Editor’s note: I’m going to go cower in my bomb shelter right now
Co-Editor in Chief
Donald Trump has spent much of the first weeks of his presidency embroiled with scandal and infighting. His administration is among the leakiest in history,
The most recent foreign policy challenges presented to his administration are those of North Korea’s recent missile test and the continued unfolding of Russian involvement with Trump’s campaign and administration.
On February 12th, North Korea launched a new ballistic missile, Pukguksong-2. While the exact range capabilities of the missile are unknown, North Korean state media claims the missile has an operating range of 3500 to 5000 kilometers. Mid-range weapons of the same type are believed to have the capability to reach Guam.
The move attracted the derision of China, Russia, and the UN Security Council. However, the test was primarily believed to have been a deliberate prodding of the US, to gauge what President Trump’s response would be. The news of the launch broke while the President was having dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Notably, the President did not retire to private, secured quarters to receive the briefing, preferring to have staffers bring papers over to the two heads of state while they were in the public dining hall. The President’s response was also rather interesting in that it did not mention South Korea, saying only that the United States “stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.” UN ambassador Nikki Haley released a statement a day later pledging to “hold North Korea accountable — not with our words, but with our actions.”
Agitation of this kind is common for North Korea, who have scheduled more missile tests under the rule of Kim Jong-un, after he gained control of the regime. The first missile test to occur under the Obama Administration happened a mere five and a half months in. However, with the most recent test mere weeks into a new administration, North Korea seems to be adopting a more confrontational tone.
Israel & Palestine
A new round of settlement construction in the West Bank has caused tensions to flare and was responsible for the Obama Administration’s decision to abstain from a UN ruling criticizing Israel’s continued expansion in the region.
Trump’s meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu was surreal in his seeming lack of concern for the tensions between Israel and Palestine, or for the complexities of a two-state solution. In fact, Trump seemed to indicate that he does not value the two-state solution, a cornerstone of US-Israeli-Palestinian relations, saying at the press conference that, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
If Trump’s view on these matters becomes the administration’s de facto approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it’s possible that the US enters a period of surprising restraint in its Middle Eastern foreign policy – not advocating for a two-state solution essentially leaves Israel and Palestine in a position to argue, or fight, over what to do and the US will act as a rubber stamp.
Russia has been intertwined with the Trump presidency since his campaign when US intelligence officials reported that the DNC had been hacked by a foreign actor. The unfolding saga of Michael Flynn’s resignation, coupled with continuing intelligence community leaks that Trump campaign officials had close and consistent contact with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 election has lent a certain Cold War-era climate to the administration, which continues to wobble between the President’s positive or neutral statements on Russia, and staffers’ reassurances that the administration takes Russian aggression seriously.
Moscow has recently taken provocative action against the US, placing a spy ship just outside US waters, and conducting a missile test in clear violation of a 1987 arms treaty. Much like the North Korean missile launch, these actions are taken in order to provoke some sort of reaction from either the President or from those within his party. The lack of any such response, apart from a handful of Congressional lawmakers, has pointed to a Trump administration that is reluctant to criticize Russia for any aggressive action it may take.
Looming over any concrete action taken by the administration is the background story of the election, the dossier published by Buzzfeed, and continuing encroachment from Russian intelligence agencies. Reports have emerged from US intel sources claiming that agencies have been withholding intelligence from the President because they can’t adequately trust the information will only be seen by the President.
Not to be left behind are China’s continuing encroachment in the South China Sea, Brexit, the looming specter of French elections, and the seeming contradiction between what the President believes and what the Vice President & Secretary of State believe about NATO. VP Mike Pence recently had to reassure European nations that the US was still committed to their defense and mutual well-being. In its encounters with the first serious foreign policy challenges, the Trump Administration has proved shaky at best, relying on conflicting messaging and on-the-spot decision making to guide an understaffed State Department towards uncertain outcomes.