Should the strong protect the weak? The answer to this question says a great deal about the divergence between contemporary European and American attitudes on foreign policy.
Over the past few decades, Western European and American conceptions of foreign policy and international affairs have drifted apart, especially during Republican presidencies in the US. Those administrations have typically been more hawkish and clear-eyed about the dangers that the West faces; from Islamic terrorism, to Iranian nuclear proliferation, to the irredentist, expansionist dangers of Russia and China. In a 2012 debate between Mitt Romney and then-President Barack Obama, Western Europeans laughed along with American liberals at Obama’s sardonic criticism of Romney’s focus on Russia as a geopolitical foe. Just two years later, Romney would be proven right, as Russia invaded Ukraine. One would think that such a blatant assault on the international order – on the European continent, no less – would undermine this attitude of naïve optimism about potential foes. Unfortunately, it did not.
Western Europe continued its permissive and conciliatory posture towards the triumvirate of Iran, Russia, and China, despite the egregious human rights abuses and outwardly belligerent stances taken by those nations. Iran should be lauded for coming to the table to discuss its nuclear ambitions, while its constant support for international terrorism and regional instability can be conveniently swept under the rug. Russia is a trustworthy source of the energy that powers our civilization, even if they are chronic saber-rattlers and seek to reconstitute the imperium of old. China must be our friend because of commerce and climate; just ignore the genocide, economic coercion, and revanchist hegemonic aims. And, of course, European nations need to spend even less on defense and focus more on positive engagement and diplomacy. What sort of barbarian spends a whole two percent of its budget on its military?! Preposterous. History has ended, and we have won.
This has been how Europe – I’m using Europe here as a shorthand for the Western Europeans who largely run the EU and influence the continent’s broad foreign policy – has behaved internationally for the past decade. And now they’re faced with the consequences of their actions.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title.”
In this famous passage from Act II Scene II of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Bard espouses the idea that the name of something doesn’t define its essence. The philosophical debate over language and reality, form and function, has been ongoing for millennia – from Plato and Aristotle to postmodernists and deconstructionists. I’m generally not someone who believes in the power of labels to define reality, but some labels are indeed important.
One such type of label that is increasingly salient in the modern day is the geonym, or place name. Geographic nomenclature is deeply political, with place names having significant cultural and propaganda value. In scholar Benedict Anderson’s 1983 book Imagined Communities, the author describes nations as groups of people who self-organize into a limited, sovereign community based on some shared feature. Language is one of the prime features of an imagined community, and the names of places and institutions reflect the political and societal realities of the nation. They are deliberately intended to convey civic meaning and serve a particular purpose in uniting and consolidating the shared community around a common orientation.
The Foreign Telegram has returned, just in time to recap some fascinating and important international events from the month of April 2023. In this dispatch, we discuss the unfolding chaos in Sudan and the lackluster American response when it comes to evacuating its citizens, detail the penetration of Chinese Communist Party secret police stations in the US and around the world, and touch on the imprisonment of a courageous Russian dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza. The month has been a whirlwind of news from abroad; let the Foreign Telegram lay it all out for you.
Friendly control of Taiwan is a core national security interest for the United States, and not just because of its economic heft. The strategic implications of the former Formosa go back over a century.
China has been massively upping the stakes on Taiwan, including in military exercises in which it encircled the island and simulated strikes. China has sought dominion over Taiwan for centuries and sees it as an indivisible part of its homeland – although the first extended outside interaction with the island formerly known as Formosa came via European traders in the 1500s. The Chinese Communist Party views taking control of Taiwan – a prosperous, liberal, democratic state made up largely of ethnic Chinese – as a paramount security interest. The CCP fears the implications of such a state so close to its borders offering a desirable alternative to its repressive governance, but it also seeks to control Taiwan for other reasons. Economically, it punches far above its weight, hosting major technology manufacturing industries, notably of semiconductors, and achieving a high standard of living for its citizens. But Taiwan’s real value is strategic – and not only for the Chinese. Taiwan is a core strategic interest for the United States as well.
The Biden administration’s foreign policy has been largely disastrous, with major crises happening nearly every month. The past two weeks have put this in stark relief. Three major stories showcase these foreign policy failures: revelations on the Chinese spy balloon, the release of an official report on the Afghanistan withdrawal, and the biggest intelligence leak since at least 2017. All three of these events show the administration deflecting blame, gaslighting the American people, and alienating our allies. Listen in to hear how!