Act or be Hacked: A Leading Expert’s Proactive Strategies to Prevent Cyberattacks

Cyber Security is always too much – too much money and too much time – until it just isn’t enough. Consider today’s news where a ransomware infection infiltrated organizations in 99 countries, including China and Russia. This should be enough to garner everyone’s attention about implementing simple rules for managing personal and professional privacy.

Photo Courtesy of BBC News and Webroot

I had the opportunity to interview an internationally-recognized cybersecurity expert who, for security purposes spoke only on the condition of anonymity, about preventive measures to thwart cyberattacks that employers should mandate and that individuals should voluntarily follow.

Is it true that anything transmitting information via the internet is capable of being hacked?

“Anything transmitted can be intercepted. Thus liable to hacking,”

Are there any limitations?

“There are no limitations.”

Where are the greatest vulnerabilities?

“There’re vulnerabilities everywhere.”

Whether you are an individual, a corporation, critical infrastructure or a government entity, isn’t the biggest vulnerability email accounts which are subject to spear phishing, i.e. sending emails that appear to be from an individual or business that you know?

“Email are valuable information for attackers. But there’re more. Targeting email through spear phishing emails is the primary method for hacking into a computer system. Spear phishing is very used nowadays, simply because it’s simple to implement. But no method can be defined as primary or the best. Each attack requires specific study and approach.”

Does the email need to include an attachment? If so, does the recipient need to open the attachment?

“Usually yes, but – again – it depends of the attack type.”

Are older systems more vulnerable to spear phishing?

“It’s not a rule. Each system comes with specific vulnerabilities. Something perfect doesn’t exist – since their made by humans.”

An email can include malware, viruses, spyware, adware, worms, or Trojans. How are these hacker tools different?

“Different names specify slightly different behaviours about functionalities and the way the backdoor works, e.g. auto-replication, data collected or not, data erased or not, etc.”

This is important information to consider when opening attachments as a report from the Anti-Phishing Working Group found that 2016 was the worst year in history for spear phishing scams – a 65% increase over 2015.

Let me give you a hypothetical. If a hacker interested in a public utility, they could visit the local coffee shop or restaurant patronized by its employees who mindlessly drop their business card in a fishbowl to win a free cup of coffee and swipe those cards. From there they could go through and identify persons of interest and engage in spear phishing, right?

“Absolutely right. This is just one good example of Social Engineering; that is – nowadays – the most dangerous attack.”

Does hacking a computer or even a smart phone gives the hacker access to more than just the initial device targeted?  For instance, if my computer was hacked and I send an email to another computer do I infect that system?

“It depends. If the worm has auto-replication capabilities YES.”

I read that Target, Sony Pictures, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) were attacked because they relied on passwords alone for authentication. How important is the complexity, duplicity and age of passwords?

“It’s very important. But keep in mind that even a very strong password can be hacked using specific attack types – like brute force or dictionary attacks.”

Is it true that even eight character passwords can be hacked in under a second?

“Yes, even less.”

What is a dictionary password hack?

“A dictionary-based attack uses a pre-filled file that contains thousands or hundreds of thousands, or more words. Each word is used as password tentative.”

Verizon’s 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report found that “63 percent of confirmed data breaches involve using weak, default or stolen passwords.” What is your advice about passwords?

“Use at least a 16 characters password. And change it every week.”

Can you offer an example and explanation of a good password?

“%-xGaY%p2Rv@Pcx_! A password should be 16 characters minimum and include symbols, numbers, lowercase and uppercase characters.”

This means that you are inviting unwanted intruders into your business or home when you use the pre-installed default passwords, such as “admin” or “1234”, or when a single password is used for multiple accounts.

What is a multi-factor authentication (MFA) solution?

“It means that one password is no more enough to be authenticated.”

Can you give me an example?

“A 2 factor authentication, for example, requires, first, a password and then, second, a randomly-generated code that changes every X seconds.”

Is MFA an effective strategy?

“Better than only one password, for sure. Online banks, for example, nowadays use this mechanism by default.”

Would you agree that protecting one’s email addresses is almost or as important as protecting one’s passwords?

“On password-based systems, password protection should always been considered at first place, from user perspective. Possible systems vulnerabilities can be managed only by ISP itself (not the user).”

How about another hypothetical. An employee uses their personal email address on LinkedIn. If a hacker wanted to hack into the company they worked for they could spear phish their home computer, which is likely used to login to work. Under what circumstances would that give a hacker access to the company’s system?

“Accessing a company network is in general less simple than accessing a home computer. Even if you already attacked/infected a company device, you have to consider that the company has in place network barriers (like firewalls, IDS, etc.) that may prevent to access easily from external network to internal network. That way, usually, modern backdoors prefer communications only “moving” FROM attacked device (internal network) TO remote server (external network). The IN-to-OUT transmission is always better than OUT-to-IN.”

This is where I am confused.  Once hacked, access to the internet signal is obtained. Does this impact hacking other systems?  Does it matter if an individual has separate devices and computers for personal and professional use?

“When a system is hacked, it means that something is “going to happen”. Connecting to Internet in order to transfer something is most probably something that will happen, but it’s not mandatory (you may just want to duplicate data and keep them on the disk, for a later physical retrieval, or you may want to delete/alter something, or just opening a communication port for an OUT-to-INT communication, etc.). During an attack, the attacker wants to minimise the impact of suspects around 0%, so the idea that other systems may be impacted or “considered” during the attack… it’s something bad. An attack is usually studied, tested and then implemented SPECIFICALLY for the target device. No other systems should be even touched to accomplish this. Of course, large scale attacks require multiple systems to be compromised.”

Photo Courtesy of the National Security Administration

Do you have any thoughts on using Wi-Fi at home or in public?

“If you want to have a “safe” network (at home or at work)… do not use WiFi. If I was a hacker couldn’t I login into a public Wi-Fi and intercept signals from all devices logged onto the internet connection? If you connect as attacker to a public WiFi, you can actually retrieve almost everything (visited websites, user, password, PINS) that users think “it’s safe”.

What is your general advice about using Wi-Fi?

“If available, the use of a Wi-Fi network is probably one of the first attempts to try an attack.”

Restraint on the use of Wi-Fi is statistically supported. According to a report published by the Chertoff Group:

  • Mobile web adoption is growing 8 times faster than web adoption did in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • By the end of 2017, over two billion mobile phone or tablet users will make some form of mobile commerce transaction.
  • By 2018, 25% of corporate data traffic will bypass the corporate network and flow direct from mobile device to the cloud.
  • 84% of people have experienced difficulty completing a mobile transaction.
  • 62% of “checkout abandonments” in mobile commerce happen due to friction in the login process.

I have another hypothetical for you. A personal smartphone has been hacked. If the hackers have installed keyloggers or other malware doesn’t this mean they can see every keystroke made, including password and messages believed to be encrypted, whether by specialized software or common apps such as WhatsApp?

“Yes. A malware running directly on the device doesn’t care about encryption: it is installed ON the system, so it’s capable to read everything BEFORE encryption (or after decryption).”

What is your advice on selecting a search engine? Does Google, Yahoo and Bing create a greater vulnerability than TOR?

“Everything is traced and monitored. Search engines and the TOR network, as well.”

A lot of critical infrastructure relies heavily on legacy or outdated software that was never intended to be used with more modern technology to control their product. A lot of legacy software lacks the ability to manually override a cyberattack. This is a major issue in the United States and in some parts of the European Union where public power and transportation are controlled by thousands of companies many of which lack the resources to address vulnerabilities. Many companies have failed to make capital investments in its computer systems preferring to link legacy software to newer technology thereby is opening the floodgates for cyberattacks. The U.S. Department of Energy published a report saying that the nation’s electrical grid “faces imminent danger” from cyber-attacks. The report concluded that grid modernizations would require a total investment ranging from $350 to $500 bn.

What are the drawbacks to linking newer technology to older Linux or legacy systems? Where is the greatest vulnerability when two systems are linked together?

“When a system is “connected” it automatically becomes vulnerable. It’s not a matter of old or new technology, it’s a matter of how the system is “exposed”. But EVERY system is exposed in some way, or it cannot serve anything.”

The Cloud is not less secure than an internal system. The vulnerability is in the internet or intranet connection. Systems managers should focus on securing cloud workloads and not the Cloud. The cloud does not make a system less secure, it’s when the internet or intranet connection has a vulnerability that opens the Cloud to attacks.

Are there any signs the people should watch for that are indicative of hacking?

“A well performed attack, leaves no trace. If we speak about people, 99% of them are vulnerable and not capable to understand that they’ve been hacked. Speaking about companies, the percentage changes, but not so much.”

As it’s been in the news later, one last question how are other things like the television, thermostat and garage door opener hacked?

“Again, if something is “connected”… it becomes vulnerable. The IOT – Internet of Things – will be one of the most catastrophic phases of this era, from hacking, information theft and safety point of view. It has been already proved that it’s possible to completely take control of a modern car, hacking it from thousands of miles of distance. And this is only the beginning.”

Another area in which companies can be proactive is by employing multiple-level redundancy. This means you have created multiple back-up copies of your data to prevent loss in the case of a single disk or server failure and that the data is stored across multiple geographic locations.

When considering whether to make organizational or personal internet safety changes, along with today’s immense ransomware attack consider these statistics:

  • 70% of U.S. critical infrastructure suffered a cyberattacks in 2016.
  • The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre revealed that Britain was threatened by 188 high-level cyber-attacks in just three months.
  • The average attack on a financial institute costs $20.8 mm even though the response time has been shortened to an average of 17.5 hours.
  • Ransomware attacks rose by 50% in 2016 with 61% of victims now being companies with less than 1,000 employees.
  • Up to 286 mm viruses are detected annually by Symantec.

For more information visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s webpage on cyber security at and the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, which provides a policy framework on computer security guidance to assist private sector organizations in assessing and improving their ability to prevent, detect, and respond to cyber-attacks at

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague and a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


Chertoff, Michael, “8 Ways Governments Can Improve Their Cybersecurity”, April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review, as found on the www at

Knake, Robert, “A Cyberattack on the U.S. Power Grid”, Contingency Planning Memorandum 31, April 2017, Council on Foreign Relations, as found on the www at–link24-20170407&sp_mid=53802168&sp_rid=Y3ludGhpYW1sYXJkbmVyQGdtYWlsLmNvbQS2.

