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George H W Bush: the internationalist president

George Herbert Walker Bush, who has died at age 94, will not reside in the top rank of American presidents, the Washingtons, the Jeffersons, the Roosevelts the Kennedys to name a few. But he will be remembered as a decent man who did his best in a long, distinguished public career. In his

“America First” and global economic governance

President Donald Trump’s stated objective is “America first”. What might this isolationist mantra mean for global economic governance, which is the economic component of the “rules-based order”?  AMERICA FIRST!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2018 Trump might have

The prospect of a “Trumpier” foreign policy

Donald Trump came to office with a more coherent worldview than other recent American presidents. For decades, he has held four core beliefs about the world. First, Trump scoffs at the longstanding American commitment to international leadership and cooperation. Since the 1940s, American presidents

Where the new US envoy fits in the ambassadorial type

Arthur Culvahouse will be the next US ambassador to Australia. At last, the “diplomatic insult” that so worried former Nationals leader, deputy prime minister and later ambassador to the Holy See Tim Fischer has been put to rest. As the Washington Post notes, Culvahouse, a lawyer by training,

US midterms: the no-joke elections

The US midterm results are rolling in. The House of Representatives appears to have fallen under Democrat control, while former presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won himself a seat in the Senate, where the Republicans have comfortably retained a majority. As of a few minutes ago, The New York

Disinformation campaigns and US elections

A New York Times article this month revealed a new tactic in the US war against election disinformation. US election officials had notified Russians suspected of involvement in online disinformation campaigns in the lead up to the mid-term elections that they were “on notice”, and that their

Jamal Khashoggi: shifting law in a deadly turf war

The alleged extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the international condemnation that followed, reflects not only rivalry in the Middle East, but also greater anxiety about the direction of liberal democracy and the international rule of law more broadly. Last week, US President Donald

The one Iran deal the US should keep

For all the talk about the broken nuclear deal, it might seem a surprise to learn of an old agreement between the United States and Iran that is still in force. The move to dismantle international agreements only makes diplomacy harder and belligerence easier. The US-Iran Treaty of Amity,

Friends like these … allies and the Pence speech

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech was tasty red meat for anyone desiring a more confrontational US policy toward the People’s Republic of China. Pence’s speech reflects a strengthening bipartisan consensus in Washington, and suggests that a long-term policy of competition and confrontation

Killing Chimerica

Over a decade ago, the term “Chimerica” was coined to describe the symbiotic relationship between the US and Chinese economies. While offshoring manufacturing to China and opening access to US markets and universities benefited American interests, it also saw China’s share of world GDP jump

Is the second Trump-Kim summit necessary?

The third summit between the leaders of North and South Korea last month was a huge accomplishment for Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. At home, Moon’s approval rating shot up from 49% in early September to 65% a week after the summit, largely due to his successful efforts to jump start the

Beware of fighter pilots bearing gifts

In late September, an interesting news story populated some portions of the internet. A person purporting to be a (possibly retired) Russian fighter pilot flying one of Moscow’s most modern jets, a Su-35, claimed to have engaged in (and won) a mock air-combat against America’s premier fighter,

Courting supreme mistrust

The past month or so has seen immense social change in India. Gay sex was decriminalised, two lesbians were given the right to live together against the wishes of their families, and adultery was decriminalised. These important progressive changes were not made by the government of Narendra Modi,

A slap in the face for diverse diplomacy

The US appointed its first openly gay ambassador in 1999. President Bill Clinton gave James Hormel a recess appointment as US Ambassador to Luxembourg after two years of a blocked Senate campaign. Since then, an additional six openly gay male ambassadors have been appointed by the US, including

Pence on China: reviving a neoconservative dream

Ever wondered who is now the culprit for many of the woes of the United States? Then look no further than a major speech delivered by US Vice President Mike Pence last week. Given just days after the “leaked” photos showing close encounters between US and Chinese destroyers in the South

Fawning and flummery winning over love-sick Donald

In the last six months, US President Donald Trump has “fallen in love” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He has also been persuaded that Kim respects him, likely because he called him “your excellency” in his “beautiful letters”. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has claimed Trump

