This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Photo: Korean Central News Agency)

President Trump’s North Korea Gamble

Nicholas Kristof

New York Times

It’s infinitely better that North Korea and the United States exchange words rather than missiles.

Yet President Trump’s decision to meet Kim Jong-un strikes me as a dangerous gamble and a bad idea. I’m afraid that North Korea may be playing Trump, and that in turn Trump may be playing us.

I fear that Trump is being played because at the outset, apparently in exchange for nothing clear-cut, he has agreed to give North Korea what it has long craved: the respect and legitimacy that comes from the North Korean leader standing as an equal beside the American president. And I worry that we in the media and the public are being played because this is a way for Trump to change the subject from a Russia investigation and a porn actress to himself as Great Peacemaker. (Read more)


Brexit break-up custody battle focuses on border

Jennifer O’Leary


The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is increasingly the focus of a political “custody battle” as part of the Brexit divorce negotiations.

But while the focus is on the divorce settlement, the emotional fallout can be trickier to navigate.

“Progress was being made in terms of building a slightly more shared identity in society,” Matthew O’Toole told BBC Spotlight.

But, he added, the Brexit vote had “kind of forced people back”.

The former Downing Street press adviser for David Cameron and Theresa May said Brexit has magnified identity politics in Northern Ireland.

“In many ways we are still kind of fighting the battles of the 17th century Williamite War in Northern Ireland – obviously every summer people march to commemorate those wars and then other people are offended by it and don’t like it. (Read more)


UK fears Kremlin involvement in Russian spy case

Financial Times

Investigators are intensifying efforts to identify the mysterious substance that poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as fears grow that they may have been the victims of a state-sponsored attack.

The 66-year-old former colonel in Russia’s GRU, the military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital in Salisbury after being found unconscious on a bench near the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday.

UK government officials said there was a working assumption that the pair were targets of the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, but cautioned that the police and security services were still waiting for the results of toxicology tests being carried out at the Ministry of Defence laboratory at Porton Down.

The UK’s counter terrorism force has taken over the investigation from local police and Amber Rudd, home secretary, is due to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government’s emergency response committee, on Wednesday morning.

Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, said on Tuesday that Britain would respond “robustly” if the investigation found that Russia was responsible. (Read more)


“It’s Raining Rockets”: Deadly New Syrian-Russian Assault Kills Hundreds in Eastern Ghouta

Two weeks ago, Mouaz Khaboutily, a Syrian photographer who works with an anti-government group, called me from the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta. Khaboutily had sheltered in a bunker as Syrian and Russian forces launched an offensive to retake the enclave of nearly four hundred thousand people. During what he hoped was a pause in the fighting, he risked a trip to the street in order to find Internet access and see if the U.N. Security Council had brokered a ceasefire. “I’d be a liar if I said this is not dangerous,” the twenty-eight-year-old told me over WhatsApp. As he stood on the street, warplanes began flying overhead. After two minutes, we agreed that he should hang up and find shelter. The warplanes had dropped bombs four times while he was on the phone—one, he estimated, was just two hundred yards away.

In the last two weeks, one thousand and forty-two people, including about a hundred and fifty-six children, have been killed in eastern Ghouta, in what human-rights groups fear is a final, all-out offensive to retake one of the few remaining rebel-held enclaves in the country. Bombings by Syrian and Russian planes have been indiscriminate, killing civilians, levelling homes, and destroying medical facilities. Bashar al-Assad’s regime—with the full support of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military—have flouted calls for a complete ceasefire. (Read more)


Why Pakistan has troops in Saudi Arabia – and what it means for the Middle East

Umer Karim

The Conversation

Pakistan recently announced that it will send military personnel to Saudi Arabia. The details of the deployment remain elusive, but a composite brigade of the Pakistani military will reportedly fulfil advisory and training roles. It seems Islamabad and Riyadh’s longstanding relationship is getting stronger – so what are the implications?

