Your host Chris Gilson of the LSE US Centre is joined on this Extra Inning of the Ballpark by Professor Stephen Walt. In this interview, Chris and Professor Walt discuss the differences in US foreign policy between Presidents Trump and Obama.
They also discuss Professor Walt’s new book, The Hell of Good Intentions, and why he thinks American foreign policy since the Cold War has been a failure.
Stephen Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has previously taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago, serves on the editorial boards of Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, and Journal of Cold War Studies, and is the author of works including The Origins of Alliances, and Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy.
You can also listen to Professor’s Walt’s recent talk at LSE, Can America Still Have a Successful Foreign Policy?, and read an event review.
Contributors: Professor Stephen Walt (Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Chris Gilson (LSE US Centre)
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The Ballpark was produced with help of the Phelan Family Foundation. Our theme tune is by Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers”, a Seattle based gypsy jazz band.
Note: This podcast gives the views of the interviewee and host, and is not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, the LSE US Centre, nor the London School of Economics.
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Trump Signals He Wants Troops Home from Afghanistan in Time for November Election
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: Trump renews his push to bring troops home from Afghanistan by election day, another blow is dealt to the ailing Iran nuclear deal, and what to make of skirmishes on the China-India border.
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Home for Election Day?
It’s long been a tug of war between U.S. President Donald Trump and his senior military advisors to keep the nearly 19-year-old war in Afghanistan going, but with the 2020 presidential election looming, the unorthodox commander-in-chief said again this week that he’s ready to bring U.S. troops back home.
“We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own Country. Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!”
Out of step. The comments came after The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Trump’s top military advisors planned to present the president with the option to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country by the November election. The stance again appears to put Trump at odds with the rest of his administration on a key foreign-policy issue: the arduously brokered peace deal with the Taliban.
Bringing the troops home by November would not follow the timeline laid out in that agreement. Under the Feb. 29 deal, withdrawal below 8,600 U.S troops should proceed on a “conditions-based” approach, meaning that the Taliban would have to continue reducing violent attacks—something the Trump administration has said is not happening.
Death knell of the Iran deal? Maybe. The Trump administration said it is willing to use its rights as a participant in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to trigger punishing sanctions on Iran if the U.N. Security Council fails to agree to extend an arms embargo this year. At the same time, the United States is distancing itself from the Obama-era deal two years after formally withdrawing.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration would end sanctions waivers to Russian, Chinese, and European companies working on sensitive Iranian nuclear sites, a move that nonproliferation specialists say could limit U.S. visibility into Iran’s programs and increase Tehran’s desire to enrich uranium.
Showdown in the Himalayas. China’s military build-up and incursions across the border with India have led to the biggest uptick in tensions between the nuclear powers in decades. Parts of the 2,000-mile border remain contested. While border skirmishes between the countries are nothing new, the scale and frequency of the latest clashes could be. Reports estimate there could be three Chinese brigades in the region—suggesting thousands of troops involved.
A return to nuclear testing? The Trump administration is mulling the United States’ first nuclear test since just after the end of the Cold War, the Washington Post reports. Officials say that Russia and China have already begun conducting low-yield nuclear tests, though this is not substantiated by public data. On Wednesday, Drew Walter, the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, clarified: There “has been no policy change” regarding live nuclear testing, but the president could order a quick test “within months” if he wanted.
More Taiwan-U.S. defense deals. The Taiwanese defense ministry announced on Monday that it plans to purchase a series of anti-ship missiles from the United States, the latest effort by the Trump administration to bolster Taiwan’s defenses and curb Chinese power in the region. The announcement follows reports that the administration recently informed Congress of a possible sale of torpedoes to Taiwan valued at around $180 million.
And more Saudi arms sales. The Trump administration just can’t seem to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. Over loud objections from Congress, the White House is pursuing yet another arms deal with Riyadh, according to Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One previous arms sale was under investigation by the State Department’s watchdog before Trump abruptly sacked him earlier this month.
