Out of the meeting between President Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in Hamburg has come a somewhat unexpected brood: An agreement on a ceasefire in southern Syria. The ceasefire has come out of concerns about fighting spilling over Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Israel. Those two countries have been particularly alarmed over the expanding Iranian presence and involvement in the area. Jordan has been closely involved the negotiations geared towards bringing this deal to reality, which had been underway for some time before the final product was realized in Hamburg.
The parties involved in the ceasefire need to keep in mind that Syria has become a graveyard of ceasefire efforts in recent years. More than one has died shortly after being put into effect, largely because of outlawed factions such as Al Qaeda not going along with an agreement’s terms and deliberately disrupting it. Other times extraneous ceasefire terms were used by Russia to goad the pro-Western rebel groups into behavior that violated the said ceasefire.
There are still many questions that need to be answered about this one. This ceasefire is set to go into effect on Sunday at noon, Syrian time. It is unclear exactly what the enforcement guidelines will be, or who will be enforcing the terms. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Russian military police will be the enforcers, however, US and Jordanian diplomats have disputed that, saying the issue has not yet been decided.
There is no predicting if this latest ceasefire will hold, though it does have some advantages that its predecessors did not. Foremost is that it mostly affects an area that is not the heart of the conflict. Southwestern Syria has experienced significantly less fighting than other parts of the country. A second leverage is the significance this ceasefire will have for Syria’s neighbors. This agreement is not just aimed at stopping a conflict between dueling Syrian groups. Jordan, and Israel stake a major claim in this ceasefire since it helps secure their borders with Syria. This point may help give the ceasefire added strength that its predecessors lacked.
In any event, this is a positive step forward to a more concrete agreement in the future. With the exception of perhaps the Syrian government, every other party involved in the Syrian conflict has grown weary of the fighting. ISIS now on the ropes, and the time has come for the major powers involved to take a hard look at the potential shapes a post-ISIS Syria can take.
President Trump arrived in Hamburg a short while ago following a brief visit to Poland ahead of the G20 Summit scheduled to begin on 7 July in the northern German city. The president’s stay in Poland, while short, was productive and gave the world a preview of some talking points that he will likely bring up with other world leaders during the G20. The Poland visit also afforded us a glimpse at the evolving Trump foreign policy platform, and the geopolitical priorities for the United States. For the moment, North Korea’s ballistic missile progress tops the list.
Trump delivered an address in Poland before departing for Hamburg. In it, he reaffirmed the US commitment to NATO, and Article 5 but added that Europe does need to do more. He also railed against threats from radical Islamic terrorism, to Russia, and North Korea. Overall, the president sought to highlight the common ground between the US and Europe as a prelude to the G20 where the reception he receives could be markedly different from the warm, sincere greetings he received in Poland.
While Hamburg won’t be a politically hostile environment altogether for Trump, the environment could be rather chilly. Angela Merkel might be looking to seize the moment in Hamburg and attempt an ambush on him. With the EU locked in a dispute with Poland right now, the president’s visit there has undoubtedly ruffled some feathers in Brussels. Merkel, who’s personality differences with the American leader seem to be affecting her policy positions, will have the opportunity to sit vis-à-vis at the same table and hold constructive discussions. Or harangue him incessantly, if she chooses that route.
While speaking of vis-à-vis encounters, Trump and Vladimir Putin will be meeting for the first time ever at the event. The president will be walking a tightrope of not wanting to appear soft on the man who is widely believed to have orchestrated an attempt to influence a US election. With that, along with the issues flaring up between the US and Russia, Trump should be polite, yet firm.
Yesterday’s successful test launch of an ICBM has changed the US-North Korean equation permanently. Pyongyang is no longer an abstract threat to the security and wellbeing of the United States. It now possesses a missile capable of reaching targets as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. Pyongyang televisions earlier boasting today about a missile able to reach anywhere in the world is nothing more than bluster. However, given what has taken place in the last twenty-four hours it will simply be a matter of time before North Korea fields an ICBM with the range to reach the US west coast and beyond. Unless, of course, the United States can prevent it through diplomatic or military means.
