreement reached, but the fear is that we are growing ever further apart. China resents the United States trying to set the rules for others, while there is a growing realization that China may not fit into our conception of a liberal order.

Why do we undertake such annual rituals?  In part, it is to make clear in our mind what unfinished business we have left for the next year. What things can we check out? And what tasks still face us. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on October 26 marked the first time in seven years that a serving Japanese prime minister has traveled to China for official bilateral meetings with his counterparts. Lost in the headlines of this historic summit was the fact that the two leaders discussed North Korea and recommitted their nations to close cooperation on denuclearization and the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at Pyongyang.

Many experts are cynical about Chinese cooperation on North Korea. They tend to focus on the unique aspects of the China-North Korea relationship, such as shared communist ties and geographical proximity, and view China’s proactive diplomacy with North Korea, starting with the first summit between Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un summit in March, as an attempt to maximize its own interests, which do not coincide with those of the United States and its allies.