Trump donor gets cushy post. A deep-pocketed Republican campaign donor, Lee Rizzuto, was tapped to be the top U.S. diplomat in Bermuda this week. Trump initially nominated Rizzuto, the heir to the Conair beauty empire, to be the ambassador to Barbados but his nomination was held up in the Senate after it emerged he promoted fringe conspiracy theories on social media.
Both Democratic and Republican presidents have made a habit of gifting glitzy ambassador posts to campaign donors with no prior diplomatic experience, but Trump has taken it to a new level, as Foreign Policy has reported.
New Pentagon appointment. Trump intends to nominate Lucas Polakowski to be an assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs. Polakowski retired as a Major General in the U.S. Army Reserve. Guy Roberts, who previously held the post, stepped down in April 2019 amid a Pentagon sexual harassment investigation.
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That’s it for today.
As the U.S. Lashes Out at China, Beijing Hardens Its Resolve
BEIJING — Step by step, the United States under President Trump has sought to intensify pressure on Beijing in hopes of making China change its ways. Each move has instead hardened the resolve of China’s leadership to resist, plunging relations to their current nadir.
On Wednesday, the United States won an initial victory in a Canadian court in its long effort to bring criminal charges against a senior executive of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant. On Thursday, China vowed to retaliate against both countries, having already blocked some Canadian exports and held two Canadian citizens for more than 500 days.
Trump administration officials argue that they have brought China to the table on trade by imposing tariffs. But they have failed so far to achieve their goal of fundamentally shifting China’s behavior — on trade or any other issue.
From Beijing’s perspective, the punitive measures have simply revealed the core of American hostility toward China.
“When China was rising as an economic power, the United States tolerated it,” Shen Dingli, an expert on relations with the United States at Fudan University in Shanghai, said in a telephone interview. “Now that China is strong, it cannot tolerate it anymore.”
China does not want to incinerate the relationship with the United States, given the economic benefits. Nor is it willing to back down, creating a constant push and pull in Beijing between the hawks and the more moderating forces.
China’s premier, Li Keqiang, struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday at the close of the legislative session, the National People’s Congress. He called for close trade relations without offering any concessions. He said the two countries “could and should cooperate in many ways in facing both conventional and unconventional challenges,” while pointedly refraining from accusing the United States of any interference in Hong Kong affairs.
Yet, even as Mr. Li was speaking, the Hong Kong office of China’s foreign ministry issued a strong denunciation of the United States. “It is utterly imperious, unreasonable and shameless for American politicians to obstruct the national security legislation for Hong Kong with threats of sanctions based on United States domestic law,” the ministry declared.
With both countries blaming each other, the result has been a downward spiral of tit-for-tat actions that may not let up before Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign ends in November.
When the Trump administration announced new restrictions to block companies around the world from using American-made machinery and software to help Huawei, Beijing promised to target American tech companies operating in China. When the administration capped the number of Chinese journalists in the United States, China kicked out most of the American correspondents from three major news organizations in the United States, including The New York Times.
Both leaders, Mr. Trump and Xi Jinping, feel compelled to appear strong. The American president views blaming China for the coronavirus crisis in the United States as a path to re-election. The Chinese leader faces enormous economic and diplomatic challenges that could stir domestic opposition to his grip on power.
“Anything the U.S. says or does or will do, China will refuse,” Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview.
What the American moves have not done is chasten Mr. Xi’s government, which appears to feel simultaneously embattled and defiant.
Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, all but dared the Trump administration to carry out its threat to end Hong Kong’s favored trade status. He noted that there were 85,000 Americans there and scores of companies that would reap “the bitter fruits” of the American decision.
“Washington is too narcissistic,” he wrote in Chinese on Weibo on Thursday. “American politicians like Pompeo arrogantly think that the fate of Hong Kong is in their hands.”
The National People’s Congress, the top legislative body, on Thursday dutifully adopted the government’s proposals to impose new laws on Hong Kong to suppress subversion, secession, terrorism and other acts that might threaten China’s national security — as the authorities in Beijing define it. The vote was nearly unanimous, with only one delegate voting against and six abstaining.
China’s authoritarian system and a pliant state news media apparatus give Mr. Xi a far greater advantage in controlling the message in the face of American hostility — exploiting it to rally popular outrage and tempering it to play the role of magnanimous global partner.
