As the Trump administration’s second year in office rolls onward, what is the state of the transatlantic alliance? Writing for H-Diplo last year, I argued that Trump’s first year in office saw the emergence of a “Trumpian NATO policy.”[1] In brief, this policy encompassed significant continuity with the substance of prior U.S. policy towards NATO, coupled with highly conditional U.S. rhetorical backing for the transatlantic relationship. As Trump—in a break from his campaign rhetoric—emphasized through mid-2017, NATO provided value to the United States, even as he suggested the United States might exit the alliance should its allies not agree to U.S. demands in intra-alliance discussions.

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America First PoliciesOn 8 March 2018, National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met with President Donald J. Trump at the White House to brief him on his recent talks with Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang. Trump learned that Kim had promised not to stage any further nuclear tests and take steps toward denuclearization. Chung emerged from the meeting to read a statement outside the West Wing announcing that Trump had accepted Kim’s proposal for the two leaders to meet in person.[2] This news shocked people around the world because it constituted a sudden and dramatic reversal in a U.S.-DPRK relationship of intense mutual hostility. In December 2017, under U.S. leadership, the United Nations imposed the last of a series of crippling economic sanctions on North Korea after it launched a missile the previous month that Kim Jong Un claimed could reach any target in the continental United States. By then, Trump had threatened military destruction of the DPRK. On 8 August 2017, at his golf club in New Jersey, he warned that if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States, it would “be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”[3] A month later at the United Nations, Trump repeated his threat. If the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” he declared. Mocking the DPRK’s leader, Trump then remarked that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself.”[4] A few days later, Kim Jong Un publicly read an official statement in which he called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “gangster fond of playing with fire.” He added that “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” using an arcane term for a mentally impaired elderly person.[5]

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Over the last year, the mass killing and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has become a major international issue. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from the Rakhine state, the death roll exceeded 10,000 in a four month period from August to December 2017 alone, and policymakers and United Nations (UN) experts have been moving towards calling the situation a genocide.[1] In the U.S., Congress, the State Department, and public pressure has begun to mount over whether the U.S. response—thus far a combination of congressional hearings, humanitarian assistance, and withdrawal of aid to the military—warrants a shift. [2]

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For all their differences, Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama have taken remarkably similar approaches to Afghanistan. Both entered office, conducted reviews of the domestically unpopular American-led war, and ultimately decided to increase the U.S. troop numbers there while continuing to support shaky, often corrupt, Afghan government partners.

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Plus symoblOur reviewers agree that Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth have produced what Rosemary Kelanic describes as “an extremely useful book that should be required reading for all students of US grand strategy.” The reviewers have paid Brooks and Wohlforth the deep compliment of taking their arguments seriously, and any course on American foreign policy would do well to assign American Abroad and these responses to it.

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By Jiyea9090 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51379981

“The hub-and-spokes system (San Francisco system) in East Asia.” By Jiyea9090 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

For alliance scholars who are interested in institutional design and U.S. foreign policy in Asia, Victor Cha’s 2010 International Security article, “Powerplay: The Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia” is a valuable resource.[1] Cha has expanded his article-length treatment into a thoughtful and timely book, and in so doing has given us much to digest and discuss.

 

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Sir Julian Corbett (courtesy D.M. Schurman), Project Gutenberg

When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, Washington and Beijing were on good terms–the military balance between the two countries was not politically salient. Much has happened in the ensuing decades. While American attention turned towards battling Iraq in two wars, responding to the threat posed by al-Qaida in Afghanistan and around the world, and in dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/DAESH) as the latest manifestation of the jihadist threat, the status quo was changing in Asia. China has emerged not only as a global economic and political power, but also as a conventional military power in the Western Pacific that possesses a small nuclear arsenal that under permissive circumstances can hold a few United States (U.S.) cities at risk. The conventional and nuclear balance in Asia is shifting from one of overwhelming U.S. preponderance to a situation in which things might become a bit more sporting.

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World Upside Down

To what extent is it possible for less powerful states to influence the behavior of great powers? Do weaker states possess sufficient agency to advance their own objectives? These fundamental questions lie at the heart of Tom Long’s Latin America Confronts the United States. Through an examination of four case studies he finds that, indeed, Latin American states have found success adopting strategies of cooperation with the United States in their efforts to advance their interests. In the process, Long contributes a historical narrative of his selected cases and advances an internationalist framework for understanding U.S.-Latin American relations.

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In this detailed and scholarly article, Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar is definitely on to something. He argues that those who captured and occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979-1981 (the so-called “Moslem Student Followers of the Imam’s Line”) were responding to serious challenges from Iranian leftists. By their action, he argues, the occupiers were pre-empting the leftists’ anti-American rhetoric and undercutting their claims to be the standard-bearers of Ayatollah Khomeini’s campaign to end Iran’s ties to the United States.

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The scholarly study of American foreign policy and international relations hasne (at least one?) important peculiarity that distinguishes it from many other forms of scholarly inquiry: a fairly high degree of intellectual exchange between social scientist and subject. Of course, zoologists interact with the animals they study, but the animals are not reading what the zoologists say about them and reacting accordingly. Nor do children tend to read child psychology texts, or the indigent subjects of socio-economic inequality keep up with political economy treatises.

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