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  • Author: Bennett Murray
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: As the United States and People’s Republic of China jostle for influence among member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Russian Federation has also declared the bloc a priority. Southeast Asian nations, in turn, would like third powers to counterbalance Beijing and Washington in the region. However, Russia has not made a huge impression in the bloc since its first summit with ASEAN in 2005. Economic success has been mostly limited to bilateral trade centered around arms sales, while security partnerships have not been forthcoming. Part of the problem is that Russia lacks historic ties in its former Cold War rivals, which are also ASEAN’s largest economic powerhouses, to lean on. More crucially, Southeast Asian nations perceive Moscow as deferential to Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions in the region.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Geopolitics, Soft Power, Economic Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Thomas J. Shattuck
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Once again, the future of Kuomintang (KMT), the political party headed by Chiang Kai-shek for decades and that favors a closer relationship with Mainland China, is in doubt due to the results of the recent presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was reelected in a landslide against her opponent Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang. Tsai received a record 8+ million votes, and the DPP retained its majority in the country’s national legislature by winning 61 seats—though it did lose seven compared to the 2016 election when the party won its first-ever majority. The blowout victory puts the KMT’s future into question—though more senior analysts note that this conversation occurs after every election, particularly the 2016 election, and nothing really changes. Maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Reform, History , Kuomintang
  • Political Geography: Taiwan, Asia
  • Author: Louisa Keeler
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The small Gulf state of Oman’s identity is closely—if not inextricably—linked with the person of Sultan Qaboos, who passed away on January 10 after nearly 50 years in power. He singlehandedly transformed the country from a sleepy, closed-off country comprising disparate groups to an interconnected, modern, and unified state that has proven itself an invaluable player on the international scene. Within Oman, his portrait is ubiquitous, and his name is on countless mosques, hospitals, and institutions throughout the Sultanate, a sign of both his revered status and proof of his impact on society. Now that he is gone, he leaves behind an untested successor who is not particularly well known to the international community. Qaboos’ presence will be missed during one of the tensest moments since 1979 between the United States, Iran, and the Arab Gulf states, countries which have relied on Oman as a badly needed messenger and facilitator for negotiations. If there was ever a good time for Sultan Qaboos to die, this was not it.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Domestic politics, Monarchy, Sultan Qaboos
  • Political Geography: Oman, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The North Korean government response to the coronavirus has been extreme, but prudent and reasonable in context. It has closed the border to China almost entirely to both goods and people though surely some transports are still getting through. No travel is allowed to or from China although there must be exceptions to this rule as well. The state (under the banner of the Red Cross, whose branch in North Korea operates as a government entity) has dispatched people around the country to inform people about the virus. No reports have been confirmed at this time of writing, but exile journalists based in South Korea have reported several deaths from the virus from North Korea. Its actions have been blunt and all-encompassing, mainly because the state lacks the necessary capacity to act differently. North Korea doesn’t have the sort of equipment required to monitor people coming from China or to test people at the pace required.
  • Topic: Government, Health, Authoritarianism, Border Control, Coronavirus, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea
  • Author: Adam Garfinkle
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Sadness and tragedy come in many forms. One form consists in knowing how to solve a problem in theory, but realizing at the same time that what that would take in practice is not available. That is the case now with the tragedy unfolding in Idlib. There is a way to turn the crisis into an opportunity, but it would take wise and bold leaderships simultaneously in Washington, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Ankara, and the capitals of Europe. And that is precisely what we lack. What should be done? The U.S. government should privately propose, organize as necessary, and backstop as required a joint Israeli-Saudi intervention, coordinated with an on-going Turkish intervention, to save the million-plus refugees now facing imminent annihilation in Idlib Province, in Syria.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Felix Chang
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which arose in China and swept around the globe, has devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands. But however large the health impact of COVID-19 ultimately is, hundreds of millions more have already felt its economic impact. With people worldwide ordered to social distance and stay at home, entire industries have been shuttered. And though national economies will recover in time, fully restoring them may prove to be a slow process. No doubt, the longer the disease lingers, the longer an economic recovery will take. That could create one more economic casualty: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Coronavirus, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Joseph de Weck