At his ritual news conference wrapping up the National People’s Congress on Thursday, Mr. Li, the premier, singled out for praise an American company, Honeywell, that on Tuesday announced an investment in Wuhan — the city from which the pandemic spread. A month before, the Pentagon had awarded Honeywell a contract to supply protective masks.
Mr. Li twice called for “peaceful” relations with Taiwan, after conspicuously dropping the word when he discussed Taiwan at the start of the weeklong legislative session. And he underlined China’s willingness to look further for the origins of the new coronavirus.
China, though, has shown little inclination for compromise.
Beijing’s reacted harshly to a Canadian court’s ruling clearing an initial hurdle for the extradition of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Huawei charged by the United States with bank fraud related to American sanctions against Iran.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa accused the United States and Canada of abusing their bilateral extradition treaty and “arbitrarily taking forceful measures” against Ms. Meng.
“The purpose of the United States is to bring down Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies, and Canada has been acting in the process as an accomplice of the United States,” the embassy said on Twitter, which is banned inside China. “The whole case is entirely a grave political incident.”
China has already retaliated against Canadian exports of pork, canola oil and other products, and in recent days it has hinted that it will target still more. It has also held two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in secret detention on state security charges widely viewed as retaliatory.
Neither has appeared in a public court hearing or been afforded the access to lawyers during court proceedings. That has hardened anti-Chinese sentiment in Canada, which had not historically been as suspicious as, say, the United States.
The International Crisis Group, where Mr. Kovrig, a former diplomat, worked, posted a message on Twitter noting that Thursday was his 535th day in detention. “Each passing day is a stain on China’s reputation,” the group said.
He has described the pandemic and its still-unfolding economic challenge as a crucible that will forge a stronger government and a stronger party. China has also showed it will not be distracted from its defense of territorial claims along its land and sea borders — from the South China Sea to the Himalayas. The commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s garrison in Hong Kong delivered a pointed reminder of its duty to keep the peace there on the sidelines of the congress in Beijing this week.
The bravado has weakened what leverage the United States might once have wielded: the threat of international condemnation, restrictions on trade, even the prospect of decoupling the world’s two largest economies. Beijing now seems willing to bear any cost.
Lau Siu-kai, a former senior Hong Kong government official who advises Beijing, said that American pressure had failed to prompt a reconsideration in the Hong Kong issue, in part because China’s leadership has anticipated American opposition on many fronts.
“Beijing will stick with its new policy toward Hong Kong regardless of U.S. reactions and is prepared to take countermeasures in a tit-for-tat manner,” he said.
Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul. Research was contributed by Claire Fu, Wang Yiwei, Amber Wang and Liu Yi from Beijing.
Judy Asks: Hong Kong Calls. Can Europe Respond? – Carnegie Europe
Noah BarkinSenior Visiting Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Berlin
Europe can and should respond more forcefully than it has so far. German Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock has suggested that the EU—and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the host—cancel its looming summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Leipzig in September 2020 unless Beijing withdraws its national security legislation.
That would send a strong signal that it will not be business as usual as long as China is violating the spirit of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.
Another step, which is reportedly being considered by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is to grant Hong Kong residents asylum in Europe. Germany welcomed two Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in 2019, so such a step would not be unprecedented.
In an environment where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) faces global outcry over its handling of the new coronavirus, is under acute political and economic pressure from Washington, and needs foreign investors to help revive its suddenly sputtering economy, the EU has more leverage with Beijing than it has had in quite a while. Using it would help counter the narrative—following two embarrassing recent incidents of self-censorship in the face of pressure from Beijing—that Europe is impotent and weak when it comes to China.
Carl BildtCo-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, Stockholm
This is an excellent opportunity to show that we—in spite of Brexit and all the mess it’s causing—can stand shoulder to shoulder with the UK on an important issue. It was the UK, then a member of the EU, that in 1984 signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with China that Chris Patten, former European commissioner for external relations and the last British governor of Hong Kong, now says Beijing is violating.
