‘Public history’ is something of a misnomer. The degree to which history which can influence policy is ‘public’ is a difficult question. E. H. Carr writes in his What Is History? that, when he was working in a junior capacity at the Paris peace conference in 1919, all the diplomats and their staffs took extra care to empty their wastepaper baskets. They were thinking of the discussions surrounding the peace treaty after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, and the history they used to inform their actions was a titbit of information about that time: that nefarious negotiators spied on their opposite numbers’ plans by going through their waste paper. Carr uses this to illustrate the fallacy of thinking one can ultimately ‘learn from history’ in a way which is total and all-encompassing. Each moment in time presents new and unique challenges. One cannot rely simply on knowing the past to know the present, or indeed to predict the future. Continue reading
And, just like that, Boris Johnson is no longer foreign secretary. The initial appointment of one of the most prominent advocates for Britain leaving the European Union to Theresa May’s cabinet was seen by some to be a stroke of tactical skill from the prime minister – this when she was still an incipient titan in the process of dominating British politics for a generation, rather than the dead woman so many now see walking. Continue reading
The world’s attention is fixated on Singapore, the venue for a summit that not long ago looked like it wouldn’t happen.
Discussion between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump was imperilled by the former’s intransigence and the latter’s rashness. Trump dictated an intemperate letter to Kim on May 24 cancelling the thing. It looked as though that was that. Continue reading
Foreign policy undertaken unilaterally is disdained and feared. It meets vast, instinctive criticism. Action, especially military action, which is seen to be arbitrary elicits the same response. When democratic states seek to act on the international stage, they desire not only to succeed in their chosen course of action, but also to be seen to be acting justly, within limits, and without caprice. Continue reading
Whatever else he is, Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted adviser to General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at the very least appropriately named. The élan with which he recently wrote about the American campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS) would be worthy of the protagonist of any Hollywood Western. Continue reading
Western politicians failed in their response to the Arab Spring. National leaders saw and saluted the emergence of pro-democracy protests in 2011, but they did little more. When they acted, as in Libya, Western leaders did too little and thought not at all about the future; when they did not act, in Syria most notably, they ushered in a state of affairs where war crimes go unpunished, and dictators engaged in mass murder need fear no redress. Continue reading
The situation on the Korean peninsula has not been good for a long time. But the ceasefire agreed in the 1950s, following years of open warfare, seems more strained now than at any moment in recent memory. Continue reading