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Do you want to know how Beijing would like Europe to act? Take a look at Switzerland. Switzerland and China have been close for decades. It was the first Western nation to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in January 1950. Bern wanted to protect investments in the new People’s Republic from nationalization and hoped Swiss industry could lend a hand in rebuilding China’s infrastructure after the civil war. Being friendly to China paid off, but only 30 years later, once reformer Deng Xiaoping took the reins of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In 1980, Swiss elevator producer Schindler was the first foreign company to do a joint venture in China. Today, Switzerland is the only continental European country to have a free trade agreement (FTA) with China.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, International Trade and Finance, Treaties and Agreements, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, Asia, Switzerland, Sweden
  • Author: Felix Chang
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Affronts to Australia by China’s top diplomat in Canberra and the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper reached new heights in April 2020. What prompted their verbal barbs was the Australian government’s backing for an independent review into the origins and spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have regarded such a review as a way to avert future pandemics, Beijing saw it as support for finger-pointing at China. Whichever is the case, the affronts shone a light on how Beijing has come to view Australia and what it and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region might expect from China in the future. Still, China’s diplomatic and editorial barbs were surprising. China has long worked to move Australia closer into its orbit and away from that of the United States. And, by and large, those efforts had been paying off. Over the last decade, several Australian foreign policy analysts had come to believe that greater accommodation of China would be needed to ensure Australia’s future prosperity. Indeed, Canberra has already shown more sensitivity on issues, like Taiwan, which Beijing deemed strategic. But rather than being content with Australia’s gradual shift, China has undertaken actions that could undermine it, from cyber-espionage to political influence-buying in Australia. China’s most recent affronts are likely to deepen Australian concerns over what Chinese power means for the region.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Economy, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Australia
  • Author: Geoffrey Sloan
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: This essay draws on the author’s previous work, specifically: The Geopolitics of Anglo-Irish Relations in the 20th Century. The greatest failure of the European referendum campaign in 2016, which can be attributed to both sides, was the inability to articulate an understanding of Britain’s geopolitical relationship to Europe. By geopolitics, I do not mean its current usage: interpreted merely as a synonym for international strategic rivalry. I refer, instead, to classical geopolitics, which is a confluence of three subjects: geography, history, and strategy. It draws attention to certain geographical patterns of political history. It fuses spatial relationships and historical causation. It can produce explanations that suggest the contemporary and future political relevance of various geographical configurations.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, Brexit
  • Political Geography: Britain, Europe
  • Author: Alexander Luck
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: On June 6, the Wall Street Journal set off an avalanche of commentary by reporting that U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a drastic reduction in U.S. troops deployed in Germany within a space of only six months. The move was met with significant pushback in Washington and Brussels, causing Congressional Republicans to raise their concerns in letters and public statements. Trump’s announcement, however, was in fact an extension of earlier plans mooted in June 2019, when the administration first suggested moving at least 1,000 troops from Germany to Poland. At the time, Trump suggested that the proposed move was to “affirm the significant defense cooperation between our nations.” Washington picked up this potential troop move again in a rather unrelated context following a spat over the German refusal to participate in a naval mission in the Persian Gulf to deter Iran, reinforcing the notion Trump keeps using American deployments in Germany as a bargaining chip for any interaction on foreign policy with the Merkel government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Military Affairs
  • Political Geography: Europe, Germany, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Felix Chang
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Resting at the eastern end of Bhutan is the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. Spanning some 750 square kilometers, it is spread out across a densely forested area of the Himalayan Mountains. The sanctuary is far better known for its unique flora and fauna (including the red panda and, reputedly, the fabled yeti) than its geographic boundaries. But the latter is precisely what brought it to international attention in June 2020. Early that month, Bhutan sought a grant for the sanctuary from a global environmental organization that funds sustainable development projects. Unexpectedly, China’s representatives to that organization opposed the grant. Their reason: China considers the sanctuary to be “disputed territory.”
  • Topic: Development, Environment, Territorial Disputes, History
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Bhutan
  • Author: Yaroslav Shevchenko
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are certainly the two most prominent authoritarian regimes in the world today, with their quasi-alliance characterized as an “axis of authoritarians” and portrayed as a major threat to the West and global liberal democracy. However, despite unmistakable similarities that exist between Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, the reality is far more complex. Their respective responses to the COVID-19 crisis shed some light on differences between the political-governance models of these two countries.