The Amorphous Israeli-Palestinian Two-State Solution



The frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged on almost since the day Israel achieved independence in 1948. Despite the Oslo Accords, which were intended to bring peace and political stability to both sides, the degraded situation heightens the level of destabilization in the Middle East and North African region. Beyond the Israelis and the Palestinians the biggest impediment to the peace process is now the Trump administration.

Israel, despite violating international law, continues to receive ongoing and unprecedented diplomatic, military and financial support from the paradoxically Anti-Semitic United States Congress. The Trump administration’s position has incrementally distanced U.S. foreign policy on this issue from that of the MENA countries and the European Union (EU) where there is an unequivocal push for a two-state solution.

Without decisive action by the entire international community, including the withdrawal of U.S. financial aid to both sides and military aid to Israel, as well as the broader imposition of economic sanctions, there will never be a détente, let alone a two-state solution.

Israel’s Hardline Stance

In June 2009 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a landmark speech, reflecting a trend that had been growing ever since the Oslo Accords were signed. Mr. Netanyahu articulate untenable conditions for ‘two-state solution’ advocated by predecessor leaders and consistent with the Oslo Accords were no longer subject to negotiation. Mr. Netanyahu stated Israel endorsed Palestine existing as a neighboring but, demilitarized state. Under his ‘proposal’, freedom of movement would be remain constricted, with displaced Palestinians forever barred from returning to their ancestral homelands. Ignoring the naturally occurring Palestinian population growth, an expansion of the limited lands beyond that which they had been relegated to since 1967 would not be considered. Jerusalem, which under the original United Nations (U.N.) plan, was to be internationally governed, would remain under Israel’s sole governance. Most significantly, the Palestinians had to formally recognize Israel as the ‘Jewish’ national state; a proverbial slab in the face.

Paradoxically, eight years later, in 2017, Mr. Netanyahu’s position has only hardened as he has stated that Israel will only negotiate with the Palestinians only if they come to the table with no preconditions.

Palestinian’s de facto, octogenarian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was last elected in 2006 and whose power is limited to the West Bank, where his party, the Fatah is based, is being pressured by the European Union and the Arab Quartet – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – to reconcile competing Palestinian factions and to name a successor. The other faction is Hamas which is the internationally unrecognized Gaza Strip governing body. Listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the U.S., Hamas is issuing a new charter reflecting a sharp ideological shift.

“Israel has chosen not to choose, hoping the conflict will resolve itself, or that the Arabs will disappear in some kind of cosmic miracle,” stated former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, when the reality is that the internal situation is a “ticking time bomb”.

“The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment,” stated Israeli President Rivlin in October 2014.

The Netanyahu’s Stronghold

Israel has a parliamentary government – the 120 member Knesset – which elects a Prime Minister as its chief executive, making the office holder the country’s most powerful political.  The Presidency is an honorific position.  Parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years, but unstable coalitions or a no-confidence vote by the Knesset can dissolve a government earlier. This has been the modus operandi with elections having been held on the average every 2.8 years.

Mr. Netanyahu, a member of the right-wing party, the Likud, is currently Israel’s three-time Prime Minister. The Likud holds 30 parliamentary seats. In 2016 Mr. Netanyahu’s approval ratings plummeted to 33 percent signaling that Israel may be ready for change. In April Mr. Netanyahu had a falling out with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a key coalition partner, which appears to be resolved.  Mr. Netanyahu now faces possible criminal charges in two cases. By calling for an early election, Mr. Netanyahu may not only avoid criminal charges, as levelling charges during an election campaign could be seen as election interference, but it would also allow him to maintain his grip on power and continue hindering the peace process.

Until recently, the strongest opposition party has been disorganized Zionist or Labor party, which holds 19 Knesset seats. The Labor Party is headed by Yitzhak “Isaac” Herzog, who immediately after being elected party leader on November 22, 2013, met with Mr. Abbas pledging his support for the two-state solution. Mr. Herzog’s view that, “I believe that the internal reality of this [the Likud] coalition is in the midst of a crisis. The tensions are enormous and there is a basic lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. I believe that in the coming year we will go to elections,” are unsupported by recent polls and the sheer tenacity of Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Herzog seems oblivious to the fact that, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Netanyahu is an ultimate political survivor.

Biased Polling

An April poll showed that if elections were held today Mr. Netanyahu’s party continue controlling the Knesset, that the previously third-ranking Yair Lapid’s centrist Yest Atid party would move into second place, and that Mr. Herzog’s Zionist Union party would be ranked third.

“According to the survey, if elections were to be held in the near future, some 70% of Jews would want either a right-wing or a center-right government to take office, while 57% of Arab Israelis would prefer to see a center-left or left-wing government. Almost 80% of the respondents as a whole thought that either a center-right or right-wing government had a greater chance of taking office if elections were held soon,” according to the Midgam Research Institute poll. The numbers reflect a lack of public support for parties favoring a two-state solution.

The longevity of the conflict has sadly led to a poor internal perception of a peaceful solution as was made manifest in an April 2017 poll in which 51% of Israeli Jews, 48% of Israeli Arabs, and 68% of Palestinians agreed with the statement that, “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”

These results are entirely inconsistent with another recent poll, commissioned by J Street, a U.S. firm which advocates on behalf of the Palestinians and was carried out by Smith Consulting, of a representative sample of 500 Jewish and Arabic Israelis. This poll allegedly found that 68% Israelis support a two-state solution. Even more surprising was the result that 58% of Israelis said they would vote for a referendum for a permanent solution based on the following principles: returning to Israel’s 1967 borders with some land swaps, declaring Jerusalem the shared capital of both the Jewish and Palestinian states, and addressing the grievances of Palestinian refugees mainly through compensation payments.

New Settlements

Recently Mr. Netanyahu was harshly criticized by the U.N., the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and the European Union (EU) for his push to build the first new settlements in over two decades in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including in East Jerusalem. The UNSC responded on December 23, 2016 by passing Resolution 2334 addressing Israeli settlements in “Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem”. The resolution states that Israel’s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”.  It demanded that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

It was the first Israeli UNSC resolution in recent time not to be vetoed by the United States, which abstained.

As President-elect Mr. Trump had urged the Obama administration to veto the resolution, stating, “…as the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations”. However, at a February 15, 2017 joint press conference Mr. Trump told Mr. Netanyahu that, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that the U.N. “…condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution.”

“This policy [of new settlements] will create the status quo of one state. Policies of the occupying power will not bring about peace in our region. Peace and stability can only be reached through the relations of good neighbors. This is precisely what we are ready to do, to be good neighbors,” averred Palestinian leader Mr. Abbas.

A one state solution is incapable of melding the divergent laws, religion and customs of the Palestinian and Israeli population.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah issued a statement that “…a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not based on a two-state solution will have dangerous consequences for the region.”

In an about face, Mr. Guterres, under pressure by the United States and Israel, unsuccessfully demanded that the U.N. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,Michael Lynk” labeled Israel an “apartheid regime” be removed from the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).   The Special Rapporteur’s findings were damning despite Israel having denied him access to Gaza.  That report is still available on-line. Thereafter, in defiance of the truth, the Trump administration stated it was boycotting the U.N. Human Rights Council for the reason that it is biased against Israel.

Problems on the Palestinian Side

“[P]olitical pluralism in both Gaza and the West Bank has all but disappeared. For instance, Fatah consolidated its hold over the Palestinian Authority shortly after the Oslo agreements and continues to use it as a mechanism for patronage and self-enrichment. More bewildering is that the international community knowingly abets this situation by taking humanitarian responsibility for the situation in Gaza and yet refusing to engage with Hamas – while sustaining a dismally performing and unpopular Palestinian Authority,” explained Erwin Van Veen, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute.

Led by Mr. Abbas, the Fatah party, formerly the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, is a Palestinian nationalist political party representing the largest faction of the multi-party Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO was established by the Oslo Accords as the sole governing Palestinian body.

Mr. Abbas was last elected President in 2006, making this is the 12th year of his illegitimate fourth term. While there have been municipal elections since that time, they have been limited to the West Bank where Mr. Abbas makes his home. No elections have transpired in Gaza, which has been under Hamas’ control. The reason is transparent: in 2006 Hamas prevailed over the Fatah party in legislative elections. Today, Gaza’s population is 1.816 mm compared to the West Bank’s population is only 1.715 mm but Hamas has become increasingly unpopular in Gaza there is no future guarantee of success if new elections were held.

Mr. Abbas has been increasingly pressured by Egypt to introduce reforms to end internal division and create the cohesiveness necessary to resuming the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. In April 2014 the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement between the Fatah and Hamas called for a Temporary Leadership Framework for the PLO within five weeks of the signing of the agreement. Under Mr. Abbas’ leadership the agreement was never implemented ostensibly because the United and Israel coerced compliance with Israel’s having once withheld Palestinian tax dollars it collects on the PA’s behalf, or by the U.S. threatening to cut off aid to the PA.

Dissatisfied, Cairo is using its leverage to bypass Mr. Abbas to prepare for the rise of a new Palestinian leader who can ultimately break the Palestinian-Israeli deadlock.  Mahmoud Al-Aloul, Mr. Abbas’ only deputy, accepts a one-state solution but only ‘under our conditions’ and is, therefore, an unacceptable replacement.

This has precipitated the Quartet insisting on the return of Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of the Palestinian Authority’s security services in Gaza, who has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates since 2012, to Palestine. Mr. Abbas’ sentiments toward Mr. Dahlan are reflected in his recent dismissal of the PLO’s Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo over links to Mr. Dahlan.

Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization. Since 2007 it has governed the Gaza Strip under the leadership of Mousa Abu Marzouq and Khaled Mashal. As the PLO is the only internationally recognized governing body Hamas’ leadership is not recognized.

Hamas leader Yahya Moussa stated that Hamas has yet to join the PLO as “…the key to the organization is in the hands of Abbas, who does not want to include us in it because we are a major force. He wants to maintain his monopoly over the small powers inside the organization so he can have the last say. This explains why Abbas refuses to call for the establishment of the PLO’s Temporary Leadership Framework.”

The UNRWA has declared conditions in Gaza as unfit for human habitation. “The closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts. It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” stated former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Violence has been the predictable outcome, in part, leading to Hamas being categorized as a terrorist organization. Even the threat of Palestinian violence can be – and is – used by Israel to maintain Gaza and, to a lesser degree, the West Bank’s, marginalisation and isolation.

