An ICBM launch control facility in the countryside outside Minot, North Dakota, June 24, 2014 (AP photo by Charlie Riedel).

The surprising election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has created countless new questions and concerns about the future of U.S. foreign policy. But perhaps nowhere are these concerns more acute than in Trump’s thoughts about nuclear weapons. While often inchoate and contradictory, Trump’s recent comments about strengthening and expanding U.S. nuclear capabilities, apparently welcoming an arms race with Russia, and possibly encouraging allies to develop their own nuclear deterrent have all caused great concern among defense analysts and foreign policy professionals, not to mention many within the U.S. government. Given the enormous stakes involved, it is […]

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Palm Beach, Florida, Dec. 21, 2016. (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

In last week’s column, I noted that some of the positions taken by President-elect Donald Trump during his bid for the White House, along with those of his key advisers like retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Stephen Bannon, reflect what has been called a “clash of civilizations” perspective. For those who subscribe to this framework, the U.S.-led and predominantly Christian West is under assault from Islam. The terrorism, violence and barbarity of organizations like the so-called Islamic State and al-Qaida are not simply malignancies within Islam but signs of the religion’s inherent incompatibility with Western culture. Many advocates of […]

Security officials at the scene of a car bombing in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri, Turkey, Dec. 17, 2016. (IHA via AP).

Last week, Turkey was hit by yet another terrorist attack, a car bombing that killed 13 soldiers and wounded 55 others in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri. Although quickly overshadowed days later by the assassination in Ankara of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, the bombing came just a week after a twin suicide bombing killed 44 policemen and wounded another 150 outside the Besiktas football stadium in Istanbul. While no immediate claim of responsibility has been issued for the Kayseri bombing, solid evidence points to the same perpetrators as the earlier Dec. 10 attack: the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a […]

A quay at the Port of Qingdao, in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, Dec. 8, 2016 (Imaginechina photo via AP).

Last week, China brought formal legal challenges against the United States and the European Union for their failures to recognize the Asian giant as a “market economy” according to World Trade Organization rules. China’s current “nonmarket economy” designation allows Washington and Brussels to use a special tariff formula to stem the flow of low-priced imports in anti-dumping cases. Contrary to initial media reports of a trade war, Beijing’s WTO actions sent a positive signal for otherwise bleak trade relations between these major powers—at least in the near term. But longer term, the squabble over China’s market economy status is just […]

President Barack Obama at a news conference at the White House in Washington, Dec. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

Yesterday China returned the U.S. Navy underwater drone it had seized last Friday in international waters in the South China Sea. The incident has been portrayed by critics of President Barack Obama as the latest illustration of how his purported weakness has emboldened America’s rivals and adversaries. But the seizure of the drone and the prompt resolution of the standoff through diplomatic channels actually illustrated the complexity of escalation when the costs of conflict are great and the threshold for acts of war murky. The narrative of Obama’s weakness has its roots in the early days of his presidency. His […]

Incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks while serving as CEO of ExxonMobil, Washington D.C., March 27, 2015 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Decoding the national security consequences of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet is tricky. There’s a tendency to look for substantive connective tissue among the names, beyond loyalty to Trump. On climate change, skepticism dominates, with deeply disturbing implications. But on Russia, China, Iran and other major national security issues, expect policy battles within the Trump camp. Such diversity does not seem to trouble the president-elect, who thrives on keeping others guessing. With most of the Trump Cabinet and other senior national security positions now filled, some patterns of a new national security agenda can be discerned. The loyalists named […]

Israelis wave flags and hold signs reading "Trump, the Israeli interest" during a rally, Jerusalem, Oct. 26, 2016 (AP photo by Tsafrir Abayov).

U.S. policy on Israel almost always manages to divide and stoke controversy, and President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel is no exception. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience and a strong supporter of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, has generated outrage on the left and exaltation on the right—in both the United States and Israel. Friedman has overtly rejected any prospects for a two-state solution and demonized American Jews critical of Israeli policy. He once called members of J Street—a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” progressive lobbying group—“worse than kapos,” the term […]

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center, Hershey, Pa., Dec. 15, 2016 (AP photo by Matt Rourke).

The presidency of Donald Trump promises to shake up American politics and break with the past in many ways. In foreign and security policy, one big change that seems likely is a transformation of U.S. policy toward Russia, since President-elect Trump has indicated he will shift the currently adversarial relationship toward one of greater cooperation. At first glance this seems perplexing given that Republicans have always led the opposition to Russia, whether in containing Soviet communism during the Cold War or attempting to block Russian President Vladimir Putin’s more recent efforts to regain control over the independent nations that were […]

President-elect Donald Trump at a rally in West Allis, Wis., Dec. 13, 2016 (AP photo by Morry Gash).

