What a week! It seems that some version of that exclamation now pops up nearly weekly in this blog, and despite all my fervent Christmas wishes, I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Several international and national security-related events happened this week, but I’ll just touch on two here.

First: President Trump released his National Security Strategy at the beginning of the week and – shocker – while it’s not perfect, it is actually quite normal. A fairly centrist document that – as I told WBUR – champions an “American first” but not “America alone” strategy.

What gives me heart is that at the core of this new strategy is a resolutely international outlook. I provided a more detailed analysis to Bloomberg Views this week, pointing out that strategy’s reliance on allies and partners, an adoption of “principled realism,” and concern over what might be termed a “tri-polar competition” between the U.S., China and Russia is a positive step in the right direction. The document correctly reflects the return of dangerous levels of great-power rivalry, and sketches a fairly compelling approach to dealing with the challenges of a rapidly expanding China. It acknowledges the continuing danger posed by Islamic fundamentalism, and calls for strengthening borders and sharing intelligence aggressively. And it accurately identifies the threat from authoritarian regimes such as North Korea and Iran.

The strategy does have some strangely missing components – including any real critique of Russia and zero mention of climate change as a true security threat – but overall, as I mentioned, this document proved a rather pleasant surprise.

Moving on to more pressing matters that are front and center, the question “How do you solve a problem like North Korea?” remains unsolved as the threat of conflict on the peninsula rises. As I wrote for the Nikkei Asian Review, one year ago I’d have put the chances of all-out, wheels-off nuclear war with North Korea at a 1% chance. Now, I would assess the chances of a full-blown war on the Korean Peninsula in 2018 to be in the range of 10% and rising, with an additional 20% chance that some level of ordnance will be exchanged (missiles, torpedoes, artillery) but that both parties will step back from the abyss of a nuclear war.

I spoke with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell about this very topic as well, and told her that one of the three key factors that would help prevent us from accidentally stumbling into war would be if we could get Foggy Bottom and the White House to sing from the same hymn sheet. As I told her, it’s my one Christmas wish this year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And while Christmas wishes shouldn’t be counted on for the basis of a foreign policy, I’m certainly hoping that President Trump finds a big box of good old-fashioned diplomacy wrapped up under his tree.

Wishing all of you a wonderful, happy, hope-filled holiday season and as always, thank you for reading.

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