Monday 23 Sep 2019 | 04:33 | SYDNEY
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The Americas

Raising the stakes in the Gulf’s game of reprisals

The weekend’s attack on the Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq is the most dramatic escalation of the Persian Gulf tensions since the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. At the time of writing, the weapons used have allegedly been traced to Iran, while the Yemeni Houthi movement has

The last of the White House neocons

The Tuesday firing (or resignation) of president Donald Trump’s third national security advisor, John Bolton, was hardly a surprise. The rift between the two men had been the subject of news pieces and commentary for several months. From Bolton being effectively quarantined in Mongolia while Trump

Not such a great game

Staying true to his reputation for unpredictability, US President Donald Trump suddenly called off the Afghanistan peace negotiations with the Taliban last Saturday – a major policy decision announced, predictably, in a tweet. Trump cited continued Taliban attacks on US personnel as the reason for

Trump: When will enough be enough?

If the President Donald Trump’s behaviour in August did not drive away his voters and open discussion of the Constitution’s 25th Amendment fitness clause, what will? Surely one of the great questions to emerge from the Trump presidency is the stubborn persistence of his low 40-per cent

A light amid the gloom of the US-China trade war

Despite an optimistic bounce in global financial markets Friday, the relentless trade war between the US and China resumed Sunday. Threatened 15% tariffs by the US on another $250 billion of China imports went into effect Sunday morning, as did new China tariffs on US crude oil, soybeans and

Australia sails into muddy waters in the Gulf

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at pains last week to emphasise the “modest and time-limited” nature of Australia’s contribution to the new US-led maritime security mission in the Strait of Hormuz known as the International Maritime Security Construct’ (IMSC). He batted away suggestions

Macron tries to put the spark back into the G7

Never one to shy from lofty goals, French President Emmanuel Macron used the G7 summit in the French seaside town of Biarritz to make tenuous first steps in rejuvenating the West as the world’s most powerful political alliance. The summit ended yesterday amid improbable displays of goodwill and

Australia in the Gulf: Will we make a difference?

Australia’s commitment to the US-led coalition to provide maritime security for the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf will be one maritime surveillance aircraft, to start operations later this year, and one frigate from early 2020. Military personnel will also help staff a coalition

Australia in the Gulf: The order-based rules

Back in December, Scott Morrison went halfway in following Donald Trump’s change to the diplomatic recognition of Israel, deciding to leave Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv while formally acknowledging “West Jerusalem” as the capital. But at the same time, Morrison decided not to follow Trump

The reluctant coalition

The Australian government’s announcement today that it will contribute assets to a maritime coalition force in the Persian Gulf comes as no surprise, given the very public way the US request was delivered in Sydney at the recent AUSMIN meeting. Washington doesn’t make those type of requests

Houses divided

Many of The Interpreter’s readers are experts on the theory and conduct of international relations. So, quite reasonably, they look at armed conflict through the lens of inter-state relations, where one state resorts to the use (or the threat of use) of armed force to prevail over another. For

Is North Korea still interested in working-level talks?

Barely a month after the historic handshake at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), North Korea returned to provocations by unveiling its new “strategic” ballistic missile submarine and testing short-range ballistic missiles. US President Donald Trump and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un had

China-US currency clash: Who’s manipulating who?

The United States has labelled China a currency manipulator. The move sent shock waves through markets early this week and left many speculating what may come next. Trump has repeatedly called for lower interest rates and a cheaper currency to help him win his trade war with China (and the next US

Trump bets on Pakistan to deliver peace in Afghanistan

Last month’s Oval Office meeting with US President Donald Trump was Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first US visit since taking office in August last year. During the meeting, Trump hinted at resuming aid to Pakistan, as well as making a broader and surprising offer to mediate between

US foreign policy: restraint without retrenchment

US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has come under growing criticism for its expansive, even aggressive, character. Despite its name, “liberal hegemony” often seems illiberal, belligerent, even militaristic. The US has used force regularly over the last 30 years, often with dubious

Iran: Washington calls on Canberra

Washington has asked for Australian support to participate in a coalition maritime Persian Gulf security force. The request was formally announced as part of Sunday’s AUSMIN talks. It is the type of request that Australia would prefer not be made. Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the