Recently Hamas has wisely chosen to change its image and has warmed up to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Hamas is reputedly replacing its 30 year old anti-Semitic charter with a comprehensively revised document modifying its more extreme positions.  The proposed charter allegedly contains the following language:

“The Palestinian cause is at its core an issue of an occupied land and displaced people.”

“Palestinian refugees’ right to return to the homes from which they were evacuated, whether in areas occupied in 1948 or 1967 (in all of Palestine) is a natural right, individual and collective, affirmed by all divine laws and the basic principles of human rights and international law.”

“Hamas rejects oppressing human beings or taking away their rights based on ethnicity or religion.”

“Anti-Semitism and oppressing Jews is a phenomenon linked to European history and is not found in Arabs’ and Muslims’ history and heritage.”

The document also allegedly states that Hamas is not at war with Jews but the group is waging a battle against the “occupation and the Zionist project”.

Most importantly, the documents states that Hamas would accept a sovereign Palestinian state across the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, without recognising Israel.

Hamas’ goal is obvious – it is seeking the international legitimacy – most notably that of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

As if to challenge Hamas, the last week of March Mazen Fuqaha, a Hamas commander, was found having been shot four times in the head from close range. While having all the trappings of Mossad assassination, questions have been raised as to whether the Fatah was responsible. Both Israel and the Fatah would benefit from retaliatory action which, to date, has not transpired.

International Support for a Two-State Solution

A two state solution is necessary to create the normalcy contemplated by existing treaties. According to the CIA:

“Israel and Palestinian officials on 13 September 1993 signed a Declaration of Principles (also known as the “Oslo Accords”), enshrining the idea of a two-state solution to their conflict and guiding an interim period of Palestinian self-rule. The parties achieved six additional significant interim agreements between 1994 and 1999 aimed at creating the conditions for a two-state solution, but most were never fully realized. Progress toward a final status agreement with the Palestinians was undermined by Israeli-Palestinian violence…”

Under a series of agreements known as the Oslo accords signed between 1994 and 1999, Israel transferred to the newly-created Palestinian Authority (PA) security and civilian responsibility for many Palestinian-populated areas of the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank. Negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip stalled in 2001, after which the area witnessed a violent intifada or uprising.”

Palestine has been denied statehood status several times by the UNSC precluding from enforcing international law in the U.N., including redress for the Israeli’s longstanding practice of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The sole exception is one time-limited case pending before the International Criminal Court.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, issued a March 27th statement that new settlement threatens “to further undermine prospects for a two state solution, which remains the only realistic way to fulfill the aspirations on both sides. The European Union considers settlements to be illegal under international law and this also has not changed in our policy.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, acknowledging that the two-state solution as the “only sensible alternative,” warned Israel that new settlements would jeopardize Israel’s future in the international community.

The Saudi-brokered 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League’s 22 members at its summit that year, outlined comprehensive steps to ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, consistent with the EU’s position. The Arab leaders offered Israel recognition, something Hamas is unwilling to do, and a normalisation of diplomatic ties in exchange for its complete withdrawal from Arab lands captured since 1967. The Arab Peace Initiative is based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 which called for Israeli withdrawal in exchange for peaceful ties with its Arab neighbours and the “respect for the right of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries”. Given the reality of settler expansions, there would need to be land swaps or some other creative solution to complement the Arab Peace Initiative.

The 28th Arab League Summit held in March continued endorsing the two-state solution, reiterating that the Arab world would reconcile with Israel if it withdrew from the land it conquered in the 1967 war. The closing statement reads, “We affirm that we will continue to work to relaunch serious Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations… that take place within a set period of time based on the two-state solution.”

“This framework for negotiations needs to be replaced with a real peace process, one which doesn’t reject the applicability of international law and isn’t fundamentally prejudiced against the rights of those who are living under an oppressive occupation regime—in which the oppressed aren’t forced to “negotiate” with their occupiers over the extent to which they can retain their own land,” opined political commentator Jeremy Hammond.

“On 60 percent of our territory we cannot move freely. We can’t even move a stone or plant a tree on these grounds,” stated Mr. Abbas.

The United States: An Impediment to Peace

In the press conference with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Trump sounded like a teenager trying to mediate two siblings who are indecisive on choosing only one kind of candy when he stated, “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.”

There is an upcoming meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Abbas and traditional Principals Committee has been restored, but it is unlikely to elicit a stronger response by Mr. Trump, consistent his foreign counterparts, given comments hurled with whip-like precision by Mr. Trump’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in March.

In her February 16th U.N. speech Ms. Haley stated, “I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. I’m here to emphasize the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias. We will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel.”

Speaking at March conference, Ms. Haley boasted, ““What I can tell you is everyone at the United Nations is scared to talk to me about Resolution 2334, and I wanted them to know that, look, that happened, but it will never happen again.”

Optimism must be further tempered by the commanding presence of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, both of whom are Orthodox Jews, at the highest echelons of the Trump administration. The Kushner family, as well as Mr. Trump, have donated to Israeli educational funds both in the United States and Israel.

Even stranger is the presence of The Trump Foundation, not to be confused with the Donald J. Trump Foundation, in Israel, Founded in 2011, two years after the Kushners married, The Trump Foundation also focuses its efforts on education in Israel. Eli Hurwitz, director of The Trump Foundation, did not respond to an inquiry to confirm or deny that the president’s family was connected to this trust. What is most glaringly apparent is that Trump is neither a Jewish name nor a name common in Israel.

Last, given all the anti-Muslim comments and the twice-failed attempt at a travel ban, it is unreasonable for Mr. Trump to advocate for fair solution.

If it wanted, the U.S. has the means to push both sides into engaging in a meaningful peace process.  According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, “Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.”

This is nothing compared to the 10-year military-assistance pact signed between Israel and the U.S. in September.  Representing the single largest pledge of its kind in American history, the pact, laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding, will be worth $38 billion over the course of a decade; a 27 percent increase from the 2007 agreement.

By comparison, since 1994 USAID’s assistance to Palestine has totaled a mere $5.2 billion.

Here is the perfect opportunity for the State Department to reduce its budget while conditioning future aid on peace being achieved. Money can melt the hearts of man, including that of Mr. Netanyahu.


Following the end of 1967 “Six-Day War”, fought by both Jews and Palestinians against Jordanian rule, at a reunification ceremony Israel’s now-deceased Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan reiterated Israel’s intention to preserve religious freedom for people of all faiths, “To our Arab neighbors we extend, especially at this hour, the hand of peace. To members of the other religions, Christians and Muslims, I hereby promise faithfully that their full freedom and all their religious rights will be preserved. We did not come to Jerusalem to conquer the Holy Places of others.”

This vision is encapsulated in the Oslo Accords, the governing law in this frozen conflict. Until such time, Israel is contributing to regional destabilization, as well as violating the Fourth Geneva Conventions and international criminal law as to genocide and ethnic cleansing, and the U.S. is complicit.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague and a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


Bertadono, Isabel, “Ex-Mossad chief says lack of two-state solution is only existential threat to Israel”, March 22, 2017, The JC News, as found on the www at

Brenner, Björn, “Opinion The Enemy Just Blinked: Why Hamas’s New Charter Is a Big Deal”, March 22, 2017, as found on the www at

Hammond, Jeremy, “The No-State Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict”, July 9, 2017, Foreign Policy Journal, as found on the www at

“International Court of Justice finds Israeli barrier in Palestinian territory is illegal”, July 9, 2004, UNDoc, as found on the www at

Israel, World Fact Book, Central Intelligence Agency, as found on the www at

Maltz, Judy, Two-thirds of Israelis Still Back Two-state Solution, J Street Poll Finds”, January 15, 2017, as found on the www at

“Most Israelis see no reason for new elections,” April 4, 2017, Times of Israel, as found on the www at

“Palestinian support for two-state solution drops, poll finds”, February 16, 2017, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, as found on the www at

“Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,Michael Lynk”, March 16, 2016, United Nations Human Rights Council, UNDoc., as found on the www at

Sharp, Jeremy M., ”The Congressional Research Service’s report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” December 22, 2016, Congressional Research Service, as found on the www at

van Veen, Erwin, “From Ramallah to Paris: The Middle East’s forgotten conflict”, January 18, 2017, Clingendael Institute, as found on the www


Understanding of the issues in the frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires an understanding of the various treaties and agreements between the Israel and Palestine.

The 1947 United Nations Plan

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem.

The West Bank and Gaza

At the time Israel was founded in 1948 the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. After the Six-Day War of 1967, the territories captured by Israel beyond the Green Line came to be designated as East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Sinai Peninsula; with the Sinai Peninsula being returned to Egypt following a 1979 peace treaty. The remaining territories are what are now known as the Israeli occupied territories.

The nonbinding preamble to the 1967 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 242 references the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every State in the area can live in security.” In 1972 the UNSC adopted Resolution 338 calling for a ceasefire of the Yom Kippur War after which “…negotiations start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.”

The Green Line is often referred to as the “pre-1967 borders” or the “1967 borders” by many international bodies and national leaders, including the U.N. in informal texts, and in the text of U.N. General Assembly Resolutions.

In 1980, Israel absorbed East Jerusalem proclaiming the whole of Jerusalem as its capital.   The inclusion was an illegal annexation as East Jerusalem was part of the West Bank and, thus, a part of the Palestinian territories. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478, adopted on 20 August 1980, is one of seven UNSC resolutions condemning Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

The Oslo Accord

The 1993 Oslo Accord was precipitated by a landmark speech delivered by Mr. Arafat in which he declared to the U.N. that all people could peacefully live together.

On September 9, 1993 the Oslo Accord, also known as the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” (DOPOISGA or DOP), was signed by the State of Palestine and the Israeli government. Under the Oslo Accord PLO governance over parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was recognized.

The PLO recognized the State of Israel and the Israel recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people, with the authority to for self-governance and to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.

The Oslo Accords marked the start of the Oslo peace process. Most importantly, the Oslo Accords documented the parties’ commitment to negotiate a two-state solution. Other issues were and are the borders of Israel and Palestine, the Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, the question of Israel’s military presence in and control over the remaining territories after the recognition of the Palestinian autonomy by Israel, and the Palestinian right of return.

