By Prabasi Nepali
Last Wednesday, the UK gave notice to the European Union (EU) that it was exiting the organization and the common market. The EU and the UK have two years to wrap up all the questions and problems. However, the path ahead is strewn with obstacles. France and Germany have taken a common stand, insisting that the exit agreement should come first. French President Francois Hollande said: “First we must begin discussions on the modalities of the withdrawal, especially on the rights of citizens and the obligations arising from the commitments that the United Kingdom has made.” On the basis of what progress is made, discussions could then take place on the framework of the future relations between the UK and the EU.
The fate of three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million British people within the bloc’s nations is at the top of the leaders’ agenda. Looming large is also the “exit bill” Britain will have to pay, estimated at as much as 60 billion euros. Brexit has also resulted in a renewed campaign for independence in Scotland, after a majority of Scots voted for Britain to stay in the union in the June 2016 referendum.
United States & the United Nations: Crucial for Multilateral Diplomacy
Trump sent Governor Nikki Haley one of the few veteran politicians in his new administration as US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. However, her diplomatic skills are untested, and she faces challenges representing a government with policies that are vague and top foreign policy posts that are still empty after nearly three months into assuming office. She has been talking tough as Donald Trump’s envoy to the United Nations, but her counterparts on the powerful 15-member Security Council (especially the other four veto-carrying permanent members China, Russia, United Kingdom and France) are waiting to see how this hard-talk will translate into actual policy and sustainable action in a world faced with multiple confrontation, conflict, crisis and war. These violent international happenings – from South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen to Syria, Iraq, Crimea and North Korea – demand rational and concerted action from the leading world powers.
A senior Security Council diplomat has said that at present there are only two subjects where there is some kind of determined policy: the multiple Middle East crises and the UN budget cuts, including peace keeping. Interesting testing time lays ahead since Haley assumes the monthly rotating presidency of the UN executive body this month, adding to the challenge faced by the world organization in the face of the Trump administration move to cut funding to it. Since the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (with no experience in public office whatsoever) has been keeping a low profile, the path is open for the former Republican governor of South Carolina to project herself as the face of American foreign policy after Trump himself. This should be no difficult task since the president himself has shown himself to be a shallow bungler with no sense of American and current world history (and natural science for understanding the civilizational threat from climate change) – himself posing a grave threat to his own country and the world at large.
Another senior UN Security Council diplomat said that Haley was charting her own autonomous path: “She’s establishing for herself quite a lot of leeway in terms of pursuing things the way she wants to pursue them here in New York” (HQ of the UN). Thus, with regard to Iran and North Korea, nothing had fundamentally changed (in spite of Trump’s own big mouth): “The tone might be just slightly tougher, but the substance is almost identical (to the previous Obama administration)”. Haley has said that while it would be difficult to re-impose sanctions on Iran that were removed under a 2015 deal with leading powers (including Germany) to curb Tehren’s nuclear programme, the United States is “going to watch them like a hawk.” With regard to North Korea, the Trump administration is considering how to handle a secretive and authoritarian regime that continues to steamroll its missile and nuclear weapons programmes despite multiple UN sanctions and the (verbal) opposition of its only ally and supporter.
According to foreign policy experts, the problem is that the Trump administration is still in the making, with no leading light as in the Obama administration, first with Hillary Clinton and later. There are not many leading officials who are responsible for policy. And there is a huge discrepancy between what they want and what they actually do. While Trump pledged to build close ties with Russia, before and after he took office on January 20, Haley is, in fact, following closely in the footsteps of her predecessor and Obama appointee, Samantha Power. She has confronted Russia over its annexation of Crimea and for protecting Syria’s government from Security Council action.
United States & China: Litmus Test for World Order
The Chinese foreign ministry has announced that President Xi Jinping will travel to Florida to meet US President Donald Trump from April 6 to 7 at his resort Mar-a-Lago. The visit will take place after a bumpy start to the US-China relationship under Trump, who has repeatedly attacked Beijing – even during the election campaign – for its trade and monetary policies, and apparent reluctance to bring pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes. Other areas of altercation are the East China and South China Seas, as well as the deployment of a modern anti-missile system in South Korea. A successful meeting could be paramount in setting the atmosphere between the two global powers and the world’s two largest economies in future. The world has been inching back to a bipolar system, China slowly but surely replacing Russia as the second super power. Russia, the UK and France may be nuclear powers, but their relevance as great powers has been greatly diminished. The role of other powers — Japan, Germany and India – has become increasingly pertinent in international politics, and their elevation to the UN Security Council of utmost importance.
At the start of Trump’s presidency, the summit was not even on the cards, with Trump infuriating Beijing with suggestions he might break with America’s long-standing ‘One China Policy’ – the unbroken rule of not recognizing Taiwan’s de facto independence, and holding on to the pretence of having nothing to do politically/diplomatic with that island republic which does have extensive economic, cultural and military relations with the United States. Like a bull in a China shop, and no ‘China expert’ to advise him, Trump could not appreciate the finer points of diplomacy! However, after being advised about the delicate nature of US-China relations, Trump was forced to backtrack from his controversial comments and made a conciliatory call to the Chinese president. This then created an opening for high officials in both countries to discuss a possible meeting in mutual interest.
This call was quickly followed by successive high-level visits by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi (as a State Counsellor he ranks even higher in the hierarchy than Foreign Minister Wang) to Washington and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Beijing, where details of the proposed meetings were reportedly hammered out. Xi would be the second world leader since Trump took office to visit Mar-a-Lago (the first being Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe). The resort’s casual nature will allow Trump to host the Chinese leader without the full pomp and honours of a state visit. He received Britain’s PM Theresa May and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House. However cordial the atmosphere in Florida, if the foundation for mutual beneficial relations – by concessions and compromise on both sides – are not laid, then turbulences are bound to erupt later over trade, fiscal policy, regional hotspots and human resources issues – the calm before the storm.
International Relations & Domestic Constraints
By Prabasi Nepali