Is Donald Trump crazy, or is he crazy like a fox? Is he singularly ill-suited for the presidency, or a deftly intuitive negotiator adept at throwing his adversaries off-balance? Is he genuinely clueless about the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy and the international order in which it operates, with no curiosity to learn about them? Or is he cleverly manipulating the widespread perception of his ignorance to his advantage? As with most things having to do with the U.S. president-elect’s foreign policy, these questions remain unanswerable. But in trying to answer them, we are left not only with uncertainty, but […]

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally, Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016 (AP photo by Gerry Broome).

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, it was hard to get a firm grasp on Donald Trump’s intended national security policy. His own lack of experience and his campaign’s scarcity of advisers steeped in defense issues led candidate Trump to rely on broad themes and searing criticism of the policies of the Obama administration—and by extension Hillary Clinton’s likely approach to the world. Now, with only weeks until Trump takes office, he has much of the senior echelon of his national security team in place and is beginning to flesh out his policy. As the Trump strategy emerges, the tensions […]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a press conference after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, New York, Nov. 17, 2016 (AP photo by Kathy Willens).

Donald Trump’s surprising election victory has been met with caution around the world as America’s friends and rivals try to gauge the future direction of U.S. foreign policy under the new administration. In Japan, whose cornerstone relationship with Washington helps guide U.S. strategy in Asia, Trump’s win has elicited pause and an intense effort to shore up Japanese interests. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quick to send a congratulatory cable to the president-elect, lauding his victory and indulging him by complimenting his acumen as a successful businessman. Abe followed up with a shrewd move to arrange a face-to-face meeting with […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Mediterranean Dialogues Summit, Rome, Dec. 2, 2016 (AP Photo by Gregorio Borgia).

The buzz in foreign policy circles this week has been over President-elect Donald Trump’s phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, which overturned decades of protocol governing official U.S. contact with the government of Taiwan. It seems that the conversation was not a casual faux pas, but a purposeful decision by the Trump transition team. Now diplomats in Beijing and Washington have to cope with the fallout. But if the essential function of diplomacy has lost some of its sheen in Washington, it is not only the result of Trump’s iconoclastic approach. Traditional diplomacy has also been weakened by competition […]

President-elect Donald Trump arrives for a party at the home of a campaign donor, Head of the Harbor, N.Y., Dec. 3, 2016 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Donald Trump has a striking knack for simplifying complex international problems. For years, for example, scholars have debated whether China will be a constructive or disruptive global power. Many have argued that it could take decades to find out. Thanks to Trump, we could know the answer in just a few months. In recent days, Trump has managed to antagonize Beijing by speaking with Taiwan’s president, and doubled down on his provocation by calling out China’s economic policy and military posture on Twitter. This should not come as an utter surprise: The president-elect was frequently critical of China on the […]

President-elect Donald Trump with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Bedminster, New Jersey, Nov. 19, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Appointing military flag officers to civilian roles in a presidential administration is an American tradition. Beginning with Brent Scowcroft in the Gerald Ford administration, several national security advisers have been uniformed officers, and the Central Intelligence Agency has often been led by one, beginning with Adm. Sidney Souers, its first head. Three of the five Directors of National Intelligence, a position created in 2005, have been retired flag officers. Military men have also held Cabinet positions: George Marshall was both secretary of state and secretary of defense; Alexander Haig and Colin Powell both served as secretary of state. Placing a […]

President Barack Obama with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council at the Diriyah Palace, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 21, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he vowed that immediately after taking office he would travel to a Muslim-majority country and deliver a major address to Muslims and Arabs as part of a determined effort to improve relations. After all, anti-American sentiment had risen sharply in much of the Middle East during the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In contrast, President-elect Donald Trump campaigned this year on a promise to get tough on Muslims. His announcement that he would impose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” until we “figure out […]

Macedonian police officers look as migrants gather to protest from the Greek side of the border fence between Macedonia and Greece, April 13, 2016 (AP photo by Boris Grdanoski).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office in January, he will be confronted with a number of global challenges that will test some of his most popular campaign rhetoric. As a candidate, Trump proposed an “America First” agenda that he used to explain his call for a fairer sharing of costs related to America’s military role abroad and reduced foreign assistance, among other promises. Such an agenda […]

Cubans await a motorcade transporting the remains of Fidel Castro, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 30, 2016 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

The death of former Cuban leader and revolutionary Fidel Castro on Nov. 25 marked the end of an era for Cuba. Throughout his half-century in power, Castro staunchly opposed American influence and governed as an uncompromising authoritarian. He left behind a polarizing legacy, particularly in the context of Cuba’s rapprochement with the United States that began in 2014. While many billed the normalization of ties as Cuba’s ticket to a new era of openness, Castro’s passing has drawn attention to the enduring challenges the country faces. That, coupled with the election of Donald Trump as president in the United States, […]