The Subsequent Agreements

“The parties achieved six additional significant interim agreements between 1994 and 1999 aimed at creating the conditions for a two-state solution, but most were never fully realized. Progress toward a final status agreement with the Palestinians was undermined by Israeli-Palestinian violence…,” according to the CIA.

The May 1994 Gaza–Jericho Agreement or Cairo Agreement as part of a five-year transitional period called for partial Israeli withdrawal within three weeks from Gaza Strip and Jericho area. It also established and transferred limited administrative power to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is legally distinct from PLO. This technicality enabled the PA to allay, or attempt to allay, the international community’s concern that foreign aid money was subsidizing terrorism.

Part of the Agreement was the Protocol on Economic Relations or Paris Protocol, regulating the economic relationship between Israel and the PA by integrating the Palestinian economy into the Israeli’s.

That agreement was largely superseded by the 1994 and 1995 Oslo I and II Accords, with one exception being the Paris Protocol. The intention was to bring about “opportunities for a new development toward fraternity in the Middle East.”

The Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into three administrative divisions: the Areas A, B and C. The distinct areas were given a different status, according to their governance pending a final status accord:

Area A includes eight Palestinian cities, including Bethlehem, and their surrounding areas. It is exclusively administered by the PA. Entry into this area is forbidden to all Israeli citizens.

Area B, is comprised about 22% of the West Bank, which includes 440 Palestinian villages and their surrounding lands, and no Israeli settlements. Area B is jointly administered by the PA and Israel.  As of 2013, Area B formally. Area B is under Palestinian civil control and Israeli military control.

Area C are those West Bank areas outside Areas A and B.  Commencing at the end of 1999 Area C was to be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction. As of 2013, Area C comprised about 63% of the West Bank, contains Israeli settlements, and is still administered by Israel. What little progress was made was reversed during Operation Defensive Shield when Israel reoccupied all of Area C.

All but 1% of Area C is excluded from Palestinian use. Area C contains most of the West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces. According to the World Bank, Palestinian access to Area C would enable Palestine to halve its budget deficit and expand its economy by a third.

The Oslo Accords prohibited the establishment of any PA in Jerusalem, which was to be an international zone under the original U.N. plan.

Oslo II allowed for the safe passage between West Bank and Gaza. Oslo II called for the Election of a Palestinian Legislative Council to replace the PA upon its inauguration.  While a PLC was elected, divisions amongst two Palestinian factions, that led by the Abbas and the Fatah parties, have resulted in no elections being held since 2006. The PA was never dissolved.

The Oslo peace process never created a Palestinian state.

Most importantly, negotiations on a final settlement of remaining issues, were to be concluded before May 4, 1999. Those negotiations never took place. But there have been many international attempts to broker peace. After many decades the conflict remains frozen.

Occupied Palestinian Territories

“Palestinian territories” and “occupied Palestinian territories” (OPT or oPt) are used to describe the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Western Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the Israeli control. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank were never part of Israel but are occupied by Israel.  Israel views East Jerusalem as its sovereign territory, as well as part of its capital.

The term “Palestinian Territory, Occupied” was used by the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations between 1998 to 2013 in order to refer to areas controlled by the Palestinian National Authority. In December 2012, UN Secretariat communications replaced this with the term State of Palestine. Despite the change, the UNSC has continued to deny Palestine U.N. member nation status,

Renewed negotiations to determine the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip stalled in 2001, after the 2000 start of the Second Intifada. At that time the Israeli government constructed a 708 km Israeli West Bank wall of which approximately 13% of the barrier was constructed on the Green Line or in Israel, and the remaining 87% inside the West Bank. Israel contends it a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall.

Yediot Aharonot map showing the Green Line drawn after the ’67 war and Israeli incursions since then.

In December 2003 the UNGA, during an emergency special session on the occupied Palestinian territories, adopted a resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to urgently render an opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a barrier. A 14-1 advisory opinion issued on July 9, 2004 by the ICJ:

“….found that the barrier’s construction breaches international law, saying it violated principles outlined in the UN Charter and long-standing global conventions that prohibit the threat or use of force and the acquisition of territory that way, as well as principles upholding the right of peoples to self-determination.

Observing that 80 per cent of Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territory now live between the barrier and the so-called Green Line marking the 1949 boundary of Israel, the Court said the structure’s route could “prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine.””

Israel asserts that since the disengagement of Israel from Gaza in 2005, Israel no longer occupies the Gaza Strip. As Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and coastline, it is designated as an occupying power by the UNSC, the UNGA, the EU and many other countries and human rights organizations.

According to a 2013 EU report, Israeli policies have undermined the Palestinian presence in Area C, with a deterioration in basic services such as water supplies, education and shelter. Nearly 70% of the Palestinian villages are not connected to water and lack enough clean water to meet their basic daily needs.


“International Court of Justice finds Israeli barrier in Palestinian territory is illegal”, July 9, 2004, UNDoc, as found on the www at

Israel, World Fact Book, Central Intelligence Agency, as found on the www at

The Alleged Leaked Intelligence: A Classic Russian Playbook Move


“The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” testified FBI Director James Comey before the House Intelligence Committee (HIC) hearing held on Monday.

Mr. Comey prefaced his comments with the statement that, “As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.”

During the HIC hearing several Representatives focused their questions on the identity of the sources for two news articles that appeared in February in the Washington Post and the New York Times.  Those articles were allegedly based upon disclosure of classified information by anonymous sources in the intelligence community about individuals allegedly under investigation.  This includes information about conversations, text messages and meetings with the Russian Federation’s Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and other Russian officials and hackers, including Guccifer 2.0, with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and former Trump adviser and long-term friend Roger Stone.

Mr. Comey and National Security Administration Director Admiral Michael Rogers would neither confirm nor deny the scope of the ongoing investigation or identify which individuals were under investigation despite being asked the same questions over and over again.

Given the integrity of the United States intelligence community it is not likely that the source of the leaks came from the intelligence community.  What is most likely is that leaks came from the Kremlin.

The Russian Playbook

One HIC member had the wherewithal to ask Mr. Rogers and Mr. Comey whether the Russian government released the information to the media about individuals involved in the Trump administration or the Trump campaign who had connections to the Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish governments.

On its face this theory may seem illogical given that in January the former National Director of Intelligence Brigadier General James L. Clapper not only offered extensive testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee but authorized the released a redacted report to the public indicating that the Russian government had interfered with the presidential election to benefit then presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Russian government employed third parties, confirmed by the intelligence community to be connected to the Russian government, to hack into the Democratic National Committee, Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Chairman John Podesta and other sources.  This information was released over a period of months but, according to Mr. Rogers, beginning in July 2016 the leaks accelerated when it appeared that Mrs. Clinton was going to win the election.

The Kremlin’s motivation is quite opaque.  It is directly out of the Russian playbook.

According to a Council for Foreign Affairs report, the Russian playbook “…resembles a network-flow model—or “unvirtuous circle”—which the Kremlin can use to influence (if not control) critical state institutions, bodies, and economies, as well as shape national policies and decisions that serve its interests while actively discrediting the Western liberal democratic system.   These Russian networks constitute a vital element of a vital element of Russia’s New Generation Warfare, which “is primarily a strategy of influence and not brute force” and its primary goal is “break[ing] the coherence of the enemy system – and not about its integral annihilation.”

In response to questioning Mr. Rogers testified in elections abroad the Kremlin had favored businessman over politicians believing them easier with whom to negotiate.  But, he also testified that, under the playbook, the Russian government will do everything possible to undermine democratic processes in the United States and Europe.

Discrediting the Trump administration and destabilizing American democracy is well within the scope of the Russian playbook.  Consider the geopolitical impact thus far.

First and foremost, it goes without saying that the 2016 was the most divisive political election in history.   As Mr. Trump played to people’s hatreds, prejudices and their fear of terrorism, the U.S. witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims, and protests were and are a near daily occurrence.  Mr. Trump’s attempt at a travel ban, also referred to as a Muslim ban, has resulted in untoward tweets directed towards the judiciary; which plays a crucial role in our democratic system of checks and balances.   It is bad that friends and families suffered and still suffer bitter arguments over Mr. Trump whose approval rating is a measly 37%; unprecedented for a newly-elected president.

Second, issues such as Brexit, NATO, Crimea, Ukraine, the Balkans, the Baltic States, the foreign relationship with the Chinese, the South China Sea dispute, North Korea’s accelerating nuclear weapons program, and even the presidential elections in France and Germany are all in a state of flux or have been negatively impacted by Trump administration’s inconsistencies, emphasized by Mr. Trump’s onslaught of baseless tweets, all of which is now overshadowed by the ‘Russian scandal’.  Oddly, out of all the governments whose leaders have or are planning to meet with Mr. Trump or members of his administration, Russia has not been mentioned.

Third and most obvious is that the Kremlin is well aware with whom its ambassador interacts, and the propaganda value of the information it obtained via hacking.  In other words, everything that appeared in the two news articles the HIC focused on could have come directly from the Kremlin.

Therefore, the more plausible explanation is that leaks, including the two news articles attributed to the intelligence community, were actually based propaganda and leaks by Russian surrogates who represented themselves as being members of the American intelligence community.

The 35 Diplomats and the Less Plausible Theory

In December, in response to Russian hacking and interference with United States election process, former President Barack Obama ordered 35 Russian diplomats based at Washington D.C. Russian Embassy to leave the country.  Mr. Obama’s decision would have been based upon specific information provided by the intelligence community.

That information was most likely collected by the CIA pursuant to a FISA warrant for the Russian embassy or Mr. Kislyak, a reputed former KGB agent and a trusted confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Assuming, arguendo, that this was the case any and all communications between Mr. Kislyak and individuals tied to Mr. Trump would have been intercepted.

The only other way these individuals could have come under scrutiny of the intelligence community is via routine surveillance of information by the NSA.  Vast amounts of Information are collected by the NSA and filtered through the use of artificial intelligence which runs by an algorithm designed to pick up on information warranting further scrutiny to determine whether the individual is a person of interest.

In either case, Mr. Rogers explained that before any person of interest can then be placed under NSA surveillance, the NSA is required to comply with federal law and obtain a FISA Court warrant.  Once a FISA warrant is obtained the individual’s identify is masked for security purposes.  Mr. Rogers testified that there are only 20 high ranking NSA personnel officials having the authority to unmask the citizen’s identity, which is only shared with other agencies or officials on a strictly “need to know basis” on issues involving national security.

