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The Strategic Defense Initiative — The Other “Star Wars”

On March 23rd, 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, signaling a massive paradigm shift in U.S. policy on nuclear policy. Dubbed “Star Wars” after the 1977 movie, SDI represented Reagan’s rejection of Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD had fostered an uneasy peace during the Cold War as neither the U.S. nor the USSR attacked the other knowing that it would in turn be the target of a massive nuclear retaliation annihilating it (and much of the planet). By extension, so the argument went, a weapons system that could deflect most of an opponent’s nuclear barrage would undermine MAD by making that country feel more protected and thus potentially more likely to at least consider launching an offensive attack. Read more

The Return of the King — Saud Visits the U.S.

Visits by dignitaries of other countries can be quite productive and even pleasant or, depending on the state of bilateral relations and the scale of faux pas, tetchy and awkward.

Such was the case with King Saud, who ruled over Saudi Arabia from 1953-1964 and visited the United States two times during his reign— an official visit in 1957 and an informal visit in 1962. The first visit had more than its share of tensions — a three-day visit stretched out to nine, an excessively large coterie with some Saudis sleeping in tents across from the White House.

But it was the second, when Saud was in the U.S. for medical care, which really threatened to set relations back, as President Kennedy had to be dragged to see the King, while the White House insisted on serving alcohol during the dinner — during Ramadan no less. Read more

Georgia and The Rose Revolution

Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in April 1991, and problems and instability arose almost immediately. The first President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, governed in an authoritarian fashion and was deposed in a violent coup d’état less than a year later. Eduard Shevardnadze, seen as more moderate, was chosen as Georgia’s second president in 1995. Several bloody conflicts wracked the young country early on, such as a stunning military defeat by a separatist movement in the region of Abkhazia and ethnic violence in the region of South Ossetia.

During this time, Shevardnadze’s government faced many charges of corruption and steadily declined in support and popularity. The instability during Shevardnadze’s presidency led to poverty and economic stagnation, which, coupled frustration with the government, led to a widespread desire for change. On November 2nd, 2003, elections were held for the Georgian Parliament. Read more

Officially Unofficial – The Opening of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)

On the first day of January 1979, the United States de-

recognized the Republic of China (also known as Taiwan or the ROC) as the official government of China, recognizing the People’s Republic of China (the PRC) instead. While this declaration helped to strengthen the U.S. relationship with the PRC against the Soviet Union, it created chaos in Taiwan. With the closure of the U.S. embassy in Taipei came a widespread financial crisis, the result of a mass exodus of investors from the country.

What may not have been clear was that the U.S. government, under the Carter administration, was not seeking to sever ties with the island. Although the U.S. had officially revoked its recognition of Taiwan as a legitimate political entity, significant U.S. financial and military interests remained on the island. The closing of the U.S. embassy in Taipei presented an obstacle to protecting those interests.  Thus began the search for a solution that would allow the U.S. to conduct diplomatic relations with Taiwan in an unofficial capacity.

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Iran-Contra: Who Knew What When?

In the Iran-Contra Affair, Colonel Oliver North and others within the National Security Council and CIA used back channels and secret bank accounts to funnel money from arms deals with Iran, which was then under an arms embargo, to the Contra rebels fighting the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua. One aim of this plan was to circumvent Congress, which had prohibited the Reagan administration from providing more money to the Contras.  A secondary goal was to curry favor with the Iranians, who would in turn pressure Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia, to release American hostages it had taken throughout the 1980’s.

When the full extent of the illegal scheme was revealed and justified by President Reagan in a televised statement on November 13, 1986, the political fallout impacted not only Colonel North and his superiors, but also State Department personnel working in the Middle East who came under suspicion of facilitating the plot. John Kelly, at the time the Ambassador to Lebanon, experienced this fallout, being interviewed by the FBI and facing off against Secretary of State George P. Shultz.

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Implementing the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords

The 1993 Oslo Accords were a historic point in Arab-Israeli relations. Hammered out in complete secrecy in Oslo, Norway, by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators acting without intermediaries, the Oslo Accords forced both sides to come to terms with each other’s existence. The Accords at the time were viewed as an extraordinary breakthrough. Many analysts now look back in hindsight and see them as the last real chance for peace in the region. (Photo: AP/ Ron Edmonds)

The Oslo Accords built on the 1978 Camp David Accords, which had envisioned autonomy for the local — and only local – Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. Because Israel viewed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a terrorist entity, it refused to negotiate with its representatives and instead dealt only with Egypt and Jordan, and elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.”  Read more

Pierre Trudeau: One Long Curve, Full of Turning Points

With the October 2015 election of Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada, we take a look back at his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, one of the most influential and memorable Prime Ministers in Canada’s history. He served as Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and then again from 1980 to 1984. Throughout his time in power in Canada, he struck people as a brilliant mind and a passionate politician.   He dominated Canadian politics from the 1960s until the 1980s, retiring in 1984.

Trudeau’s key accomplishments include preserving national unity against the Quebec sovereignty movement, suppressing a violent revolt in the October Crisis, fostering a pan-Canadian identity and achieving sweeping institutional reform.  This included the implementation of official bilingualism and the establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Trudeau kept Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but differed from U.S. policy by establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China before the United States did and befriending Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Read more

The Murder of Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Warrior for Peace

The assassination of 73-year old Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv in favor of the Oslo Accords. Rabin had served two terms as Prime Minister, from 1974-1977 and again from 1992 until his death. He was a soldier with extensive experience combatting Arab states, serving as Defense Minister from 1984-90, yet he was willing to take on equally great risks for the sake of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Rabin along with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for concluding the Oslo agreement. It was seen as potentially a huge step toward resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning with a partial Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the creation of a Palestinian Authority. Rabin was killed on November 4, 1995 by three shots fired by an Israeli right-wing nationalist who opposed the Accords.

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The 1991 Iraq War — A Messy End

An international coalition launched Operation Desert Storm, authorized by UN Resolution 678, on January 17, 1991, to force Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait. Iraq responded by launching missile and artillery strikes on targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia and invading Khafji, a small Saudi Arabian city. In some brilliant military maneuvering by General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf, Coalition ground forces were able to move into Kuwait by February 24, a mere five weeks after the offensive had begun. By the 27th, Saddam Hussein ordered the retreat of Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The following day, President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire, marking the end of hostilities.

Despite Saddam’s crushing defeat and the Coalition’s unbelievably quick victory, there was disagreement in Washington and New York as to how the Coalition and the United Nations should proceed. As UN Ambassador to the UN Thomas Pickering said, “One of the things that we do wonderfully is plan wars and execute them and one of the things we do traditionally terribly is to figure out on what basis to end them.” Read more

The 1991 Iraq War – The Battle at the UN: The Gathering Storm

Although several resolutions were passed by the UN Security Council imposing sanctions on Iraq, they did not have the desired effect of forcing Saddam Hussein to order his military to stand down and withdraw from Iraq. Saddam, in an effort to rally Arab support for his position, said he would only withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, if Syria withdrew from Lebanon, and there were “mutual withdrawals by Iraq and Iran and arrangement for the situation in Kuwait.” Any agreement would also involve the reversal of sanctions and boycotts on Iraq. The United States was staunchly opposed to any concessions to Iraq. Although several UN members and the Secretary General tried to negotiate with Iraq, it soon became clear these efforts were going nowhere.

Eventually the “mother of all resolutions,” Resolution 678, was passed in the UN Security Council, which set a deadline of January 15, 1991 for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before the member states of the UN used “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait. Read more