I think Brussels should say to London that we are prepared to support whatever they—with their responsibility for the joint declaration—consider appropriate. And, following that, a contact group between concerned global actors could be set up to try to form joint policies and steps.
Brussels should offer London to take the lead—there might be cases in the future where we think it would be more natural the other way around.
Lizza BomassiDeputy Director of Carnegie Europe, Brussels
Unfortunately, this issue dredges up that age-old debate on values versus interests. From a values perspective, Europe should respond, but from an interests perspective, it probably won’t.
Certainly, some individual European member states may voice—even exert—some level of soft pressure, but its bark will be worse than its bite. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision on May 27 to remove Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law was not an unsmart move, but it is a huge gamble. Will the United States or China blink first?
Economically, both stand to lose a great deal with a continued and escalating standoff, and Europe again will be caught in the middle. What may be Hong Kong’s saving grace is China’s desire—especially now—to curry favor and save face with the international community in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the world watching, this will probably be enough to stave off any harsh crackdowns, but it won’t be sufficient to lead to the desired outcome that the people of Hong Kong are hoping for and deserve.
Ian BondDirector of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform, London
The EU should certainly support Hong Kong’s continued legal autonomy in its public statements. It is important to let supporters of democracy in Hong Kong know that Europe has not forgotten them. But rhetoric will not dissuade the CCP from imposing tighter control on Hong Kong.
Having heard only ineffectual foreign protests when they imprisoned at least a million Uighurs in camps in China’s Xinjiang region, the Chinese authorities must think that the West will only wring its hands again over Hong Kong—particularly if the CCP can persuade Western businesses that it will protect their interests and that the new regulations will only affect a few inconvenient “extremists.”
The EU must consider how to change Beijing’s calculus. The message—privately at first, but publicly later, if necessary—should be that Hong Kong’s attractiveness to investors depends on the rule of law and not the rule of the party remaining supreme there. If that changes, businesses will draw their own conclusions, without any need for formal sanctions.
The EU should also do some contingency planning on how it could offer protection to threatened pro-democracy activists, including by offering them asylum in Europe, and it should strengthen ties with Taiwan, another democracy under threat from Beijing.
Katja DrinhausenAnalyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin
The Chinese government argues that its move to bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to introduce national security legislation is a purely internal affair and necessary to restore order in Hong Kong.
But Hong Kong’s special status as an international financial and trade center is closely tied to the international treaties that helped establish a political and legal system distinct from that of the mainland. Europe needs to make clear that the special treatment of Hong Kong is contingent on the continued trust in the principle of “one country, two systems.” And that it is Europe’s prerogative to assess if it still wants to extend that trust.
China has brushed aside the joint declaration, which guarantees Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy until 2047, as a “historical document.” The European Union, its member states, and especially the UK should emphasize that China’s adherence to its international obligations will be the benchmark to assess its reliability as an international actor and trade partner.
As Hong Kong remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European governments should monitor closely if the new national security legislation infringes on the civil liberties and the right to fair trial guaranteed by the treaty and should be ready to grant asylum to applicants from Hong Kong if it does.
Theresa FallonDirector of the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies, Brussels
The uncomfortable truth is that business elites, European bureaucrats, and many European politicians are out of touch with the public’s sentiment on Hong Kong.
The EU’s anemic statement on Hong Kong is not going to keep anyone at Zhongnanhai, the seat of China’s leadership, awake at night. EU High Representative Josep Borrell didn’t even bother to tweet it. Beijing has taken Brussels’s measure and does not fear their statements, which declare that they “will continue to follow developments closely.”
There has been a concerning culture of complacency and self-censorship in EU diplomacy with the People’s Republic of China which has left the EU neutralized since 2016. If we turn to EU member states, the story is not much better. Merkel embraced trade with China in the hope that it would change China. But the reality is that contact with Beijing has eroded European values.
Beijing understands that economic issues are paramount. Few European leaders pretend to even care about basic human rights in Hong Kong, and it will be difficult to get unanimity on this issue across Europe due to Beijing’s economic statecraft.
To paraphrase Edmund Burke, all that is needed for Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” principle to perish is for good people to do nothing.