Given the stringent statutory requirements for conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens and the integrity of the United States intelligence community, even though there is a confirmed investigation underway, it is not likely that information came from an internal leak but that it came from the Kremlin.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague and a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking.  Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


“The Kremlin Playbook”, April 2016, Council for Foreign Relations, as found on the www at


#Kremlin #Putin #RussianPlaybook #MichaelRogers #NSA #JamesComey #FBI #CIA #Intelligence #Leaks #unmasked #Trump #2016Election #FISA #investigation #TrumpAdministration #JaredKushner #Kushner #Guccifer #DemocraticNationalCommittee, #HillaryClinton #Podesta #MichaelFlynn #Kislyak #HouseIntelligenceCommittee #FalseNews #PaulManafort #RogerStone #JeffSessions #propaganda #hacking #leaks #Democracy

NAFTA, the State Department and USAID: What the Trump Administration Needs to Learn about Soft Power


The Trump administration is working to dismantle or diminish existing trade agreements and foreign aid programs to the detriment of United States foreign policy. Among the targeted programs are the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the office of the Secretary of State. The stated rationale for renegotiating NAFTA is that the Trump administration does not see the merit in multi-lateral trade agreements but, given the many tweets and comments made by President Donald Trump about Mexico’s “bad hombres”, the need for a wall and the crack-down on immigration, the actual motivation is skewed. As for USAID and the Secretary of State the rationale is that the monies currently budgeted could be better spent on building up the United States military.

While Mr. Trump’s America’s First Foreign Policy states that, “…in pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies,” the truth is that the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts reflect a lack of understanding of the importance of soft power.

Soft power is anything short of military force or hard power to achieve an objective beneficial to the United States. Fortunately, there are seasoned military personnel, Congressional lawmakers, a few Executive Branch members, and diplomatic corps standing ready to offer assistance to prevent the United States from being further degraded internationally by the misuse or disuse of soft power.

The State of the State Department

The fiscal year 2017 State Department and USAID budget request is approximately $50 billion, part of a broader $58.8 billion “international affairs budget,” but a pittance when compared to the $3 trillion-plus federal budget. The highly secretive Trump administration wants the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to cut their budgets by at least 37 percent. Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, accustomed to speaking his mind, having been the Commander of the United States Central Command and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, told Congress in 2013, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”   There has been no indication that General Mattis position has shifted.

Secretary of Defense General Mike Mattis

On February 27th 120 retired three and four star flag and general officers from all branches of the armed services, including two former CIA directors, General Michael V. Hayden and General David H. Petraeus, signed a letter directed to Senators Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, urging them to safeguard the State Department and USAID budgets.

Quoting General Mattis, the letter further stated, “The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way… The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”

“It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, it would be a disaster. This budget destroys soft power, it puts our diplomats at risk and it’s going nowhere,” commented Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for the State Department and Foreign Operations.

The budget cuts are expected to encounter bipartisan resistance.

Less out-spoken is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who in Washington these days, is like finding Waldo. In a leaked State Department memo, it is stated that Mr. Tillerson “…is deeply concerned about the timing and the size of the reductions and he will appeal to rationalize and reduce our size and structure in a matter that makes us leaner and more efficient. We intend to make the strongest argument possible in our appeal that the Department needs this additional funding to ensure the United States remains active, engaged and influential throughout the world and that any changes to our mission or way or doing business occur in the context of the National Security Strategy.”

Mr. Tillerson is said to have agreed in principle to departmental budget cut but that wants the reductions spread over three years, with only a 20 percent cut the first year, as opposed to one annual reduction.

The United States Agency for International Development

According to the USAID website, the “USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works in 13 wide-ranging sectors to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.” USAID’s activities are conducted by 14 separate bureaus and 11 independent offices engaging in wide array of activities spread among at least 107 countries – more than one half of the United Nations members states.

USAID was designed to first and foremost support good governance. Yet the 2016 USAID budget was a whopping $22.3 billion; of which only $2.4 billion was spent on state-building and good governance. The rest was dedicated to poverty alleviation, global health, biodiversity, women’s empowerment, education, sanitation, and economic and agriculture development.

Without sustainable governance all other initiatives fail to be sustainable. Before there can be governance, there often needs to be security sector reform; which is training local law enforcement and military personnel to maintain the peaceful environment necessary for self-governance. Security sector reform is an integral part of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In the vast majority of recipients security conditions have deteriorated. Security sector reform is a function traditionally carried out by militaries or United Nations peacekeeping forces justifying organizational change.

Lessons Learned from Afghanistan

The U.S.’s presence Afghanistan has thus far cost taxpayers $686 million. The 2016 USAID budget for all programs in Afghanistan was $1,024,314,523; a significant reduction from the 2015 budgeted amount of $3,072,502,384. This amount augments the amounts being expended by the State Department United States military, the United Nations and the European Union.

In August 2003 NATO took over for the U.S. in the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan that ran until December 2014. A second NATO-led mission, Operation Resolute Support, supported by 6,000 troops, was launched in January 2015 to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces.

The U.S. is running a coordinated mission – Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – involving an additional 8,400 troops, of which 2,150 troops are counterterrorism specialists. Over the past 14 years, the U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $68 million to train, equip, and pay the salaries of up to 352,000 soldiers, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and 30,000 members of the Afghan Local Police.

In addition, on October 5th, 70 international donors, including the European Union, pledged $15.2 billion or £12.3 Euros to support Afghanistan’s development until 2020. Funding for the Afghan military was an additional $5 billion annually. This contribution was made with the hope that Afghan refugees in Europe and the MENA region would have a secure home to which to return.

Despite all of these efforts there is not a stable Afghan government. The process of security sector reform was and remains far from complete making all other programs dysfunctional as their sustainability is contingent upon a reliable and stable government with law enforcement and military personnel who are effective and able to rise above pervasive corruption. Part of the problem, in a country having regional, tribal and even Sharia law, was that religious, cultural and ethnic beliefs were not studied beforehand leading to incorrect assumptions as to how engage in building a nation or nation-building that is premised on Rule of Law.

Thus while the 2004 Constitution created the Supreme Court of Afghanistan in Kabul, which applies both new civil laws and Islamic law, depending on the case, the outlying regions, lacked and understanding of new processes, as well as trained judges and attorneys.

Only the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul offers a legal program where concepts related to Rule of Law and civil law are taught. The Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP), founded in 2007 as a student-driven initiative under Stanford Law School’s Rule of Law Program, has already published six textbooks about Afghan law for Afghan audiences. In 2012 the U.S. Department of State, awarded the ALEP a $7.24 million grant to expand the textbook program and to establish a Bachelor of Arts and Law program at the American University of Afghanistan.

Even in Kabul, security is not guaranteed. On February 7th a suicide bomber targeted judicial personnel leaving the Kabul Supreme Court on a bus at the end of the work day killing twenty people and injuring 41 others. This was not the first Taliban attack on the court and court personnel.

USAID’s website indicates that it is financing a wide variety of Afghani programs yet there seems to be nothing tying them together, least of all, a secure government.  The same holds true in other countries where USAID is active.

Afghanistan is costly lesson learned.

Changing the Organizational Structure

According to a 2016 Foreign Policy article, USAID is allegedly “…training security forces that can exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, supporting courts that can dispense a semblance of justice, staffing a professional civil service that is not compromised by rampant corruption, and constructing financial mechanisms that can allow the state to raise and spend revenue with some degree of transparency. USAID does not, at the moment, have the necessary competency in any of these fields.”

Competence requires staffing by individuals having sufficient field experience in a particular country. USAID has been criticized for hiring individuals fresh out of school with only their Master’s degree in hand. It has been wisely suggested that the USAID hire highly trained former Army personnel.

Prior to the 2016 election it was argued that the USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corp., another government development assistance agency, along with smaller agencies like the Peace Corps, the Inter-American Foundation, the African Development Foundation, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., and the Trade and Development Agency, should be consolidated within the State Department.

Under normal circumstances the State Department is involved in soft power determinations, including aid and nation-building, with that budget exceeding $8 million dollars. However, since the Mr. Trump came into office things are far from normal.

Questions have been raised as to what power if any Mr. Tillerson wields within his own department and what level of communication exists between the Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Trump and his closest advisors. Based on sources close to Exxon who wish to remain undisclosed, Mr. Tillerson is well-suited for the customarily high profile role of Secretary of State.

The situation overall has deteriorated to the point that Mr. Tillerson was not even made aware that the Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray was meeting with Mr. Trump, and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, National Economic Council Directory Gary Cohn and National Security Adviser HR McMaster. The accepted protocol is that Mr. Videgaray should have not only have been greeted by Mr. Tillerson but, Mr. Tillerson should have been in attendance at all meetings.

The State Department is presently under-staffed with many key personnel having been fired or having left on their own accord. Mr. Tillerson has been unable to have his senior level personnel choices approved by the Trump administration.

Even under optimal conditions, the State Department, like USAID, is not the logical government entity to engage in nation-building, which involves peacekeeping and security sector reform. Those functions should fall under the purview of the Secretary of Defense. General Mattis has the experience to develop and implement essential and tailored nation-building and security sector programs.

The other components of soft power or aid that arise concurrently with the establishment of a sustainable government can be facilitated by the State Department. To this end, this author agrees the myriad of remaining programs be consolidated into the either the Secretary of Defense or the State Department.

Changing the Focus

In addition to changing the organization structure, there needs to be a structured review of the countries presently receiving aid. It is not difficult to make the argument that Egypt, no longer the ally it once was, or Pakistan, whose corrupt military and intelligence agency run the country with no benefit to the U.S., ought to be cut from U.S. aid programs. Conversely, it is easy to offer aid to Jordan and Lebanon, which are not only pursuing good governance, but have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees. Other countries where the expenditure of aid would be beneficial include Ukraine, Romania, and Poland, which while being protected from Russian aggressions by NATO and the U.S. are all suffering internal governance issues requiring support from the international community.

More difficult questions occur when considering Burma, the Philippines, and Israel. In the case of Burma, we are dealing with a fragile democracy that is engaged in ethnic cleansing and even the genocide of its minority Muslim Rohingya population. There now exists the potentiality that a jihadist terrorist cell could evolve jeopardizing the region. Aid in 2016 was close to $65 million. Going forward aid should be conditional.

