The set of foreign-policy challenges headed like a freight train at the Trump administration is obvious: the Islamic State and the tragedy of Syria; a bubbling North Korea led by an unpredictable dictator with nuclear weapons; an angry China hypersensitive about Taiwan and the South China Sea; and Russian cyber-activity roiling domestic political waters alongside Moscow’s ongoing occupation of Crimea and destruction of Syria.
The issues with Russia have certainly been front and center. On a positive note, I think that Vladimir Putin and President Trump have a good understanding of each other and their approaches to governing. In the end, it would be a good thing if the U.S. can have a better relationship with Russia. However, I don’t see us considering the nation a close ally in the near future. Instead, we need to create a transactional relationship with Russia. This means the U.S. should confront where it must, such as with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its support for Assad in Syria and its blatant cyber antics. However, there are zones where we can cooperate, like in the Arctic, counternarcotics and counterterrorism spheres. I joined the Cats Roundtable radio program to discuss this, and you can listen to that interview here.
Continued Russian aggression could cause a future war in Europe. The creation of NATO, followed by the European Union, has been able to keep the continent peaceful and contain Russia. The importance of the EU cannot be understated: Europe as a political unit makes sense. However, to maintain open borders, each nation has to step up their security efforts. I would suggest creating virtual borders, which are possible through advances in biometrics and intelligence sharing techniques, and can be enhanced by monitoring social networks. While the EU hasn’t figured out the best way to handle counterterrorism, the whole project should not be scrapped just for one weakness. I had the opportunity to speak on Fox News Radio about this. Listen to the interview here.
While most U.S. efforts have been focused elsewhere, flying under the radar is another dangerous problem: Pakistan. As the sixth-most-populous country in the world, Pakistan is home to more than 200 million people, and with the election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country marked its first democratic transition between political parties since 1947. Recently, the strength of the country’s democracy has been questioned as Sharif confronts protests in response to revelations that his family hid wealth in overseas accounts to avoid paying taxes. The nation also faces a virulent terrorism problem from the Pakistani Taliban, which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and troops over the past five years.
Looming over all of this are the issues associated with Pakistan’s unsettled relationship with India. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal probably contains over 100 warheads, existing as a hedge against a similar Indian arsenal. While under a reasonable level of military security at the moment, the nuclear weapons represent one of the world’s least-stable nuclear capability.
Given this tableau of instability and weaponry, the United States should be thinking hard about how to help create a more stable situation in Pakistan, a nation that is a friend and partner, but with whom we have had significant differences over the past decades. I wrote about this in Foreign Policy, and outlined some steps the Trump administration could take to better handle the issues in Pakistan. You can read the article here.
As always, thank you for reading.
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.
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