After a turbulent 2017, President Donald Trump’s second year in office was marked by turnover among top-level advisers and by shifting policies toward allies and adversaries alike. We look back on some of the major foreign policy developments of the past year and what to read to understand them.
January 20, 2018: A New Defense Strategy
The Pentagon releases an unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which identifies “great power competition” with China and Russia as the “primary focus of U.S. national security.” Read Susanna V. Blume on the gap between strategic ambition and budgetary reality.
January 30, 2018: “Fire and Fury” on the Korean Peninsula?
Amid reported disagreement over the wisdom of a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea, Victor Cha is removed from consideration for the post of U.S. ambassador to South Korea. Read Cha’s Foreign Affairs piece with Katrin Fraser Katz on the right way to counter North Korea; Abraham M. Denmark on how a limited strike could lead to full-blown war; and Julianne Smith and Loren DeJonge Schulman on the policy struggle between the White House and the Pentagon.
March 1, 2018: Kicking Off the Trade War
Trump announces long-promised tariffs on steel and aluminum. Read Adam S. Posen on what Trump’s trade strategies mean for the global economy; Matthew J. Slaughter on what they mean for U.S. business; and Allison Carnegie on the lessons of trade wars past.
March 13–22, 2018: Trump vs. His Advisers
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is fired, and a week later Trump announces H. R. McMaster’s resignation as national security adviser. Read McMaster on what the late Senator John McCain’s legacy means for U.S. foreign policy today and Elliott Abrams on the tensions between Trump and members of his administration.
May 8, 2018: Scrapping the Iran Deal
Trump announces that Washington will withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran. Read Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo’s explanation of the administration’s strategy for confronting Iran and former Obama administration official Colin H. Kahl’s response.
June 8–9, 2018: A Spat With G-7 Allies
At a meeting in Quebec, Trump clashes with U.S. allies over tariffs and his call for Russia to be readmitted to the group. Read Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay’s proposal for a G-9, to maintain order in the absence of U.S. global leadership.
June 12, 2018: The Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore
Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore generates pledges of denuclearization—and questions about what that means and how to get there. Read Daniel R. Russel on the real winner of the summit; Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang on Pyongyang’s continued nuclear weapons development; and Robert Jervis and Mira Rapp-Hooper on how, even with diplomacy under way, the U.S.-North Korea relationship could spiral into disaster.
July 11–12, 2018: The Fight Over NATO’s Future
At a tense summit in Brussels, Trump doubles down on his push for increased defense spending from NATO allies. Read Michael Mandelbaum on why Trump is right to demand more from European allies and Celeste A. Wallander on why democratic decline is the real threat to NATO.
July 16, 2018: The Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet as evidence of Russian interference in U.S. elections continues to mount. Read Michael McFaul on why the summit highlights the need for a U.S. strategy to contain Russia and Michael Kimmage on why the encounter had a chance of bringing diplomatic gains.
September 25, 2018: “America First” Comes to the United Nations
In a speech before the UN General Assembly, Trump champions national sovereignty and rejects multilateralism and international institutions. Read Randall Schweller’s argument that Trump’s realism is well suited to today’s world and Charles A. Kupchan’s argument that Trump’s effort to reorient U.S. grand strategy is “destined to fail.”
October 2, 2018: The Khashoggi Murder
Jamal Khashoggi is murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, sparking international outrage and drawing increased scrutiny of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and the war in Yemen. Read Madawi al-Rasheed on the tangled history of U.S.-Saudi relations relations and F. Gregory Gause III on why Washington shouldn’t try to control the crown prince.
October 4, 2018: A U.S.-China “Cold War”?
Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Hudson Institute introduces a combative new China policy. Read Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner on how the United States got China wrong; Kevin Rudd on how the two countries can avoid a war; and Elizabeth C. Economy on how President Xi Jinping’s “third revolution” has inflamed tensions.
October 25, 2018: Troops to the U.S.-Mexican Border
As Trump rails against a caravan of Central American migrants, more than 5,000 American troops are deployed to the border. Read Kelly M. Greenhill on how Trump controls the migration debate; Stephanie Leutert on why U.S. policy will not stop the flow of migrants; and Emily Gogolak on what Trump’s policy looks like from the border.
November 6, 2018: U.S. Midterm Elections
The U.S. electorate votes in a divided government: Republicans retain their majority in the Senate while Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. Read Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess on how the new Congress can reclaim influence over U.S. foreign policy.
November 11, 2018: Echoes of Wars Past
Trump travels to a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, where French President Emmanuel Macron warns of the dangers of resurgent nationalism. Read Margaret MacMillan on what today’s leaders should learn from that history.
November 30, 2018: The Next NAFTA
Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto sign a new trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, to replace NAFTA. Read Douglas A. Irwin’s analysis of Trump’s trade record.
November 30-December 1, 2018: Trump and Xi Meet at the G-20
With economic disruption growing on both sides of the Pacific, Trump and Xi strike a 90-day truce in the trade war, paving the way for further talks in 2019. Read Cheng Li on how the Chinese view trade tensions and Ely Ratner on why a trade deal won’t resolve fundamental disagreements.
December 3–14, 2018: A Clash Over Climate Change
At the COP24 climate change meeting in Katowice, Poland, U.S. officials reaffirmed the Trump administration’s rejection of the 2015 Paris agreement. Browse a Foreign Affairs reading list on the geopolitics of climate change.
December 19–20, 2018: An End to Endless War?
Trump announces that U.S. troops will withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, prompting the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Read Mara Karlin and Tamara Cofman Wittes on the case for a reduced U.S. footprint in the Middle East; Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas A. Heras on the potential for a U.S.-Russia deal over Syria; and Tanisha M. Fazal and Sarah Kreps on why the war in Afghanistan has lasted so long.