Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 2019
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

During one of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, a group of senior officials met in the White House Situation Room and listened to a proposal for bombing Serbia yet again in retribution for the latest outrage by its dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. As the officials, almost all civilians, discussed the options, they turned to the U.S. military representative at the meeting for his view of the proposed new bombing campaign. He answered with a question: “And then what?”

Policy and strategy should be tethered to answering that question. That simple fact is especially true in great-power relations, when one country’s ability to affect internal change in the other is at best proscribed, and efforts to do so may backfire. Newtonian laws apply to foreign policy and national security matters as much as they do to the physical world: every action does indeed lead to an equal and opposite

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  • CHRISTOPHER R. HILL is Professor of the Practice in Diplomacy at the University of Denver and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A four-time ambassador, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2005 to 2009, during which time he was the head of the U.S. delegation to nuclear talks with North Korea.
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