First of all, Pakistani troops have been deployed in the Saudi kingdom before. Pakistani military engagement started when its special services participated in the operation to eliminate fundamentalist elements that seized the Grand Mosque in Makkah in 1979. Afterwards, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops remained in Saudi Arabia during the Iran-Iraq war. Most were recalled after the war ended in 1988 – but a smaller contingent stayed on. (Read more)

This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump’s Steel Tariffs Raise Fears of a Damaging Trade War

Jim Tankersley

New York Times

After making good on tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks that business leaders wanted, President Trump has turned to a part of his economic agenda that many of them feared: tariffs.

Those leaders worry that Mr. Trump, by imposing stiff and sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum, will set off a trade war with other countries. The global tit-for-tat could hurt American exporters and raise costs for manufacturers that rely on a vast supply chain around the world.

If that happens, it will crimp economic growth, undermining the stimulative effects of Mr. Trump’s deregulation push and his signature $1.5 trillion tax cut. (Read more)


Germany coalition deal: Social Democrats vote to join government


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to form her fourth government after the opposition Social Democrats voted in favour of another grand coalition.

The vote by 464,000 rank-and-file members ends five months of political deadlock since September’s election.

The Social Democrats (SPD) had been split between the party’s leadership, which backed joining the coalition, and its radical youth wing, which did not.

Mrs Merkel, who has been in power for 12 years, congratulated the SPD.

On her party’s Twitter feed. she said she “looks forward to working together again for the benefit of our country”. (Read more)


Xi’s power grab means China is vulnerable to the whims of one man (£)

Martin Wolf

Financial Times

Sometimes an announcement succeeds in being both unsurprising and shocking. It had long been evident that China’s Xi Jinping would not — indeed, could not — step down from power. He has made too many enemies, particularly through his anti-corruption campaign, even if he wanted to go, which seems unlikely.

Yet the announcement that the two-term limit on the presidency is to go, is still shocking. What seemed likely is now a fact. Mr Xi has discarded the attempt by Deng Xiaoping to institutionalise checks on the power of China’s leaders — itself a reaction to the wild excesses of the era of Mao Zedong. What is re-emerging is strongman rule — a concentration of power in the hands of one man. It now looks a bit like “Putinism with Chinese characteristics”. (Read more)


Populists on brink of taking power in Italy

Tom Kington

The Times

Italy risks being taken over by a dangerous populist alliance, the country’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi has warned as voters prepare to go to the polls in tomorrow’s unpredictable elections.

Mr Renzi said that Italy risked an extremist government run by an alliance of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the anti-migrant League and the hard-right Brothers of Italy. He likened the populist parties to “sorcerers’ apprentices”.

The League and the Brothers are locked into a coalition with Silvio Berlusconi but analysts believe that they might dump him and join with Five Star to forge a majority if voting produces a hung parliament. Equally, Mr Berlusconi could abandon them and look to forge a governing alliance with Mr Renzi.

Parties staged final rallies yesterday after a campaign dominated by harsh rhetoric towards migrants and carefree tax and spend promises. Amid growing antipathy towards established parties and with many voters expressing gloom about the choice, the election risks producing political stalemate as Italy tries to escape a grinding recession. (Read more)


Theresa May’s five tests for the UK’s post-Brexit EU relationship tell us… not a lot. Again.

Stephen Bush

New Statesman

This Groundhog Day remake’s a bit wonkish, isn’t it? There’s a blizzard coming and we wake up to a radio message promising a major speech on Brexit from Theresa May, and no sight of Andie MacDowell anywhere.

Thanks to the snow, the latest in May’s series will be delivered in London not Newcastle, and thanks to the demands of balancing opinion in the Conservative Party, the speech will say… not a lot, at least if the pre-released extracts are any guide.

The PM will set out five tests for the final relationship: it must respect the referendum result, it must be a lasting accord, it must protect jobs and security, it must be “consistent with the type of country we want to be as we leave: a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant European democracy”, and fifth it must strengthen “our union of our nations and our people”. (Read more)