Closed lanes at the Peace Arch border crossing between the U.S. and Canada,  in Blaine, Wash., May 7, 2020 (AP photo by Elaine Thompson).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Edward Alden is filling in for Kimberly Ann Elliott. Along North America’s 49th parallel, where it meets the Pacific Ocean, a huge white stone arch stands on the border between the United States and Canada. Called the Peace Arch, it was built in 1921 to commemorate the resolution of boundary disputes that dated back to the War of 1812. Inside the arch, there is an iron gate attached to both walls, and an inscription that reads, “May these gates never be closed.” Since March 21, in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the […]

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with G-7 leaders during a videoconference on the coronavirus pandemic, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, April 16, 2020 (pool photo by Gonzalo Fuentes via AP Images).

When does a global catastrophe stimulate a revival of international cooperation, rather than accelerate fragmentation and disorder? When does a crisis become a turning point in international relations, rather than just augur more of the same? These questions loom large in the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest shock to world politics and the global economy since 1945. While history provides no definitive answers, it hints at three preconditions for resurrecting international cooperation from the ashes: new thinking, enlightened leadership and a favorable distribution of power. It was in reaction to World War II, and the economic chaos that preceded it, that […]

Protesters call for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist, in Oxford, England, June 9, 2020 (AP photo by Matt Dunham).

In the comfort zones of a bygone world, from prosperous and stable societies in Western Europe to Japan and Australia, the three-plus years of Donald Trump’s presidency have led to a prolonged season of worry. Friends and allies there have watched and wondered anxiously about whether the values they admire most about the United States, even with its many deep flaws, will endure. Washington under Trump has appeared to be heading off solo in uncharted directions, abandoning one by one the bedrock ideas long associated with America, like defending democracy, promoting alliances and building international institutions, as well as more […]

Palestinians run from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, in the village of Qusin near Nablus, June 5, 2020 (AP photo by Majdi Mohammed).

July 1 is an ominous day for Palestinians, when Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is set to leap forward into formal annexation. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held onto his office by forging a power-sharing agreement with his political rival, Benny Gantz, that gave him the authority he needed to deliver on his biggest campaign promise: unilaterally annexing Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as soon as next month. The plans for annexation prompted a reckoning in Ramallah, where President Mahmoud Abbas announced last month that the Palestinian Authority would no longer coordinate with Israel on security […]

President Donald Trump speaks to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during an event to sign a new North American trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, at the White House, Washington, Jan. 29, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

For weeks, trade has taken a back seat to Black Lives Matter protests and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, however, trade was back on the front page with stunning charges from John Bolton, the former national security adviser, about an alleged attempt by President Donald Trump to manipulate U.S.-China trade negotiations for his personal political gain. This past week also saw U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifying before Congress about the Trump administration’s trade agenda, while both U.S. and European officials threatened an escalation in their dispute over digital services taxes. The overall message from all this was clear: […]

Representatives of 50 countries attend the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the U.N. Charter, in San Francisco, California, April 25, 1945 (AP Photo).

Seventy-five years ago this Friday, humanity accomplished something miraculous. On June 26, 1945, while World War II was still raging across the Pacific, 50 nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the Charter of the United Nations.* The culmination of years of planning, the new international organization was intended “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Although the United Nations would often fall short of that lofty goal, its creation was a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order. The San Francisco conference had opened to great fanfare on April 25, 1945. Mindful […]

The demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office building in Kaesong, North Korea, June 16, 2020 (Korean Central News Agency photo via AP Images).

What a difference two years makes. The spring and summer of 2018 saw an extraordinary rapprochement between the two Koreas, as their leaders held successive face-to-face meetings, culminating in a landmark visit by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang. The flurry of diplomacy produced a number of joint declarations, agreements, hotlines and other confidence-building measures, including an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, just 6 miles into North Korean territory from the Demilitarized Zone. It was the first full-time communication channel and served as a de facto embassy between the two sides, which are technically still at war having not […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, after signing a power-sharing agreement in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 17, 2020 (Photo by Afghan Presidential Palace via AP Images).

Afghanistan is still a long way from reaching a political settlement, but news this week that Afghan government negotiators will soon meet directly with Taliban leaders in Qatar is evidence that peace is possible. Or, at the very least, it may be one small step closer. The question now is whether a myopic focus on military issues will blind negotiators and stakeholders to the various pitfalls ahead on the long road to reconciliation. Getting this far this fast only a few months after the United States signed a peace deal with the Taliban is evidence that confidence-building measures are working. […]

Protesters hold a photo of President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a rally near the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, June 12, 2020 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

Amid a storm of domestic crises, and with less than five months until Election Day, President Donald Trump suddenly faces the prospect of having his signature foreign policy initiative, once quietly stalled, unravel spectacularly. Trump took personal charge of the daunting North Korea file early on, all but proclaiming victory after a groundbreaking, made-for-TV meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un in Singapore two years ago, immediately after which he announced on Twitter: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Back then, that sounded preposterously premature. Today, it brings faint echoes of Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 declaration […]

U.S. President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to a NATO leaders meeting in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Dec. 4, 2019 (AP photo by Frank Augstein).