A similar situation exists with the Philippines, which is strategically position in the South China Sea and a long-term U.S. ally. But, the extrajudicial killings ordered by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offend not only sensibilities but are human rights violations at the very least. In 2016 the U.S. gave the Philippines $76.9 million in aid, with $4.72 million specifically earmarked for “Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance”.

Israel presents an interesting situation. We all remember Mr. Trump’s promises to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  But, when the time came all Mr. Trump had to say at the February 15th joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.” Looking at that statement, the only solution both countries could like is a two-state solution as the Palestinians have no other option. While both Palestine and Israel receive U.S. the amount paid to the Israeli government is mind-boggling.

According to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, “Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.”

Here is the perfect opportunity to reduce the budget while conditioning future aid on peace being achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian frozen conflict. Money can melt the hearts of man, including that of Mr. Netanyahu.


America’s First Foreign Policy states that, “President Trump is committed to renegotiating NAFTA. If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”

On March 10th U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that he intends to launch fast-tracked formal talks to renegotiate NAFTA. “Fast track” or a 90 day negotiating period was granted to the president by Congress to streamline the approval of trade partners with Congress having the final vote.

Since the NAFTA treaty took effect in 1994 trade in goods between the United States, Canada and Mexico had quadrupled to $1.1 trillion by 2016. While technically a trade treaty, NAFTA has served as a form of soft power with Mexican authorities. For instance, the arrest and extradition of notorious drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, could not have occurred without the assistance of Mexican authorities. There have been many other arrests of individuals in Mexico affiliated with drug cartels.

The Trump campaign was staunchly against migrants. The truth is Illegal migration along the US-Mexico border is at its lowest level since 1972. To reach the United States, Central American migrants were crossing Mexico’s 750-mile border between it and Guatemala and Belize. The Mexican government accepted help from the U.S. to devise a systematized border patrol system. A year later, between October 2014 and April 2015, deportations and detentions on Mexico’s southern border drastically increased with Mexico apprehending 92,889 Central American migrants; double the 49,893 apprehended during the same period the year prior.

Mexico’s willingness to engage in these important initiatives would certainly decline or disappear should NAFTA be renegotiated in a manner placing it at a financial disadvantage. For this reason, NAFTA, as to Mexico, was be conceptualized as a necessary use of soft power.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague and a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


Adams, Gordon, and Sololsky, Richard, “Savaging State and USAID Budgets Could Do Wonders for Results”, March 9, 2017, Foreign Policy, as found on the www at

“Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP)”, Stanford University Law School, as found on the www at

America’s First Foreign Policy, White House, as found on the www at

Boot, Max, and Miklaucic, Michael, “USAID Should Become the Department of Nation-Building,” June 22, 2016, Foreign Policy, as found on the www at

Letter to Congressional Leaders, February 27, 2017, as found on the www at

Rogin, Josh, “Tillerson pushes back on White House’s proposed cuts to State Department and USAID”, March 3, 2017, Washington Post, as found on the www at

SHARED PROGRESS, SHARED FUTURE, Financial Report 2016, USAID, as found on the www at See e.g.  “USAID launches $70 million program to strengthen early grade reading skills in Afghanistan”, March 5, 2017, USAID, as found on the www at

Sharp, Jeremy M., ”The Congressional Research Service’s report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” December 22, 2016, Congressional Research Service, as found on the www at

Nationalism: Russian Hybrid Warfare

“People are bewildered, without anchor or perspective. Too many people have been left behind, creating a deep-felt need for protection. A need for security, not of a military kind, but of a social kind.

The populist answer is: exclusion. Shut others out. Not just Muslims. Anyone who disagrees is the enemy. After the British Referendum and the US elections, you could hear:  “I am the people” or “We are the nation”. As if the ‘others’ didn’t matter anymore.

I reject this solution. Because where exclusion wins, freedoms suffer. As we have all too often seen in our history.”

These were the powerful observations of Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission at the Future Force Conference.

Over 1200 leaders from over 50 countries attended the Dutch Ministry of Defence’s Future Force Conference 2017 held in The Hague on February 9 and 10. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Dutch Minister of Defence, stated that the conference was organized to bring, “people together in order to create a more secure world”.

Opening the conference General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence Netherlands Armed Forces, stated that there is “An uncertain future is looming on the horizon…. this affects us all.”

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Dutch Minister of Defence

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert concurred, stating, “Security in the world has seriously deteriorated since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Unfortunately, there is little likelihood of it improving any time soon. We have to be realistic. We are living in a time of violent change.”

While participants were predominantly military, private sector leaders, representing the full range of NGOs, were also active participants. The conference’s focus was to develop new ways of avoiding conflict, countering nationalism and misinformation, re-conceptualizing conflict, and post-conflict peace building and peacekeeping through an ecosystem that is inclusive of all stakeholders at every stage. For instance, collaborative defense could use technologies to help people rebuild their houses or obtain potable water.


The most critical concern is that the Russian Federation is and has been determined to destabilize Europe and now the relationship between Europe and the United States. Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea Peninsula, its ongoing aggressions in Ukraine, its military buildup on its Western borders and in the Baltic region, and its interference with elections in Europe and the United States, were also of significant concern to conference attendees. These are examples of Russian hybrid warfare. Russia’s hybrid warfare toolbox also includes the rapid dissemination of misinformation and propaganda, conventional warfare, nuclear armament, cyberattacks, espionage, and the ever-increasing use of proxies, including Syria and even the Afghani Taliban.

“[S]ince Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, we have been alerted to the particular threat of hybrid warfare. This threat, too, is borderless and multi-dimensional. It affects all of us. It is designed to remain below the threshold of open interstate war [under Article Five of the Washington Treaty]. And to reap rewards that are normally associated with victory in war. Hybrid warfare is real indeed!” explained Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert.

In an interview just days prior, Jamie Shea, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, stated that, “Where Russia is different vis-à-vis the old Soviet Union, is that it now has a much stronger foothold within our western democracies, in terms of media ownership, influence on populist parties, cyber instruments, energy relationships and other business deals. All of this gives Russia a much larger keyboard on which to play and it tends to use all of these instruments and to see in each particular case which one can produce the most confusion and destabilization. [T]he key thing is to expose Russia’s behavior quickly and effectively by clamping down on fake news and attributing cyber operations. We also need to build a strong military defence because the key thing is preventing Russia from trying to convert a hybrid warfare-type of attack into an actual military attack. We can recover quickly from the first type but unfortunately not so quickly from the second type.”

“Russia has less checks and balances than at any time before in history. Putin has unparalleled power. Now more than ever, when we see the return of geopolitics. Russia is challenging the European order. We see hybrid warfare, now in Ukraine. Will the Baltic states be next?” asked Mr. Timmermans.


The battles won against ISIS in reducing the territory it controls and by increasing screening at borders in the United States and Europe have resulted in retaliatory attacks abroad. In recent years, only a few attacks have been directly controlled by ISIS from abroad. Now, the majority of attacks come from lone actors; typically individuals who feel disenfranchised and disempowered by society or who were previously trained by ISIS abroad. In many cases, these lone wolves have been directly recruited and directed by ISIS operatives via the Internet.

“The fight against terrorism is borderless. We also have to deal with it in our own inner cities,” confirmed Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert.

“Terrorism is very much defined by its international character. And the internet has transformed the way crime is conducted online,” agreed Europol Director Rob Wainwright.


There have been a plethora of reports of misinformation funneled by the Kremlin through third-party actors. The most recent incident involved the 2016 American presidential election. Another example occurred in the Netherlands on April 7, 2016 when voters overwhelmingly rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty for closer political and economic ties. It was evident that many voters were influenced by misinformation as to the breadth of the treaty and that Russia was the source of the misinformation. Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, pronounced the result “an indication of European attitudes to the Ukrainian political system”.

Mr. Timmermans explained that, “In Europe, we see the return of the politics of paranoia. Fueled by alternative facts in Internet echo chambers, the disruptive forces of xenophobia, intolerance, illiberalism and nationalism and are on the march. New parties are peddling old, dangerous ideas. Brexit, Turkey, Poland, Hungary and even in the Western Balkans we see the return of fault lines in Europe. Not an iron curtain of machine guns and minefields, but a barrier of the mind, between inclusion and exclusion, between open and closed societies.”

“Nothing of ‘the old war’ is here anymore. We’re facing terrorism that is using information as a powerful weapon,” opined Monica Maggioni, President of RAI Italia and Vice President of the European Broadcasting Union. Ms. Maggioni emphasized the role social media plays in the dissemination of false information. She stressed the importance that the Fourth Estate engage in rigorous fact checking prior to publication.

The Technology: Cybersecurity, Deep Learning, and Artificial Intelligence

To counter Russian interference with democratic processes there is the growing need for enhanced cybersecurity and intelligence sharing amongst Western countries. There are intelligence agencies, such as Europol and the National Security Administration, already hard at work at increasing collaboration. While most collaboration occurs behind the scenes one public example is Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6, tipping off its American counterparts as to Russian interference in the United States presidential election.

“Cyberspace risks becoming the battlespace of the future, as it is less well governed and regulated.” said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert.

The problem with regulation is that state and non-state actors, such as ISIS, are responsible for cyberattacks and cyberwarfare will never succumb to any sort of governance or regulation.

This is why Dr. William Roper, Director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, United States Department of Defense, stressed that, “It’s critically important to talk about the future now.”

Discussing cyber warfare and cyber security, “Our whole approach to warfare will have to fundamentally change,” said Dr. Roper.

Dr. Roper said that we must “Change the game. Try a disruptive flipping of the paradigm, like changing offensive technologies to defensive weapons.”

Dr. Roper employed a sports team analogy. “Sports teams don’t throw out the whole playbook, but simply change it so that the new playbook has all the advantages of the old one but with restored surprise.”

“Living within the constraints of existing hardware and software focuses ideas, encourages joint cross-domain thinking, and necessitates partnerships,” explained Dr. Roper in a 2016 report to the United States Senate Armed Services Committee.

Dr. Roper went on to emphasize the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Learning. “There is not a single domain that will not be touched by AI. Go all in. If we don’t, we’ll be like a museum defence organisation,” stated Dr. Roper.

AI and Deep Learning have a full range of military and intelligence functions. For instance, through remote operated drones, the number of troops deployed is reduced and, ergo, the number of casualties reduced.

