After the sudden collapse of preliminary coalition talks among four of Germany’s political parties, the once hypothetical scenario of another grand coalition – not to mention a minority government, a hybrid “cooperation coalition,” or even a fresh election – is now very real. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) withdrew from the talks, dashing the hopes of building a so-called “Jamaica Coalition” among the remaining Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Greens. Although the talks stalled due to a “lack of trust” and irresolvable differences over climate and migration, the future of European defense policy will emerge as an important debate going forward. Should one of the political outcomes bring the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to the formal negotiating table, here are three key defense issues to watch.
As ISIS goes down to military defeat, the United States requires a longer-range plan and an enduring force presence to deny Iran total victory in Syria. Otherwise, the United States risks losing influence as a new Middle Eastern order is being forged.
A disunited, politically paralyzed, and anti-democratic Europe would erode the ability of NATO to defend and uphold transatlantic norms, values, and institutions, seriously undermining and ultimately questioning the future of the alliance.
America is suffering from a strategy deficit in the South China Sea. For nearly a decade—and at accelerated speed since 2014—Beijing has been salami slicing its way to a position of primacy in that critical international waterway, while eroding the norms and interests Washington long has sought to defend. To date, however, Washington has struggled to articulate an effective response. The Obama administration opposed Chinese maritime expansion rhetorically and worked to improve the overall American military and geopolitical posture in the Asia-Pacific. Yet the administration only occasionally mustered the leverage necessary to check China’s quest for dominance of the South China Sea, and often it was unable even to impose substantial long-term costs on Beijing for its short-term assertiveness. For its part, the Trump administration has yet to formulate or implement a coherent South China Sea strategy, and it has swung from suggesting that America might deny Chinese access to islands in the South China Sea physically—something approaching an act of war—to appearing subsequently to deprioritize the issue.
President Donald Trump’s continuing courtship of Russian leader Vladimir Putin is casting darkness over U.S. foreign policy. But there is a ray of light where Russia is concerned. The Pentagon is now reportedly beginning preliminary research on a ground-launched cruise missile that would be prohibited under the terms of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This is an overdue step toward making Russia pay for its violations of that accord, and perhaps even positioning America for strategic advantage in a post-INF world.
Prediction is a perilous endeavour in international politics; world events often make fools of those who claim to foresee them.1 It seems certain, though, that historians will someday view Donald Trump’s presidency as an inflection point in the trajectory of American grand strategy and the US-led international system. To be sure, ‘grand strategic’ may not be the first phrase that comes to mind regarding Trump, whose indiscipline and outbursts, unfamiliarity with key issues and unexpected changes of course have led many observers to conclude that his foreign policy lacks any structure whatsoever.2 Just under a year after Trump’s inauguration, however, it has already become clear that Trump’s presidency is freighted with grand-strategic significance.