President Donald Trump has never been a fan of alliances. He has complained repeatedly in the past that U.S. allies in Europe and East Asia “don’t pay enough for their defense,” and has demanded that Japan and South Korea quadruple the amount of money they pay as a share of the cost of hosting U.S. military bases in their territory. More recently, Trump announced he was pulling 10,000 troops out of Germany, more than a quarter of its military presence in the country. The political scientist Mira Rapp-Hooper has just published a timely new book, “Shields of the Republic: The […]

A Black Lives Matter march to protest the death of George Floyd, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 7, 2020 (AP photo by Gene J. Puskar).

For the past four years, the United States has been trending, as they say about social media, and not in a good way. It began with a presidential campaign in which Donald Trump, the eventual winner, called Mexicans rapists and showered playground insults on his Republican rivals. For most of the postwar period, an underrated secret of American power has been to avoid this kind of spotlight. It made other countries and their problems, and not the United States itself, the focus of global attention: human rights here, massacres there, famines, rebellions, coups and more. The global diet of news […]

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses military personnel and their families at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, South Korea, June 30, 2019 (pool photo by Ed Jones of AFP via AP Images).

The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to pull nearly 10,000 American troops from Germany, more than a quarter of the U.S. military presence in the country. For anyone who’s been paying attention to Donald Trump’s rhetoric since he first ran for president, the news of the withdrawal is very much of a piece with his disdain for America’s overseas alliances. The president and his supporters often rail against close U.S. allies like South Korea, Japan and certain NATO countries for supposedly free-riding on Washington’s largesse. Today’s guest on Trend Lines has a new book out that investigates those claims and […]

President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before signing a U.S. China trade agreement, in the East Room of the White House, Washington, Jan. 15, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The global, rules-based trading system that the United States helped to create after World War II is in deep trouble. President Donald Trump had already spent the past three years sparking trade wars and undermining the World Trade Organization. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, hammering economies and sharply reducing trade flows worldwide. Panicked governments, including in Washington, have imposed export restrictions on critical medical supplies and, in some cases, food. To make things even worse, the White House has blocked the normal process for settling trade disputes, just when it is needed most. Because of the concerns about hosting large […]

A fighter from a militia funded by the United Arab Emirates, stands on the frontline of conflict in Yemen’s Dhale province, Aug. 5, 2019 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty). Internationalized civil conflicts increase the chances of war between states.

It is too soon to tell how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect international security. Whether it will provide opportunities for prolonged peace or create conditions for new rivalries and disputes depends on how long the pandemic lasts, how the world moves forward from bungled initial responses and how quickly countries recover from the virus’s societal and economic fallout. But already, the pandemic is exposing and accelerating trends that have made the world more vulnerable to international conflict. That may be surprising, since before the outbreak, most statistics indicated that, on the whole, the world had never been better. People were […]

A Black Lives Matter banner hangs from the AFL-CIO building near Black Lives Matter Plaza, close to the White House, Washington, June 12, 2020 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans by police, and the sustained protests in their wake, present a test for the United States both at home and abroad. They underscore the structural racism that permeates American society and how far the nation remains from delivering on the Constitution’s promise of equal rights and justice for all. Globally, they threaten America’s longstanding, if uneven, role as the world’s leading champion of universal human rights. The success of the Black Lives Matter movement is critical, not only to achieve a more perfect union at home, but also to […]

Demonstrators protest near the White House over the death of George Floyd, Washington, June 6, 2020 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).

A month ago, in a column about how divisions in America would undermine the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, I mentioned the U.S. soldiers who in World War II liberated the South of France as well as Nazi-occupied Belgium, where my father spent the war. It is with some embarrassment that I revisit that reference to include a mention of how those soldiers, too, were divided—along the lines of race, reflecting the segregation of much of American society at the time. My failure to mention that was not due to a lack of knowledge, but simply the result of […]

Ambassador William J. Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, at his desk in Washington, March 20, 2015 (Photo by Bill Clark for CQ Roll Call via AP Images).

In many ways, the foundations of American foreign policy have withstood President Donald Trump’s efforts to fundamentally remake them since taking office in January 2017. But if there is one area where Trump has had a clear and consistent impact, it is on American diplomacy. A hollowed-out State Department, a chaotic policy process and Trump’s transactional approach to foreign policy have undermined ties with America’s closest allies and partners, while creating uncertainty and confusion for both partners and adversaries. For this week’s interview on Trend Lines, WPR’s editor-in-chief, Judah Grunstein, is joined by William J. Burns to discuss the damage […]

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