Geoff KitneyWriter and Commentator on Australian and International Affairs, Sydney
Australia expects the EU to respond very firmly to the Chinese government’s Hong Kong intervention, not least because Australia wants cover for its own strong response.
The increasing challenge posed by Chinese assertiveness is a mutual concern as relations with China become more complex.
Australia recently turned to the EU for diplomatic backing when it led calls for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. China had reacted angrily to the Australian initiative, seeing it as a proxy for the United States. EU diplomats worked with their Australian counterparts at the World Health Assembly on May 18–19 to get agreement on a proposal acceptable to China.
But there has been a cost to Australia with China (by far Australia’s largest trading partner) canceling trade contracts worth €600 million. China’s actions in Hong Kong, with which Australia has both deep commercial and historic connections, puts news pressure on the relationship.
Australia wants to be a strong voice in the international pushback against China’s actions in Hong Kong but risks deepening Chinese anger, especially if it is seen as a U.S. patsy. Robust European pushback is essential to helping Australia balance its conflicting interests with China.
Philippe Le CorreNonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Paris
With a conservative government in power like in 1984—when then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping agreed on the 1997 handover of Hong Kong—the UK should be the first to call for the full respect of the “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees Hong Kong’s independent judicial system for fifty years.
Instead, Boris Johnson is fighting a deadly pandemic, a dire economic situation, and a punishing negotiation with the EU about Brexit.
One of the most prominent British politicians to call for action following the announcement of China’s new national security law is the territory’s last British governor, Chris Patten, who calls the proposed bill a “complete destruction of the joint declaration.”
With Brexit looming, it is tempting for European leaders to dismiss Hong Kong as a British problem, but in fact Hong Kong’s international status should be a case for renewed EU-UK cooperation. After all, the region is home to some 80,000 Europeans. The EU should use all its powers to call for the respect of the Basic Law, which serves as Hong Kong’s constitution until 2047.
Both European Council President Charles Michel and Borrell have reaffirmed the EU’s values, and Michel insisted on the bloc’s attachment to “the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
It is time for the EU and UK to push for the preservation of Hong Kong.
John O’BrennanProfessor at Maynooth University and Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration, Dublin
The evolution of China’s foreign policy under Xi Jinping from a posture of “peaceful rise” to “wolf warrior” poses significant challenges for the EU. To parachute American historian Robert Kagan into the current geopolitical landscape, China is from Mars, Europeans from Venus, while the United States is lost in an even more remote galaxy of self-absorption.
More accurately, we should understand that Xi has firmly moved the dial on Chinese foreign policy from a Lockean to an increasingly Hobbesian framing of power. The EU is struggling to understand let alone respond to the scale of this challenge. If violence escalates in Hong Kong in the weeks to come (as is almost certain), there will be little from European capitals save empty rhetoric about respecting the Hong Kong Basic Law.
Europeans have been complacent in continuing to view China as overwhelmingly a Lockean power, a partner in the architecture of liberal trade and ever-deepening globalization dating back to former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
EU leverage rests almost exclusively on trade. But Xi’s ambitions for China appear to go well beyond the restoration of the global trade regime that facilitated China’s “peaceful rise.”
Needless to say, the EU will need a reliable U.S. partner if it is to both reconstruct the global economic order in its own (still) liberal image and contain Chinese power.
Janka OertelDirector of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin
The situation in Hong Kong has been progressively deteriorating, but the Chinese leadership’s decision to impose the controversial national security legislation now is taking developments to a new level.
Europe’s initial response has been timid. Yes, there are limited options left to reverse Beijing’s latest move, and yes, there is certainly a preoccupation with the battle against the coronavirus and its economic fallout on the home front, which complicates the overall situation. But decisive support for safeguarding civil rights and fundamental freedoms for Hong Kong’s people is never optional but an imperative—and it is not too late.
In a rare display of unity, the joint letter by more than 600 parliamentarians from countries across the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and North America across party lines calling out China’s breach of its international legal commitments is a positive example of speaking up against authoritarian overreach.
Beijing knows that its approach will come at a cost, but Europe can act jointly with like-minded partners to drive up the price.
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