Mr. Holslag and Dr. Roper

Going “all in” requires acclimating troops to rapidly evolving technologies. “Soldiers [become] information warriors: when they are proud of what they do, they can explain this to their direct environment.” said moderator and keynote speaker, Jonathan Holslag, Professor of International Politics, Free University Brussels.

The EU, Brexit and the United States

Since World War Two the United States has led the world in geopolitics. With every conflict, attack and disaster, the world has always looked first to hear what “Washington” has to say. In recent years, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Li Jinping have challenged United States dominance by increasing their global power base, something former President Barack Obama fought hard to protect against. With the advent of the Trump administration and Brexit the global power structure is uncertain causing insecurity among countries not only in the European Union but in Southeast Asia.  For the European Union the greater threat emanates from Russia President Vladimir Putin’s grandiose expansionist foreign policy evidenced by Russia’s military buildup.

“The drawing inwards of the United States increases the spheres of influence for Russia and China,” observed Mr. Shea.

Addressing this issue head-on Mr. Timmermans stated that:

“We see the return of the menace of nuclear war. Russia has less checks and balances than the Soviet Union had. President Putin enjoys more unrestrained power, than Nikita Khrushchev ever did. For a moment, just imagine the Cuban nuclear missile crisis fought out on Twitter between Presidents Trump and Putin. We need a new rule book, new red lines and most importantly of all, we need a new escalation control. The Transatlantic relationship transcends any singular politician on any side of the Atlantic and remains the bedrock of our security. But it does mean we have to do our bit: Europe must pull its weight and shoulder its burden for its own security.

I strongly believe that our strategic interests run completely parallel to those of the United States. Our relationship goes back a long way and supersedes transitory personalities and politicians. We are relatives by history and friends by choice. We are friends because the same values underpin our societies: Openness. Diversity. Pluralism. Freedom. Democracy. I am not afraid these values will erode. I believe in the strength of American society. I am sure that checks and balances will ultimately win the day. But let’s not worry about what goes on across the pond, when right here, on our own doorstep, our fundamental values are under threat.”

Mr. Timmermans cautioned that, “The future of Europe is not decided by the tweets of the President of the United States. Brexit and Trump are having enormous centripetal effect on the [European Union] Member States.”

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, Chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee, spoke of the “disaffection in the United States” stating that “Trump is the insurgent in office”.

Admiral Duncan Potts, Great Britain’s Director of General Joint Force Development & Defence Academy, the equivalent of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Europe can no longer assume that the United States is the trusted ally it once was and that, over the last few years, the number of United States allies has slowly declined.

“The taken for granted can no longer be taken for granted. Experts can no longer be trusted. Assertions seem to trump evidence,” concluded Admiral Potts.

Their comments contradicted the information released earlier by British Prime Minister Theresa May following her meeting with President Donald Trump as to the strength of the relationship between the two countries.

“The question is not can America lead but will America lead?” asked Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who served as NATO’s 11th Secretary General, speaking during a breakout session on “Access Denied – Dealing with Degraded Political and Operational Environments”.

Without offering any rationale Mr. de Hoop Scheffer expressed concern that the United States is more concerned with developments in the South China Sea that in Europe. While United States Secretary of Defense General James Mattis’ first visit abroad was to Southeast Asia, the comment ignores the fact that on his first in office General Mattis spoke to both NATO and NATO member nations reassuring them of the United States continued support.

Perhaps Europe will find greater confidence in America’s commitment by virtue of General Michael Flynn’s February 13, 2017 resignation as National Security Advisor.

Unity Trumps Nationalism

A recurrent theme was the growing nationalism in Europe and the United States. Nationalism isolates people from people and nations from nations. Nationalism is a destabilizer. Nationalism empowers not only Russia but also China.

“There is a strong and understandable desire among many citizens in Europe, the United States and elsewhere…to ‘take back control’. By closing borders. By raising levies and protectionist walls. By reaffirming national identities,” stated Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert.

“To create a positive ecosystem, try positive patriotism as an alternative for negative nationalism. Walls don’t work,” suggested Mr. Holslag.

“Make no mistake: if our morale falters, military security will not help us,” warned Mr. Timmermans.

The United States, Europe, NATO and their allies should take heed of the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.


The Future Force Conference highlighted that we can no longer depend on our defence institutions. It is incumbent that stakeholders become invested in security and stability in the democratized world.

“We all live in a time of confusion where our usual point of reference no longer works to understand the world.” said Alia Aoun, Legal Advisor, Lebanon Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In order to maintain and foster societies adhering to Rule of Law we must take a step back and evaluate our values and how they impact the world around us. This is a wake-up call for collective and conscious global thought and action. The need for change in perspective was perhaps no better expressed than in a short video of World War II veteran and the last surviving Nuremberg Prosecutor Ben Ferencz who spoke about the future if humanity fails to chart a new course:…%2522%257D%257D

“Together, we are the force for good. It is up to us to walk that talk. By thinking big, and by acting small,” concluded General Middendorp.

General Tom Middendorp, Chief of Defence Netherlands Armed Forces

Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert concurred, stating that, “On this tiny planet, we depend on each other like never before. Let us start behaving accordingly. Let us start turning the tide.”

Imagine that.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague. She is a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


Lardner, Cynthia, “NATO’s Importance to the Security of the United States: A Conversation with Jamie Shea”, February 8, 2017, as found on the www at;; and

Roper, William B., “Strategy and Implementation of the Department of Defense’s Technology Offsets Initiative in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2017”, April 12, 2016,  Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senate, as found on the www at

Speeches, Future Force Conference 2017, as found on the www at

America’s First Energy Plan Falls Flat

The Trump administration’s promises to reform the Environmental Protection Agency, to scale back on environmental laws and regulations, to exit the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and to implement his America’s First Energy Plan, omit any explanation of the legal processes involved. President Donald Trump will be likely be unable to deliver on most, if not all, of his environmental promises in the 46 remaining months in his term because the United States is a democracy, having three branches of government, as well as the fourth estate, and not a private corporation.

In conjunction with these illusory promises, Mr. Trump over and over again touts his ability to stimulate economic growth and job creation in America’s poorest areas. He says he wants to bring the coal industry back. Economically this makes no sense. The bottom line is that investment in the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per dollar spent. Consider that coal mining towns are situated in mountainous regions – the perfect place to retrain unemployed workers to build, install and maintain wind farms.

The bottom line people who will lose from the ill-conceived America’s First Energy Plan are those families who are already suffering economic hardship who believed Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and choose to vote for him believing in a better tomorrow.

What Fuels Trump’s America’s First Energy Plan?

Climate Action Plan

First, the plan involves eliminating the Climate Action Plan, the Waters of the U.S. or Clean Water Rule, and  the U.S. Methane rule limiting emissions from oil and gas installations on federal land.

According to the EPA, “Clean water upstream means cleaner water flowing into rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters… The Clean Water Rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

The Clean Water Rule was promulgated after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers evaluated the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies showing that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

Under the non-delegation doctrine, the EPA was authorized by “enabling legislation” in the Clean Water Act to promulgate regulations. Generating regulations is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA); a process that includes publication of the proposed rules along with a notice of proposed rulemaking, a period for comments and participation in the decision making process and, ultimately, adoption and publication of final rules in the Code of Federal Register (CFR).

The Clean Water Rule has been stayed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in In re: Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense Final Rule; “Clean Water Rule: Definition of Waters of the United States, Case Nos. 15-3799/3822/3853/3887 (6th Cir., Oct. 9, 2015), in which the Court held:

“A stay allows for a more deliberate determination whether this exercise of Executive power, enabled by Congress and explicated by the Supreme Court, is proper under the dictates of federal law. A stay temporarily silences the whirlwind of confusion that springs from uncertainty about the requirements of the new Rule and whether they will survive legal testing. A stay honors the policy of cooperative federalism that informs the Clean Water Act and must attend the shared responsibility for safeguarding the nation’s waters… The Clean Water Rule is hereby STAYED, nationwide, pending further order of the court.”

On February 28th Mr. Trump directed the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess whether Clean Water Rule promotes economic growth and minimizes regulatory uncertainty. This fact-finding directive conflicts with newly confirmed EPA Director Scott Pruitt’s definitive statement that the EPA’s focus on combating climate change had cost jobs and stunted economic growth.

The harsh reality is that the Trump administration is bound by the stay – a stay not issued by a “so called court”. Once that case is decided, the procedures for substantive amendment to or repeal of a rule are the same as for the issuance; a time-intensive process.

Standards to Cut Methane Emissions

After two years of conducting research and complying with the APA, on May 12, 2016, the EPA issued its final Standards to Cut Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector, 40 CFR 60; regulations to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds and toxic air emissions by the oil and natural gas industries.

A year prior the proposed rules were unsuccessfully challenged in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in which New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed the following statement explaining the importance of these standards:

“The oil and gas industry is the country’s largest source of emissions of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Controlling these emissions is essential to combatting climate change. The regulations adopted by EPA in May reflect the ready-availability of proven, effective, and affordable measures for reducing methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry. They also fulfill EPA’s legal responsibility under the Clean Air Act to limit the industry’s methane emissions from these sources.

We can no longer afford to disregard the overwhelming evidence of climate change, and the threat that it poses to our families, communities, and economy. My office is proud to stand with our fellow coalition members in aggressively defending these important controls on climate change pollution.”

The case was dismissed as premature as the EPA “…has not yet issued a final rule. It has issued only a proposed rule.” Since the issuance of the final rules there have been no legal challenge. But, as in the case of the Clean Water Rule, any effort to change the existing regulations would have to follow the time-consuming administration process.

Climate Action Plan

Second, Mr. Trump wants to eliminate the Climate Action Plan. While neither legislation nor a rule the Climate Action Plan reflects a national policy toward reducing the impact of climate change by cutting carbon pollution that not only causes climate change and but adversely affects public health, and by promoting the conversion to clean energy.  Some of its benchmarks include:

  • Directs EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholder to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants;
  • Makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies;
  • Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings; and
  • Leverages new opportunities to reduce pollution of highly-potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons; directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy; and commits to protect our forests and critical landscapes.

The Department of Energy is responsible for oversight of the Climate Action Plan. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was confirmed on March 2nd as Energy Secretary. Previously, Mr. Perry vowed to close the Department of Energy, he has supported the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline, and called climate change a “contrived phony mess” with efforts to tackle climate change “hysteria.”

