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Beijing Spring and the Lead-up to Tiananmen Square

The iconic image of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and brutal government crackdown on the peaceful demonstrators is that of the “Tank Man,” the unarmed citizen who, carrying nothing but shopping bags, peacefully blocked the path of tanks sent by the Chinese government to assert control in the days after the crackdown. While the image may lead one to believe that the demonstrations were a short-lived event, in reality the crackdown on June 4, 1989 was the culmination of nearly two months of peaceful protests calling for an end to corruption within the Chinese Communist Party.

The protests began as student-led demonstrations in the aftermath of the death of former General Secretary of the Communist Party Hu Yaobang, considered to be a reformer, who had been deposed by the more hardline elements within the Party leadership. Read more

Death of an AUB President and Father of a Future NBA Coach

He was a brilliant scholar who focused on the Middle East and whose books were widely read by Arabists. His son Steve would later play for the NBA champion Chicago Bulls and then become coach of the Golden State Warriors and lead them to a championship in 2015 and break the record for most wins in a regular season in 2016. Malcolm Kerr grew up in Lebanon, on and near the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where his parents taught for forty years. He returned to the U.S. and went graduated from high school at the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and later got his Bachelor’s from Princeton.

After teaching at UCLA, he moved to Cairo and in 1965 published his book The Arab Cold War. He became President of AUB in 1982, in the midst of the Lebanon Civil War.  U.S. Ambassador Frank Meloy and Economic Counselor Robert Waring were assassinated in 1976.  U.S. Embassy Beirut was bombed in 1983 and the Marine Corps barracks were attacked just a few months later. Sadly, Kerr would also become a victim to the violence:  On January 18, 1984, he was shot and killed by two gunmen outside his office. He was 52. Read more

“Austria is Free!” Part II — Negotiating with the Soviets

For several years since the end of World War II, the U.S., UK and France had done what they could to support war-torn Austria economically and promote fledgling democratic institutions. Efforts to negotiate a treaty which would grant Austria its full independence and allow the withdrawal of the Four Powers were continuously blocked by the USSR, which was actively plundering the small country. Things changed dramatically in March 1953, with Stalin’s death and Moscow’s desire for detente with the West.

However, negotiations of this magnitude, especially with an adversary like the USSR, are fraught with tension even under the best of circumstances. The U.S. side had to sit it out and make sure it did not give in to Soviet tactics. Read more

“Austria is Free!” Post-War Vienna Escapes the Soviet Bloc

May 15th, 1955, was a momentous occasion for a war-battered Europe, and for the national history of Austria as the Foreign Ministers representing the Occupying Powers  gathered to sign the Austrian Independence Treaty. Leopold Figl, the former Chancellor and then the Foreign Minister, famously appeared on the balcony of Vienna’s Belvedere Palace (now home to a dazzling Klimt collection), waved the signed paper and uttered the words Österreich ist frei! (“Austria is free!”),

This treaty reinstated Austria’s sovereignty for the first time since the March 1938 Anschluss with Nazi Germany, which had annexed Austria and made it the province of Ostmark.  It called for the withdrawal of the four occupying state’s forces, outlawed any future Anschluss with Germany, and banned Nazism. The newly independent country formally declared its neutrality in October of that year. Read more

Towering Infernos – The Kuwait Oil Fires

A 2010 Time Magazine article rated it as the third worst environmental catastrophe in history, right behind Chernobyl and Bhopal. As Operation Desert Storm drew to a close, with Kuwait liberated and the Iraqi Army all but destroyed, Saddam Hussein would not concede defeat. Like a cornered rat, he inflicted one more blow on Kuwait’s ecology and its oil production infrastructure, something he hoped would take years to recover from. So he ordered his men to blow up Kuwait’s oil wells. Some 700 were set on fire, unleashing a 20th Century Black Death.