Trump and the question of intelligence

Richard Nixon wasn’t fond of US intelligence, and neither was his alter ego, Henry Kissinger. But none of us who have served in intelligence could have imagined a president like Donald Trump with no interest in facts of any sort, who talks of “reining in” a US Intelligence Community that has

The Pacific step up goes to Washington

One evening every June for more than 20 years, a “Pacific Night” reception has featured as a mainstay of the diplomatic circuit in Washington DC. It is organised largely through the New Zealand embassy, and also sponsored by the Australian embassy and other Pacific island countries. This year,

Bob Mueller exits the stage

On Wednesday former Special Counsel and former FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on the findings of his two-year investigation into coordination between the Donald Trump 2016 campaign and the Russian government. These findings have been

Trump and Xi need a trade deal and they need it soon

With resumed contact between US trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and China’s negotiator Vice Premier Liu He, the 12th round of trade talks between the US and China may take place in Beijing before the end of July. But the clock is now ticking very loudly. Contrary to the messaging from Beijing

The pitfalls of North Korea’s summitry spectacle

The third meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un has come and gone, again without much substantial progress, but its symbolism has continued to dominate Korea watchers’ assessments of the event. Trump last month became the first sitting US president to set

The burden of friendship: Germany, Trump and NATO

“Burden sharing” has long been a totemic term in discussions about NATO. Behind the happy paeans to shared values and mutual security interests uttered publicly by national leaders has always stood the hard reality of American power and Europe’s complete dependency upon it. Yet under the

Iran’s dangerous gamble

Iran has announced that it has exceeded its enriched uranium limit under the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. This follows the decision in May 2018 when the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal and reimposed economic

The Republicans’ post-Iraq dilemma: the hollow threats

US President Donald Trump is sliding into an increasingly obvious pattern in his dealing with small or rogue states who oppose the United States. In his presidency so far, Trump has already picked fights with four such countries – Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran. In each case, after

The Matildas and Socceroos vs. Marta and Messi

The Australia women’s national soccer team bowed out of the Women’s World Cup this past weekend following a dramatic loss to Norway on penalty kicks. It was the end of a rollercoaster campaign, with the highlight coming from a comeback victory against a Brazilian side led by Marta – whose goal

Iran: Australia’s deliberate ambiguity

Ambiguity in foreign policy is no bad thing, and on Iran, the only certainty Donald Trump has displayed after a week of heightened tension was his weekend declaration that “the only one that matters is me”. So the debate is on, hawks versus doves, over messages and intentions. Was

The challenge to legal abortion in the Trump era is global

Last month Alabama passed a law that would imprison doctors for up to 99 years for performing abortions, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. Even televangelist Pat Robertson, who in 2005 suggested Hurricane Katrina could be God’s punishment for allowing abortion, has said Alabama’s

The limits of unilateral action against Iran

As Washington is finding, maximum pressure campaigns have their own limitations, even with the most coherent and experienced foreign policy teams. But with ​the Commander-in-Chief sending mixed messages (overnight Donald Trump described the alleged Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the

Are we ready for a rare earths trade war?

Rare earth minerals have emerged as the latest front in the escalating US-China trade war. Nearly a decade after the Chinese government controversially suspended rare earth exports to Japan during the 2010 Senkaku dispute, similar threats are now being made if the bilateral trade dispute with the US

Oman: credibility gulf will test White House

For the US to directly accuse Iran of attacking oil tankers just outside the heavily congested, economically critical and strategically vital waters of the Persian Gulf … well, it ought to be a big deal. A really big deal. And it’s not as if this story is being ignored. As I checked this

Just why is the North Korean status quo so persistent?

Last month in The Interpreter, I argued that inter-Korean status quo is deeply persistent. US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have tried all sorts of tactics in the last 28 months to change things, yet nothing seems to work. In 2017, Trump reached to the limits of

Singapore steers the US-China extremes at Shangri-la

Midway through Lee Hsien Loong’s keynote speech at the Shangri-la Dialogue, I found myself turning to others on my table to register my surprise at how critical he seemed to be about China. Afterwards, talking to many of the Americans who had travelled from Washington for the annual Asian

Superpower scrutiny at Shangri-La

For the past two years, the highlight of the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore was the keynote speech by the sadly departed former US defence secretary Jim Mattis. This year the task of speaking on behalf of America to the leading forum of Asian defence

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