  • Topic: Authoritarianism, Economy, Crisis Management, COVID-19, Health Crisis
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Asia
  • Author: Anna Borshchevskaya
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: It is no secret that Moscow is increasingly utilizing so-called “private military contractors” (PMCs) to pursue foreign policy objectives across the globe, especially in the Middle East and Africa. What has received less attention is that Moscow’s deployment of PMCs follows a pattern: The Kremlin is exploiting a loophole in international law by securing agreements that allow contractors to provide local assistance. The problem is, however, Russian PMCs are not simply contractors. This pattern of Russian behavior presents a new challenge that Western policymakers should address, as it speaks to broader Russian influence in Africa in the context of great power competition. This challenge is about Moscow’s erosion of broader behavioral norms.
  • Topic: International Law, Military Affairs, Private Sector
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: On August 26, Politico reported that U.S. service members were injured after an altercation with Russian forces in northeast Syria. This pattern of Russian challenges to U.S. forces was enabled by the Trump administration’s decision to retreat from parts of northern Syria in 2019, allowing Russia to fill the void. Until this decision was made, the two countries had agreed to make the Euphrates River the deconfliction line to keep U.S. and Russian forces separated. Russia stayed on the west side of the river, and the United on the east side, where this incident took place. Robert Hamilton, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, commented on the story and warned that it will not be a one-off incident: “We need to respond to this immediately and forcefully. Russian forces deliberately escalated against U.S. partners when I was running the ground deconfliction cell for Syria in 2017, but tended to be careful when U.S. forces were present. Unless we make it clear that we’ll defend ourselves, these escalations will continue with dangerous and unpredictable results.” Below, we offer readers an excerpt from a chapter written by Robert Hamilton from a forthcoming edited volume on Russia’s Way of War in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Military Strategy, Military Affairs, Troop Deployment
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, North America
  • Author: Leslie Rogne Schumacher
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: In July 2013, the Sunday Telegraph issued a report on the escalating refugee crisis in Malta. In the previous decade, Malta had seen thousands of Africans make their way to the tiny island nation, which lies just over a hundred miles from the Tunisian coast. The newspaper wanted to get some reactions from Maltese citizens on the way they were coping with this influx of desperate, often sick and traumatized, and almost uniformly poor North and Sub-Saharan Africans. Some Maltese told the Sunday Telegraph’s reporters that they had experienced no problems with their new neighbors, but others accused the Africans of being dirty, unruly, and possibly dangerous. “Every night you see them around here, drinking and making a mess,” claimed Raymond Zammit, while Gerard Camelleri said “the kids feel afraid to play in the parks” and warned that “in another few years, Malta is going to be African.” In September 2014, an anti-immigration rally in Malta saw its participants claim that the “real Maltese” were at risk of extermination due to the refugee crisis, with one saying that Malta must be “cleared of African invaders, who want to destroy Maltese culture and civilisation.”
  • Topic: Migration, Refugees, History , Borders
  • Political Geography: Italy, Mediterranean, Malta
  • Author: June Teufel Dreyer
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: According to geologists, rare earths are not rare, but they are precious. The answer to what appears to be a riddle lies in accessibility. Comprising 17 elements that are used extensively in both consumer electronics and national defense equipment, rare earth elements (REEs) were first discovered and put into use in the United States. However, production gradually shifted to China, where lower labor costs, less concern for environmental impacts, and generous state subsidies enabled the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to account for 97 percent of global production. In 1997, Magniquench, then-America’s leading rare earths company, was sold to an investment consortium headed by Archibald Cox, Jr., son of the same-named Watergate prosecutor, with two Chinese state-owned metals firms, San Huan New Materials and China National Nonferrous Metals Import and Export Company. The chairman of San Huan, son-in-law of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, became chairman of the company. Magniquench was shut down in the United States, moved to China, and reopened in 2003, where it fit in well with Deng’s Super 863 Program to acquire cutting-edge technologies for military applications, including “exotic materials.” This left Molycorp as the last remaining major rare earths producer in the United States until its collapse in 2015.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Natural Resources, Exports, Supply Chains
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Maximilian Hess
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Armenia’s accession to a Russian-mediated settlement with Azerbaijan over their long-running conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians, on November 10 marks a major, perhaps irreversible, loss for Yerevan. But it is not just Armenian forces who stand defeated. It also marks the trouncing of a liberal approach to the region and the supremacy of realist power politics.
  • Topic: Treaties and Agreements, Territorial Disputes, Armed Conflict
  • Political Geography: Eurasia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh