North Korea tensions: Why clarity is key to avoiding a spiralling crisis

  • 26 April 2017
  • From the section Asia
A military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) is seen in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on 26 April 2017. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption North Korea has put on elaborate military displays in recent days as tensions rise

Some 10 days ago, as tensions mounted on the Korean peninsula, a British newspaper ran a cartoon showing a smiling North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, alongside a similarly smiling Donald Trump.

Under Kim Jong-un was the caption "unpredictable, oddly coiffed nutter threatens world with massive firepower". Next to him, the beaming President Trump was wearing a shirt emblazoned with a picture of the massive bomb that US forces had just dropped in Afghanistan, with the slogan "Been there, Done that, Got the T-shirt!"

It was an example, perhaps, of the cynicism Mr Trump's arrival in the White House has provoked among many western European commentators.

But for many outside observers, there are good reasons to worry. Both leaders - albeit in their different ways - are seen as unpredictable and inexperienced. Both have mounted a war of words against the other. And both are busy sending military signals which, intended or not, are raising the risk of war.

However, what needs to be explained is: why now? What has suddenly prompted this escalating tension? And is a conflict really a possibility?

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Trump's nuclear problem with Iran requires a plan B

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks after his swearing-in ceremony at the Oval Office, accompanied by President Donald Trump, 21 March 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Trump administration must come up with a clear approach to the problem posed by Iran

Once again rhetoric and reality in the Trump administration appear to be at odds with each other.

Earlier this week, the administration certified to Congress - as it must every 90 days - that Iran was abiding by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name given to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Read full article Trump's nuclear problem with Iran requires a plan B

Trump’s lack of clarity on foreign policy may prove catastrophic

US President Donald Trump at a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, 7 April 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The lack of clarity with US foreign policy is a cause of concern for America's allies

Just a few days ago the Russian embassy in London responded on its Twitter feed to the British Foreign Secretary's announcement that he was cancelling his planned visit to Moscow.

Accompanying the Russian tweet was a picture of the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimea War - one of the great disasters of 19th Century British military history.

Read full article Trump’s lack of clarity on foreign policy may prove catastrophic

Syria war: US strikes a resolute signal from Trump

Donald Trump (06/04/17) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Donald Trump said the chemical attack had changed his mind about President Assad

Both the scope and the method of the US attack on Syria's Shayrat airbase suggest that this was a punitive and limited strike intended to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons in the future.

The Pentagon says that the airbase that was hit - a little south-east of the city of Homs - was the location from where the aircraft that carried out this week's alleged chemical attack took off.

Read full article Syria war: US strikes a resolute signal from Trump

Syria 'chemical attack': What now?

Civil defence volunteer, using an oxygen mask, after a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, 4 Apr 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A Civil Defence volunteer uses an oxygen mask to help him breathe.

The response to this latest chemical "attack" in Syria will provide a measure of just how far the international community has come in struggling with the security crisis in Syria.

It also demonstrates the growing calamity in the country where the conflict moves from phase to phase, but shows no sign of ending.

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Mosul: Have combat changes increased civilian casualties?

Federal police members fire a rocket at Islamic State fighters' positions during a battle at Jada district in western Mosul (29 March 2017) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mosul is a complex urban battlefield - with decisions on hitting specific targets needed in seconds

The civilian death toll has risen in Mosul as the battle to evict so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters from the western part of the city has intensified.

Some of the stories and eye-witness accounts are horrific. US General Stephen Townsend - who heads the campaign against IS - has described the fighting there as "the most significant urban combat to take place since World War Two".

Read full article Mosul: Have combat changes increased civilian casualties?

A new US strategy in the fight against so-called Islamic State?

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter poses for a picture near Euphrates River, north of Raqqa city, Syria March 8, Image copyright Reuters
Image caption More US troops are backing up the groups fighting so-called Islamic State

A little under a week ago the new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met his counterparts from a variety of countries and organisations which make up the wide-ranging coalition set against so-called Islamic State (IS). He told them that defeating IS remained Washington's "number one goal in the region".

But three months into the Trump administration, and in the wake of a full-scale review of the strategy deployed against IS, it is hard to see a substantial difference between the new president's approach and that of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Rather, the most significant shift may be that Mr Trump is applying the Obama recipe with more punch, more resources and greater flexibility.

'Obama Plus'

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Trump's global challenge: Balancing defence and diplomacy

US President Donald Trump salutes as he walks to Air Force One Image copyright Getty Images

President Donald Trump has said he will boost the United States' defence budget by $54bn (£44bn). But does this have to be at the expense of the country's current commitments to diplomacy and "soft power"?

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." So, reportedly, commented Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a Washington dinner in 1945.

Read full article Trump's global challenge: Balancing defence and diplomacy

Syria conflict: Unravelling the puzzle

Syrian government soldiers fire a rocket at positions of Islamic State fighters in Raqqa province. Photo: 17 February 2017 Image copyright AP
Image caption The battle for Raqqa has intensified in recent days

With Iraqi forces gradually gaining the upper hand against so-called Islamic State (IS) in Mosul, the focus is shifting to the assault upon the organisation's de facto capital in Syria - Raqqa.

Units are being moved into position. The US has deployed a small contingent of artillery to ensure that firepower is available on tap, irrespective of any bad weather that might hamper air operations.

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An absence of peace: When is a war actually a war?

  • 11 March 2017
  • From the section World
The Spitfire production line at the Vickers Supermarine Works in Southampton Image copyright Getty Images

Earlier this month, a relic from World War Two intruded into daily life in north London. A 500lb Luftwaffe bomb was discovered by builders excavating in the leafy suburb of Brondesbury.

Local homes were evacuated, local train services were closed down. Eventually the weapon was made safe and finally removed to be detonated on an army range.

Read full article An absence of peace: When is a war actually a war?