Trying to extinguish the fires was a near impossibility at first. It was too dangerous to send in firefighting crews during the war and later it was discovered that land mines had been placed in the areas around the wells, meaning they had to be removed before the fires could be put out. Read more

A U.S.-Chinese Mid-Air Collision and “The Letter of Two Sorries”

A collision in the air, a destroyed Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. ‘spy’ plane forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airbase — mix together to create a maelstrom of chaos and outrage. Add in the fact that the U.S. had accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just two years earlier and you have the makings of a real diplomatic challenge.

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet some 70 miles off the Chinese island of Hainan. The Chinese jet had actually harassed the EP-3 just days earlier, getting so close that the Chinese pilot held up a piece of paper with his e-mail address, which was visible to the American crew. The collision caused both planes to lose altitude quickly — the Chinese fighter was unable to recover and was killed. Against all odds, the EP-3 somehow rolled out of its nearly inverted dive and managed to limp towards the closest air base without its nose. This airbase, however, was on Hainan, the same site that had sent the downed fighter. Read more

Tiananmen: Another Bump in China’s Road to WTO Accession

Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 Open Door policy unleashed China’s economy beyond its borders through political reforms and regional trade agreements. This led to rapid growth and China’s emergence as a major player in the global economic system. China began the process of negotiating membership in GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in July 1986, gaining observer status. However, it took fifteen years and changes in its tariff, foreign investment and industrial policies for China to be admitted to GATT’s successor organization, the World Trade Organization (WTO), on December 11, 2001.

The role of the U.S. in China’s bid for accession was complicated by competing priorities: economic security and support for freedom of global commerce vs. defense of human rights. China was among the fasting-growing markets for U.S. goods and services; conversely, imports from China to the U.S. almost doubled from 1996 to 2001. Read more

Ping Pong Diplomacy, April 1971 — Opening the Road to China

Following the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, a “Bamboo Curtain,” the Chinese equivalent of Russia’s “Iron Curtain,” was established, closing off China from the non-Communist world. The 1966 Cultural Revolution only served to strengthen the Communist Party’s commitment to isolation from the West. However, by 1971 China was growing desperate for foreign investment while the United States sought an end to the Vietnam War as well as ways to increase its leverage vis-a-vis  the Soviet Union. These diplomatic objectives led to President Richard Nixon’s historic opening to China.

But before his February 1972 to Peking there was ping pong diplomacy. Sports had long been a diplomatic tool for the Chinese under the slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second.” Thus, on April 6, 1971, the Chinese national ping-pong team invited the American team to visit China while the two teams were at the World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. Read more

The INF Treaty, Part III — Crossing the Finish Line

A unified stance by NATO members and Gorbachev’s realization that it was better to go to global zero than to deal with the Pershings ultimately led to the signing of the INF Treaty by President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev on December 8, 1987. It was ratified by Congress in May 1988 and helped mark the end of the Cold War.

Maynard Glitman was head of the INF delegation in Geneva from 1985-1988. He recalls the difficulties in successfully negotiating the INF treaty while working with Soviet officials and Washington delegates and the extreme stress the delegation endured working long hours as they hammered out an agreement. He also talks about his experiences at all levels of negotiating the treaty – from defending word usage to managing his temper when waiting for Soviet delegates who went out skiing. Read more

Paul Nitze and A Walk in the Woods  — A Failed Attempt at Arms Control

In 1976, the USSR deployed hundreds of intermediate-range SS-20s (pictured), which were an upgrade of the older SS-3 and SS-4  missiles. They carried nuclear warheads and, with a range of about 3400 miles, were capable of reaching almost any target in Western Europe and were thus considered a threat. Oddly enough, many arms control experts in the U.S. considered these weapons more destabilizing than the USSR’s longer-range strategic missiles which could strike the U.S, since the SS-20s only threatened European territory and thus delinked NATO from the United States, which in turn would make it difficult for Washington to reassure its allies.

The U.S. initiated a two-track response to address the SS-20 threat. Washington began developing a parallel system, extending the range of Germany’s Pershing missile, while simultaneously pushing for negotiations with the USSR over intermediate range missiles. Read more