Korean peninsula and the Moon-shot

The 12 June Singapore Summit has aged badly, as the declaration signed by Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un has proven as useless as most analysts imagined. Consequently, the current US-North Korea diplomatic process is disintegrating under the weight of the parties’ misaligned

Trump to take on Iran at UN Security Council table

As it happens, the United States holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council during the annual diplomatic gabfest at the UN General Assembly. Traditionally, that means the president of the US can choose to chair a Security Council meeting if he or she desires to spotlight a

India-US: two plus two equals hopes and troubles

After talks had been delayed previously owing to domestic developments in the US, causing much disappointment in India, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis finally arrived in New Delhi last week for meetings with their counterparts in India – Foreign

Trump and rules-based order for global trade

Trade has been ground-zero for US President Donald Trump’s brand of geoeconomics, so it’s a good place to start evaluating his impact. Intrinsically, getting agreement on international rules is hard work: even where participants benefit from the clarity and certainty of rules, they have

Chinese “birth tourism” shows citizenship evolves

Several years ago, while living in Southern California and pregnant with my twin sons, I began hearing news reports about maternity hotels. Baffled neighbours were asking why so many pregnant Chinese women were coming and going into homes east of Los Angeles, why the garbage cans were piled high

The swooning over McCain is more about Trump

The passing of US Senator John McCain has brought forth a wave of lavish eulogies. Some of this is justified. McCain’s experiences as a prisoner of war were extreme and demonstrate his patriotism. No one questions that. But the political focus will turn on his policy efforts, where his

John McCain: death of a hero

In my dictionary, a “hero” is 1) an illustrious warrior; 2) a man admired for his noble qualities; or 3) one who shows great courage. John McCain met all the criteria. As a United States Navy pilot, McCain was daring to the point of recklessness, determined always to be

What did the 2008 crisis cost America?

Next month marks the tenth anniversary of the failure of Lehman Brothers – the nadir of the 2008 global financial crisis. Not only was there a substantial fall in GDP in most countries (although not in Australia), but the recovery since then has been slow. GDP just about everywhere is

Why a US–Russia team–up against China is unlikely

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month, one might wonder if the US and Russia are considering the formation of, if not an explicit partnership against China, then at least an informal condominium. Trump seemed to lend some credence to this speculation

The struggle to conclude peace in Korea

The border separating North and South Korea remains one of the most heavily armed in the world. Surrounded by thickets of barbed wire, Korea’s misleadingly named Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) stretches about 250 kilometres across the peninsula. It is monitored ceaselessly, a stark reminder of the

The discord in the Korean peace process

Last week, the South Korean Blue House announced preparations for another  summit – what will be the third – between President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un in the northern autumn. Both Seoul and Pyongyang have sent ministers to discuss topics

Who has been best for Australia: Trump or Obama?

US President Donald Trump comes in for widespread criticism, but he has at least one well-placed Australian defender. Former foreign minister Alexander Downer says that for Australia, Trump has been better than Obama. On the whole, Trump has been “good for us”. This is seriously misguided. Let

Is Russia’s military better than America’s?

The US will devote $700 billion to its budget for 2018, dwarfing Russia’s $66 billion effort, a trend that has been consistent for more than 25 years. Yet Russia’s military has been relatively successful in recent conflicts, while the US armed forces have not. American wars

Kiwi Act marks “new” relationship with US

On 1 August, the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors Act, or the improbably named Kiwi Act, having passed both the US House of Representatives the Senate, and signed by the president, became law. The Kiwi Act extends to New Zealanders the ability to enter the US 

What Kim Jong-un really wants hasn’t changed

The news that US and North Korean generals met for talks for the first time in nine years to discuss the possible repatriation of 200 American soldiers lost during the Korean War was a step in the right direction. While it’s true it has the appearance of giving North Korea added leverage

Indo-Pacific: where is the money coming from?

Such is the excitement about China’s role in Asia that the mere whiff of anything to do with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is enough to cause a media flurry in Canberra. It happened again a few days ago. Two pieces of news triggered headlines about the BRI in the Australia media. 

