2018 was another year of uncertainty and a spreading feeling of insecurity. What could turn that round in 2019? Here are some thoughts:
As we wait for the summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to unfold on Sentosa Island in Singapore, everyone is in waiting mode and there are few takers for the challenge of forecasting the outcome. There is a widespread sense of a precarious balance between the epoch-shaping risks and opportunities available, uncertainty about what two unpredictable leaders would achieve together or, indeed, wreck. The uncertainty was only deepened by the US President’s rejection of the agreed communiqué at the G7 summit in a Quebec village three days earlier.
It’s not quite “All change!” at the top of US foreign policy but not very far from it. Three key positions have changed in the last two weeks: Rex Tillerson out at the State Department, with Mike Pompeo coming from the CIA, where his Deputy Gina Haspel replaces him, and HR McMaster is out as National Security Advisor, replaced by John Bolton. So, er, what’s going on? Continue reading
The 2018 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), a top level meeting on peace and security issues, was held on 16-18 February. Among the participants were “more than 30 heads of state and government and over 100 cabinet ministers from across the globe”. There was not much sense of actual security to be found. Continue reading
On 25 January, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced the current time on its long lasting Doomsday Clock: two minutes before midnight, the Editorial Board decided, with midnight, of course, equalling apocalypse. The following day, The Economist, a magazine, carried a cover story on ‘The Next War: the growing threat of a great power conflict’. Are things really that bad? And if so, what can be done about them? Continue reading
2017: it’s been some year, eh? It was the first year of the Trump presidency. All UN members bar one were signed up to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was open for signature and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize. North Korea carried out more missile tests and one nuclear test and moved closer to having a nuclear ICBM capable of hitting targets in the continental US. The Iran nuclear deal came under severe pressure despite Iran implementing it fully. The people of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya continued to suffer the ravages of violent conflict. Elsewhere in the region and outside it, people faced the threat of random terrorist attacks. Arms spending and arms trading continued to rise. In SIPRI’s Peace Points series of short films, I set out some views on these events and trends as they unfolded.
Best wishes for a peaceful 2018!
Nuclear weapons have come into the political limelight in 2017 as they have hardly done since the 1980s. North Korea, the Iran nuclear deal and the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons create a triptych – one panel for arming up and nuclear confrontation, one for arms control, and one for complete nuclear disarmament. Which way is the world headed? Continue reading
Was it a response? Was it not a response? Following a missile test on 15 September, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) went two months without another one. On 20 November, President Trump formally designated the DPRK as a state that sponsors terrorism. On 28 November the DPRK carried out launched what may have been an intercontinental-range missile, reckoned by some reports to be its 20th test-firing of the year. The risk of the US-DPRK face-off leading to conflagration is still not huge but it is increasing. With such high stakes, it is urgent to find a way to cool things down. Continue reading
It has been a disturbing few days. On Tuesday 4 April, Syrian aircraft allegedly used nerve gas against civilians. On Thursday 6, the US responded by attacking Syrian forces for the first time. On Friday 7, there was a truck attack in central Stockholm, the city’s first terror incident since December 2010. On Saturday 8, a US naval task force set out for northeast Asia to strengthen US sea power near the Korean peninsula. A small bomb was discovered in Oslo. On Sunday 9, nearly 50 people died from bomb attacks at two churches in the Nile delta.
Amid the uncertainties of the time, it’s worth asking if the US is about to get engaged in armed conflict on two fronts. Continue reading
Just as Obama was getting his presidential teeth into the Israel-Palestine issue – with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last week and Obama’s Middle East tour next – North Korea goes and finds a window in his crowded timetable, forcing itself on his attention with a nuclear test and missile firings. But, although things can go horribly wrong, North Korea presents a much more straightforward problem than Israel-Palestine and the wider Middle East. Continue reading