This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Cliff Owen/AP)

For Jamal Khashoggi, There Is No Robert Mueller

Robin Wright

The New Yorker

For those of us who knew Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s announcement—tweeted in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Riyadh time—is infuriating. It confirmed Khashoggi’s death—a “painful outcome,” it said—and blithely reversed the kingdom’s repeated and insistent lies that he had safely walked out of the consulate in Istanbul shortly after he entered it, on October 2nd. Sixteen days later, the Saudis said that they need another month to investigate his death, which would conveniently time the release of their findings to the aftermath of a pivotal midterm election in the United States. Incredibly, the Saudi Foreign Ministry, which is in charge of the consulate in Turkey, offered no explanation of where Khashoggi’s body might be, even though its employees were among the last to see the dissident Washington Postcolumnist alive.

The most suspect development, though, is that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—the autocratic, thirty-three-year-old royal most widely implicated, directly or indirectly, in Khashoggi’s disappearance—will play a role in the review. The three branches of government involved in the problem—the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Saudi security services—are all under his control anyway. (Read more)

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Moscow’s Nuclear Enigma

Olga Oliker

Foreign Affairs

Talk to anybody in Washington (except, perhaps, the U.S. president), and you will hear an ominous mantra: the Russians are back. Moscow, resurgent, is sowing discord among Western states and trying to reestablish its sphere of influence in former Soviet countries and beyond. One development, in particular, has caused much hyperventilating in Western ministries and think tanks: the Russian Federation not only has more nuclear weapons than any other country in the world but also is investing in an arsenal of modern, low-yield nuclear weapons that could be used for limited nuclear warfare.

These investments have many analysts worried that Russia would be the first to pull the nuclear trigger in a future war, and that it would do so early on, hoping to quickly bomb its adversary into submission and end the conflict—a strategy dubbed “escalate to de-escalate.” If military confrontation of any kind might push Moscow to go nuclear, preparing for war with Russia means preparing for a potential nuclear war. The United States, the thinking goes, can only defend itself and its allies by modernizing its own nuclear arsenal. Above all, Washington should develop more low-yield nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield or risk being outgunned in a future war. (Read more)

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Why Italy Could Be the Epicenter of the Next Financial Crisis

Jack Ewing and Jason Horowitz

New York Times

History suggests that the world is about due for another financial crisis. One of the places it might start, according to a growing number of indicators, is Italy.

Many of the ingredients are there. A pile of questionable debt. Weak banks. An erratic government. And a sizable economy able to inflict collateral damage outside Italian borders.

Bond investors, always good for a coldblooded appraisal of a country’s solvency, have been sounding the alarm. The Rome government’s populist spending plans, widely regarded in financial circles as reckless, have caused market interest rates on Italian debt to spike, threatening to create a so-called doom loop that would ripple through the struggling economy.

The proposed budget has exposed the seams in Italy’s governing coalition, where one party favors small-business-friendly tax cuts and the other enormously expensive welfare programs. More broadly, it has divided the populist government, which has vowed to press ahead with a budget it views as a political imperative, and the Italian financial establishment, which fears what the spending will do to the country’s economy and its credibility and relationship with Europe. (Read more)

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Why China should help solve Venezuela’s deepening crisis

Michael Kovrig

Asia Times

Venezuela is a panorama of misery. Each month tens of thousands flee across borders from spiraling inflation, grinding poverty, rising crime and rapidly spreading disease. The deeper Venezuela sinks into turmoil, the more leverage China acquires over the government of President Nicolás Maduro. But rather than nudge Caracas toward an exit from political and economic crisis, Beijing has opted to watch and wait.

China’s position is not so surprising given its overriding concern to ensure long-term access to Venezuelan oil and other raw materials. With Maduro as an ally, Beijing has moved to expand its stake in Venezuela’s extractive industries. It lent Caracas approximately US$60 billion between 2007 and 2017, cash infusions that have alleviated growing financial pressure on the Maduro government. (Read more)

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Francis Fukuyama interview: “Socialism ought to come back”

George Eaton

New Statesman

History is having its revenge on Francis Fukuyama. In 1992, at the height of post-Cold War liberal exuberance, the American political theorist wrote in The End of History and the Last Man: “What we may be witnessing… is the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Twenty-six years later, from the US to Russia, Turkey to Poland, and Hungary to Italy, an Illiberal International is advancing. Fukuyama’s new book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (his ninth) seeks to grapple with these forces. But when I met the 65-year-old Stanford academic at our offices in London, he was careful to emphasise the continuity in his thought. “What I said back then [1992] is that one of the problems with modern democracy is that it provides peace and prosperity but people want more than that… liberal democracies don’t even try to define what a good life is, it’s left up to individuals, who feel alienated, without purpose, and that’s why joining these identity groups gives them some sense of community.” (Read more)

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