Recent Events

As the captivating 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing recedes into memory and the momentary nostalgia for space exploration dims, many in Washington will forget the lessons of Apollo. But in an era of increased geopolitical turbulence, this would be a grave mistake.

The Apollo moon landing was not only a momentous scientific achievement, but also a grand strategic instrument of the Cold War. It symbolized the innovation of America’s capitalist society and, perhaps most importantly, it signaled the willingness and ability of the US industrial base to generate the aerospace and defense capabilities needed to compete effectively with the Soviet Union. As the United States now embarks upon a renewed era of great-power competition with Russia and China, it must pursue new projects in the ambitious spirit of Apollo 11, ones which will leverage industry, animate public imagination, and signal the decisive resolve to act.

New missile launches from North Korea could derail US President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to restart talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The tests are “another sign that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un believes he has the upper hand over Trump and that the administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy isn’t working,” according to Alexander Vershbow, an Atlantic Council distinguished fellow and former US ambassador to South Korea.

According to South Korean officials, two short-range missiles were fired from the east coast of North Korea on July 25, landing harmlessly in the sea. Seoul has suggested that these missiles could be a “new type of missile,” design but likely are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions barring North Korea from testing ballistic missiles.  In addition to the tests, North Korea released images on July 23 of a new submarine, which could be large enough to carry nuclear-armed missiles. The July 25 missile tests are the first reported since several other short-range missiles were fired on May 4.

As NATO leaders marked the seventieth anniversary of the Alliance in Washington on April 4, they highlighted its success in keeping the peace in Europe and protecting member countries. But NATO’s importance today goes beyond its borders as it continues to flexibly work with partner countries around the world to improve stability and security globally.

Since its founding in 1949, NATO has grown from its twelve founding members to twenty-nine allies across North America and Europe. Outside of these allies, NATO has partnership agreements with more than forty countries. These include neighbors like Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, and Ukraine, as well as countries located further away, such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, Iraq, and Colombia. NATO partnerships enable cooperation through joint trainings and exercises, capability development, and political consultations, which enhance security and stability in NATO’s neighborhood and help prevent conflict and defend the Alliance’s core values.

Trump, Kim agree to restart nuclear negotiations

On June 30, Donald J. Trump became the first US president to set foot in North Korea. Trump made history when stepped across a low concrete marker accompanied by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and walked a few steps into the North. The two leaders agreed to have their negotiators resume an effort to reach what has so far been an elusive nuclear deal.

“The United States, under the Trump administration, has disrupted the longstanding, but failing, US policies of past administrations by seeking to build trust from the top down,” said Barry Pavel, senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

“This was helpful for reducing the near-term threat, but so far it is unclear whether it will help to achieve the denuclearization that we seek,” said Pavel. “How much trust building will be required before North Korea begins the process of denuclearization? Certainly, today’s ceremony and symbolism is not unhelpful, but it is unclear how and when this path will lead to a nuclear-free North Korea.”

US President Donald J. Trump on June 24 signed an executive order that he said would place “hard-hitting” sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader.

“The Supreme Leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He’s respected within his country.  His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Trump said before signing the order in the White House. “These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions,” he added.

The executive order allows US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on officials appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and those who provide material support to his office. “These sanctions will deny Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or accessing any assets in the United States,” the White House said.

However, most analysts are skeptical about the efficacy of such action.

As Washington focuses on the threat emanating from Tehran, US President Donald J. Trump is nominating a new head for the Department of Defense, one who has kept his eyes on the long-term challenges facing the United States. Trump named Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper as the new acting secretary of defense on June 18, and later announced that Esper would be nominated for the permanent position on June 21. While some national security experts are concerned that the Iran crisis may distract the United States from its primary challenge of great-power competition vis-à-vis Russia and China, Esper’s tenure as secretary of the army demonstrates a prioritization of great-power competition over other threats, and we should expect this trend to continue in his new role.

When predicting what to expect from Esper, it is essential to evaluate his time as the top civilian leader of the US Army. This approach is even more pertinent given the probable accession of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later this year. Their performance thus far can provide insight into the future trajectory of an army-led Pentagon.

If the United States decides to strike back at Iran for its shooting down of a US drone on June 20, “the escalatory spiral” in the region “will only continue with potential disastrous consequences, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to North Korea this week will underscore Beijing’s clout in Pyongyang and, by doing so, Xi may be looking to re-energize a US effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and gain leverage in stalled US-China trade negotiations.

“President Xi recognizes that closer relations with North Korea’s leader will give China additional leverage in its ongoing [trade] dispute with the United States,” said Jamie Metzl, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

Iran’s plans to violate a central tenet of the 2015 nuclear deal by exceeding limits placed on enriched uranium “will be the final blow to an agreement that the United States mortally wounded a year ago,” according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative

The nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—was signed between Iran, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China on July 14, 2015. The deal required Tehran to freeze aspects of its nuclear weapons program. In return, the other signatories would provide sanctions relief. On May 8, 2018, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA over concerns that it did not do enough to stop Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon or its “malign activity” in the Middle East.

But Poland unlikely to get 'Fort Trump,' says the Atlantic Council's Alexander Vershbow

US troop presence in Poland is likely to be at the top of the agenda when US President Donald J. Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, meet at the White House on June 12.

Pointing to Russian military activity in its neighborhood, the Duda administration has made the case for a permanent US troop presence in Poland at a base Polish officials have suggested they would christen “Fort Trump.” The Polish government has even offered to pay $2 billion to support this base.