ESADEgeo Daily Digest, 21/12/2018

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Bloomberg – David Tweed / Mattis exit stirs world of worries from Brussels to Beijing

  • US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who announced his resignation yesterday, was widely seen as a moderating force against President Donald Trump’s hostility toward traditional American alliances and overseas troop commitments, and had come to be described as “the last adult in the room.”
  • Besides the immediate moves to pull forces from Afghanistan and Syria, Mattis’s departure could have ramifications for US standing around the world, from North Korea to Europe, where Trump’s criticism of NATO has prompted calls to form a continental army.
  • While Mattis dubbed China a “strategic competitor,” he advocated engagement between the world’s two largest economies, saying “competition doesn’t mean hostility.”

South China Morning Post – Catherine Wong / Thucydides Trap author Graham Allison says China and US must work together and not end up on path that leads to war

  • Graham Allison, who said Beijing and Washington could fall into what he called the Thucydides Trap – where a rising power threatens to eclipse a rival and conflict may result – said the two powers needed to redefine their relationship with a “new strategic concept”.
  • “Unless we can find a new strategic concept that is good enough for each, we will continue rifting in this Thucydides dynamic which will be a very dangerous period … and it’s likely to get more dangerous if we don’t become more imaginative,” said Allison.
  • “The US no longer sees China as strategic partner, but a strategic adversary,” Allison added. Finding a new balance, according to Allison, “needs to be done jointly … Interestingly, that is what [President] Xi Jinping hopes. He does not say, ‘I have a blueprint.’ He says, ‘I have a few pointers.’”
  • In 2015, Xi floated to President Obama the proposal of building a “new model of major-country relations”. But Xi’s proposal was never embraced by the US leader. And, after Donald Trump took office in 2016, the relations took a further dip.
  • Financial Times – Gideon Rachman / Year in a word: Thucydides’s trap

Al-Monitor – Bruce Riedel / Mohammed bin Salman’s awful year

  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) has gone from being hailed a revolutionary who would bring a Saudi Arab Spring to being censured unanimously by the US Senate for the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The US Congress and media are likely to be even more hostile in 2019.
  • MbS’s appeal was in part his program of socio-economic change highlighted by giving women driver’s licenses. But a big piece was the promise that he was going to be softer on Israel than the traditional Saudi posture.
  • MbS was said to favor Jared Kushner’s “deal of the century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although the evidence for this was always slim. The covert contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia have, not surprisingly, cooled since Khashoggi’s assassination, according to the media.
  • By early January, the Hill is likely to take further action to sanction MbS and end American involvement in his signature Yemen war. Shortly, we may also see the largest arms deal ever canceled with the kingdom: a $15 billion weapons sale by Canada.
  • The crown prince’s survival is solely in the hands of his father. But, although King Salman has dismissed two crown princes in his four-year reign, he seems determined to stand by his son. The consequences will be long-standing. The Saudis need Washington much more than Washington needs them.

Foreign Policy – Mark Nayler / An independent Catalonia is further away than ever

  • The possibility of a Catalan Republic remains no more than a dream; in fact, it is even further from becoming reality today than it was last October.
  • Behind a friendly facade, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez is just as opposed to Catalan independence as his predecessor Mariano Rajoy was. But, fraught as it may be, any kind of dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona marks an improvement on a relationship that Rajoy’s tactics did so much to damage.
  • Unfortunately, with a figure like Joaquim Torra at the helm of Catalonia’s pro-independence movement, the possibility of negotiation with Sánchez’s government seems slim. Torra’s refusal to accept anything less than full secession from Spain is one reason why the Catalonia situation hasn’t improved.
  • There are ways out of this impasse for both sides, but neither is prepared to back down. It’s no wonder that in a poll conducted late September, 69 percent of Spaniards described the Catalonia situation as worse than it was this time last year. Only 15 percent thought it had improved since then.

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and ESADEgeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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