The key question at the moment is: what will the US response entail? The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, has requested an emergency Security Council meeting. It will likely be held Wednesday afternoon at the earliest. What will emerge from the meeting remains to be seen, but the Trump administration appears likely to try a diplomatic approach to North Korea before any other action is contemplated. Earlier today, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson promised that the US will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.
So, North Korea is the latest member to join the ICBM club. Tonight, a celebratory mood likely permeates the offices of Kim Jong Un. In his mind, he has pulled off a coup of historic proportions. Unfortunately for Jong Un and the nation he leads, his reality is skewered. The actions he is taking will not safeguard his nation from future US military action, as he hopes. In fact, yesterday’s test makes US military action more feasible. Jong Un is blissfully unaware, and it could very well be this ignorance that pushes the region into a devastating war sometime in the next three to four months.
*Authors note: With today being a holiday here in the US, I’ve kept this post is short. There is much more to talk about concerning North Korea so there will be more posts through the rest of the week*
As the Qatar crisis moves into a new phase with the Saudi deadline being extended by 48 hours, and the Qataris delivering a response to the ultimatum shortly after, it is becoming clear that the United States holds the key to resolving the crisis. All of the involved parties are US allies, and following his visit to the region in May, President Trump wields tremendous influence with the Gulf states. Mediation sponsored by the US would likely be favorable to both Qatar, and the Saudi-led coalition. Unfortunately, the United States is not be ready to assume the role at any point in the near future.
The Trump administration is divided on the Qatar situation right now. At the start of the crisis, President Trump unexpectedly voiced strong support for Saudi Arabia’s actions, and he has remained steadfast in his support since then. For most of June, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis worked tirelessly to defuse the crisis. Tillerson held meetings with senior officials from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other nations involved, urging them to keep the door to negotiations open. However, his efforts have been undermined by Trump’s vocal backing of the Saudis.
If the administration can unify under a somewhat more neutral position, the US is perfectly positioned to play a meaningful role in the crisis. Without a doubt, US interests are best served by a rapid end to the crisis on terms more or less agreeable to all sides. The longer the crisis drags on, it becomes more probable that outside forces will begin to play more dangerous, self-serving roles. Specifically, Iran, and Turkey come to mind. Neither Washington, or Riyadh want this. The difference is that the Saudis firmly believe they can choke Qatar into submission before either Iran or Turkey manage to gain influential political, and economic beachheads in Qatar.
A US backed effort to defuse the crisis through negotiations would go a long way in minimizing Turkish and Iranian influence on the Qataris. Unfortunately, the clock is not a friend of Washington right now, and the Trump administration does not appear to be anywhere close to presenting a united front on the crisis, and taking decisive action to alleviate the situation.
President Trump’s upcoming visit to Poland ahead of the G20 Summit in Hamburg has made some European leaders uneasy. President Trump will be meeting with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, will deliver a major speech, and make an appearance at the Three Seas Initiative Summit. The visit comes at a particularly sensitive moment in Europe. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have been embroiled in a standoff with the European Union over the EU’s mandated refugee quotas. The worry in Brussels is what consequences Trump’s visit to Poland could bring. Particularly, there is a great deal of anxiety bordering on fear that Poles will regard Trump in their country as a sign of support for the embattled nation. Deepening instability could result from that right when the EU is desperately attempting to forge solidarity across the continent.
The Three Seas Initiative is seen by Brussels as a move by Poland to expand its geopolitical influence beyond the EU. A worst-case scenario for the EU would be the Three Seas Initiative evolving into a federation of Central-Eastern European nations in the future. A federation effectively led by Warsaw. The concept is not new. Plans for a federation along those lines was explored by Poland following the end of World War I. The blueprint failed when Russia, and many Western European nations opposed it. Duda has invested tireless effort into rekindling the project and is likely banking on Trump’s influence and power to help it get off the ground.
The immediate worry on the part of the EU is the chance that the Poles will be emboldened by Trump’s appearance and Warsaw’s defiance will increase. Geopolitically, Poland and the United States have been forging closer ties recently. The populist anti-liberal order bent of Duda’s nationalist conservative government ties in well with the general platform that drove Donald Trump to victory in the US presidential election last November. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together, especially in the high stakes world of global politics. What comes from the visit to Poland remains to be seen, but the fact that EU is reacting with increasing concern tells us that it does not expect the end result to be anything good.