North Korea: repatriating fallen Americans

Private Lowell W. Bellar of Gary, Indiana, was only 19 years old when he was killed in action in Korea on 1 December 1950. However, his brother and surviving relatives would have to wait nearly 54 years before the US Department of Defense identified his body in 2005. Bellar’s family is not

POTUS does a Putin

On 8 November 2016 a combination of the American constitution and vox populi – with perhaps a little help from elsewhere – placed enough power in the hands of a roué real-estate tycoon to affect the lives of every one of the 7.6 billion individuals on planet Earth. Events and trends

Trump and the rebirth of satire

When Donald Trump was elected US President, many pronounced satire dead. The twitter hashtag #nottheonion, a reference to the satirical news website, grew more common with every outlandish tweet and unpredictable decision from America’s new leader. But to paraphrase one of the country’s

Trade: the US should be isolated, not accommodated

Prior to leaving for the latest G20 Finance Ministers Meeting, held at the weekend in Buenos Aires, Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said “the trade war cannot be ignored”. He has never said truer words. Unfortunately, it seems that the G20 ministers largely ignored the trade war. While the

North Korea also an intelligence test for Trump

It is not only Donald Trump’s wavering, on-and-off attacks on the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election that betrays his distrust of intelligence agencies. News that US spies believe North Korea has been increasing uranium production at multiple sites runs

Keep calm and carry on: a message to Trump critics

There are still two-and-a-half years to go in US President Donald Trump’s first term, and I’m concerned about his critics. They need to pace themselves. This level of outrage just cannot be maintained. When it comes to the instantly infamous press conference with Russian President Vladimir

Trump-Putin: beyond election meddling

The Helsinki Summit, as it was dubbed, saw US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin come together with a formal agenda to discuss US-Russia relations, disarmament, the Syria and Ukraine crises, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. But the moment was judged as a contest and

The President, his partners, and Putin

Donald Trump has left Europe reeling following his just-concluded visits to Brussels for the NATO summit, London for a bilateral visit, and to Helsinki to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin.  Trump has also not shied away from interfering in the domestic politics of his partners … and delivered

Tit-for-tat-for-tit-for-tat

The US is moving quickly to follow through on Trump’s threats to further escalate his trade war with China (now is as good a time as any to say that the trade war has officially started). Last week the US imposed tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese imports, with another US$16 billion to be

High anxiety: Donald Trump’s summits

US President Donald Trump evidently expects his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to be the easiest of his upcoming high-level meetings. If so, he has brought that condition upon himself. Trump’s choleric, ignorant, menacing, and, to be honest, strategically illiterate ramblings about

US Navy sails into Taiwan sunset

It’s inevitable that, when the US sails warships through the Taiwan Strait, it will be interpreted as a broader diplomatic statement or even a protest – in this case, perhaps about North Korea, or the US–China trade spat. But these transits are more common than you might think. According to

Détente divergence: the US-South Korean split

Reactions in the US and South Korea have differed sharply since US President Donald Trump met North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un last month in Singapore. (The president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo call Kim “chairman”, because he governs as the chairman of the State Affairs

Pyongyang’s promises

Immediately after the Singapore summit on 12 June, US President Donald Trump proclaimed that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat, and that the denuclearisation process would follow in accordance with the two leaders’ joint statement. However, three weeks later, Kim Jong-un does

Mai Tai diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific

It’s Mai Tai time again for many of the world’s navies and some air forces. The month-long, biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise is underway off the Hawaiian Islands once more. RIMPAC has been a constant since 1971, but the exercise has evolved, reflecting changing times and tensions,

An empty chair vs the risk of a crazy Trump crony

Almost two years have passed since the US was represented in Australia by a permanent ambassador. It is now conceivable that Australia will receive a Presidential visit before it gets an ambassador. This is an unprecedented interregnum.  It is tempting to observe that this is a pretty

Exit strategy: will US troops leave South Korea?

The massive Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul has seen a near-continuous presence of foreign military since the Korean Peninsula was annexed by the Japanese in 1910. Prior to that, it housed troops from the Qing Dynasty who had been sent to help the last rulers of Joseon put down peasant rebellions

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