The week in foreign policy

After a start of the year characterised by climate crisis on multiple fronts and the threat of war with Iran, this week in foreign policy has been relatively calmer. The US and China have agreed to a ‘phase one’ trade deal, the Labour leadership contest trundles on, and the UK prepares for the UK-Africa Investment summit next week. Meanwhile, the race to become the US Democrat Party’s presidential nominee heats up as the Iowa caucus looms, and a spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren was captured at the last of the Democratic debates.

Feeling the global Bern

Foreign policy has not been given much airtime by the Democrat presidential hopefuls, but the candidates differ in dramatic ways. Sean Sullivan, writing for The Independent, assesses how Bernie Sanders would alter US foreign policy as president. His relatively radical views on foreign policy, previously dismissed as ‘fringe ideas’, include denouncing the removal of Evo Morales in Bolivia as a coup and calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a ‘racist’. Strongly influenced by the Reagan-era US interventions in Latin America, he has opposed US military intervention, notably in Iraq. 

The Trump Triumphs

On the other side of the debate, Tom McTague for The Atlantic explores Donald Trump’s accidental foreign policy triumphs – in forcing Europe to confront its geopolitical weakness; in forging a lasting economic settlement with China; and in testing the limits of Middle Eastern countries’ power. ‘The argument for escalation is simple’ McTague writes, ‘If the response to any aggressive act by a foreign adversary is always to de-escalate in order to avoid a spiral of violence, then the advantage borne by military and economic dominance is lost, creating more chaos, not less.’

China eyes Europe

Meanwhile, as China emerges from preoccupation with its US trade conflict, it is turning its attention to Europe. Noah Barkin explores the six factors that will shape Europe’s relationship with China in 2020, for POLITICO. Europe has been treading a line between a partnership with China and a tougher approach. In 2020 it may finally have to pick one of the two, as several high profile events approach. Concerns over Huawei, US trade pressure, and human rights are just some of the key issues that will shape the relationship over the coming year.

The tests of 2020

From the crisis in the Middle East to the rise of China, the UK faces some monumental foreign policy challenges in 2020. The government must be clear what its priorities are – and give the Foreign Office a “shot in the arm”, writes former permanent secretary, and BFPG Honorary President, Sir Simon Fraser in PoliticsHome. Fraser writes that, post-Brexit, and once the Iran crisis has been de-escalated, three key relationships should preoccupy British foreign policy: our relations with America and China, and their relations with each other. Sir Simon Fraser spoke about the UK’s potential new role as a convener between the US and China at a recent BFPG event, which you can watch back here.

Ditch Davos

Finally, next week sees the UK-Africa Investment Summit. With global leaders jetting off to Davos for the World Economic Forum, Boris Johnson has ‘grounded’ Ministers, and the focus will be instead on strengthening UK-African relationships on investment, trade, and diplomacy. Tom Rees lays out the state of play in the Telegraph, and says that the Department for International Development (DfID) wants to help the private sector tap fast-growing African markets in one of the first steps for Boris Johnson’s “Global Britain” pitch.

Flora Holmes

Flora Holmes is a Researcher at the British Foreign Policy Group.