In his Senate confirmation hearing, to no great surprise, Mr. Perry made radically different statements. For instance, he testified that, “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Mr. Perry added that he is “committed to modernizing our nuclear stockpile, promoting and developing American energy in all forms, advancing the department’s critical science and technology mission, and carefully disposing of nuclear waste.” Building-up America’s nuclear weapons arsenal is an unjustifiable waste of taxpayer funds.

Mr. Perry has not issued any statement about the Climate Action Plan.

Shale Oil

Third, Mr. Trump wants to extract $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves. Extracting shale oil involves fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial technique to recover gas and oil from shale rock by drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The first problem is that fracking uses huge amounts of water, which must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost.

The second problems is that fracking releasing carcinogenic chemicals, such as hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids, arsenic, radium and benzene, into our ground water. Four states have been documented as have contaminated ground water supplies: Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

Coal Mining

Fourth, Mr. Trump stated that he plans on reviving coal mining using clean coal technology. Clean coal technology is a collection of technologies being developed to mitigate the environmental impact of coal energy generation to remove or reduce pollutant emissions to the atmosphere. The technology is neither green nor clean.

Real Job Growth Lies in the Renewable Energy Sector

The Trump administration should be looking at developing renewable energy sources within the United States. It does not even matter what Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon, Mr. Pruitt and Mr. Perry’s think about climate change as renewable energy generates more jobs and is more cost efficient that anything the Trump administration has touted.

Given inducements these same figures could apply to the rust belt and former coal towns where unemployment runs rampant and hope runs low.

Additionally, since 2008 the price of coal has risen 13% and the price for solar energy has dropped by 80%.


The multifaceted “America First Energy Plan” was most likely spearheaded by the White House’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who in his previous role of Executive Editor of right-wing Breitbart News, became well-known for denying climate change science, despite the fact that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is not only real but a manmade condition that only mankind can remediate, and for spreading conspiratorial views on clean energy. Mr. Bannon stated, without a scintilla of collaborating research, that, “Whether you believe in alternative energy or not, one thing we can tell you for a fact—whether it works or not, that’s all to be seen in the progress of time—it’s up to its neck in crony capitalism. The venture capital guys getting bailed out, the private equity guys getting bailed out, subsidies for these things.”

What is true about Mr. Bannon’s statement is there is cronyism. The America’s First Energy Plan reeks of cronyism favoring the fossil fuel industry. Consider the recently released emails evidencing a preexisting relationship between Mr. Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry.

The Paris Agreement                                          

The Paris Agreement was negotiated by 195 countries and has been ratified by 194 countries. The Paris Agreement falls within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. The United States ratified the agreement, which globally came into effect on November 4, 2016. Under the agreement the United States has committed to committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below the 2005 level in 2025, and to make “best efforts” to reduce emissions by 28 percent. This necessarily includes a reduction in fossil fuel usage.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the scale and the transformative nature of the change, which will be needed. We have to go to zero carbon emissions by about 2050 if we are going to stay below 2C of warming and that means that we have to leave about 2/3 of the known resources of fossil fuels in the ground,” stated Mary Robinson, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Climate Change and Director of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Change.

Ms. Robinson was emphatic that, “We have a responsibility to move in the direction that Paris has given us – well below 2C as far as possible to 1.5C – a world that leaves no one behind. A world that is fair and inclusive … We can do it. And we will have a much better and more equal world if we do.”

During the campaign, Mr. Trump stated that the United States would pull out of the Paris Agreement, calling the agreement “bad for US business” and alleging that the agreement allows “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use”.

Myron Ebell, a long-standing climate sceptic who headed Mr. Trump’s EPA transition team, opined that Mr. Trump, “…could do it by executive order tomorrow, or he could wait and do it as part of a larger package. There are multiple ways and I have no idea of the timing,”

Mr. Ebell’s statements run afoul of the Paris Agreement which stipulates that once the agreement came into force, countries that have ratified it have to wait for a minimum of three years before they can exit. The earliest date the United States could exit the Agreement is 2019. When it comes to the Trump administration fact-checking is everything.

The Gag Order

Employees at the EPA were quite vocal in expressing their science-based opinions as announcements were made. What did Mr. Trump do to address their concerns? He issued a gag order resulting in a rogue EPA twitter accounts such as @altUSEPA. This is the United States of America where government is supposed to be translucent and accountable, and where freedom of speech is protected.


The United States is already been deemed degraded in its role as a global leader. In the area of clean energy, China is presently investing more in renewable energy and building more renewable energy capacity than the United States further eroding the United States leadership role. During the campaign, Mr. Trump stated climate change was a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government”. If so, the joke is on Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump must take a big step back and consider that it is his job to insure that the United States remains the geopolitical leader in all areas.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague. She is a contributing editor to Tuck Magazine, E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and the International Policy Digest. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


“An American First Energy Plan”, White House, as found on the www at

FACT SHEET: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, June 25, 2013, White House, as found on the www at

In re: Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense Final Rule; “Clean Water Rule: Definition of Waters of the United States, Case Nos. 15-3799/3822/3853/3887 (6th Cir. October 9, 2015), as found on the www at

In Re: Murray Energy Corporation, Case No. 14-1112 (D.C. Cir. June 9, 2015), as found on the www at

“Paris Agreement – Status of Ratification,” UN Doc., as found on the www at

The Clean Water Rule, 80 FR 37054, August 28, 2015.

“What the Clean Water Rule Does”, The United States Environmental Protection Agency, as found on the www at

Justice, Security and Rule of Law: Trumped in Southeast Asia?


Authors Note: This analysis is a part of series. The first analysis, “In Deep Waters with China and Russia” was published on June 10, 2016 and the second, “Justice, Security and Rule of Law: How the United Nations Security Council Has Failed You” on July 15, 2016.

U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia in light of President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration is drifting off to sea placing the U.S. in a precarious position of isolationism in a region where China and Russia have been aggressively building alliances and partnerships. Amidst shifting global relationships and allegiances this is not a time for the U.S. to adopt a foreign policy built on isolationism or non-involvement but, rather it is a time to accelerate Southeast Asia foreign policy initiatives.

The tipping point for U.S. allies in Southeast Asia was and is Mr. Trump’s repeated statements that his administration would not support the U.S. joining The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), also known as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). If ratified, the TPP would be a comprehensive trade agreement among twelve Pacific Rim countries: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the U.S., and Vietnam, representing nearly 40 percent of global GDP and a third of world trade. This has dampened the strength of U.S.’ Southeast Asian foreign relations; weakening ties in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Mr. Trump should well know that cordial foreign relations always follows the money.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership vs. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

Ratification of the TPP must occur by February 2017 by at least six countries accounting for 85 percent of the entire group’s combined gross domestic product. Unfortunately, this is impossible without a commitment by both the U.S. and Japan. As it stands now, Mr. Trump is unlikely to send the TPP agreement to Congress for confirmation.

Without the TPP, the People’s Republic of China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) initiatives will gain momentum. If realized, the RCEP, would account for 40 percent of global trade and cover three billion people regionally, making it the world’s largest trading block, ahead of even the European Union.

Seven nations have engaged in both TPP and RCEP negotiations: Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. The U.S., Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru are TPP-only negotiators. The RCEP-only countries, other than China, are Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

What distinguishes the TPP from the RCEP is that the TPP protects and promotes Rule of Law by requiring member nations to liberalize their economies, and to protect labor rights, the environment, intellectual property, and foreign investments.

Participating in the TPP is a form of soft power and it has been a driving factor in previous presidential administrations to promote democratic values in other countries. With the simmering South China Sea dispute, the use of soft power in Southeast Asia has never been more important.

The South China Sea Dispute

China seeks to complete a “strategic triangle” in the SCS to monitor and control regional maritime activities, to bolster its naval position, and to gain access to much-needed oil and natural gas using advanced deep sea drilling technologies. China has constructed 3,200 acres of man-made islands on reefs, increasing its EEZs by 200 nautical miles or 370 km, and its territorial seas by 12 nautical miles or 22 km, on which it has installed airfields, surveillance systems, and a radar tower. China plans on installing an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, covering the SCS. An ADIZ demarcates a zone outside a country’s national airspace in which aircraft must identify themselves and follow the country’s military instructions.

China’s expansionist and illegal actions in the SCS have been protested by numerous SCS claimants, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, who are supported by the U.S., ASEAN, Australia, Japan and France. The 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), in which ASEAN and China agreed upon multilateral risk-reduction and confidence-building measures, requires that territorial and jurisdictional disputes be resolved without resorting to the threat or use of force.

Less than six months ago, a July 12, 2012 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) issued in an action brought by the Philippines to protect its rights in the SCS. The PCA opined that China violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; an agreement about territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZ), in claiming sovereignty over the 95% of the SCS, known as the “nine-dash line”.  Before the decision was even rendered, China stated that it would continue on its expansionist path.

On September 8, 2016, the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) heads of state, the leaders of the Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, together with President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang “…reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight in the South China Sea”. China remained committed to its course of action.

The direction ASEAN takes at the 2017 Summit will be under the control of controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the 2017 Chairperson.

“The chair of ASEAN has the power to set the agenda. What [the chair] has been used for historically is to cut things out of the agenda, particularly the South China Sea. And it will be very interesting to see whether the Duterte Administration puts it on the agenda, and I think it will open the door to other claimants to voice their thing,” explained Tim Johnston, Asia program director for International Crisis Group.

The direction to be taken by Mr. Duterte will impact all SCS claimants and, as of right now, Mr. Duterte cannot be expected to promote Rule of Law having relinquished the Philippines’ SCS claim. The first rule of economics is no such thing as a free lunch.  On December 19th, concurrent with Mr. Duterte’s announcement, China offered the Philippines $14.4 million worth of military assistance, without the conditions traditionally attached to U.S.

Most recently, at a December 27th Pearl Harbor memorial ceremony, without mentioning the SCS dispute, Mr. Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the need for dialogue to prevent future armed conflict. U.S. Congresswomen Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) was more pointed, stating that, “The lesson from all this, was that we do not forget the past … but we have to move ahead. For us to all collectively survive in the Asia-Pacific region, we need have to have an understanding of both the roles in the past and the roles in the future.”

The Philippines Vacillating Foreign Relations

The relationship between the Philippines and the U.S. rapidly disintegrated after the 2016 election of Mr. Duterte as President. Mr. Duterte’s anti-drug crusade involving widespread and seemingly indiscriminate extra-judicial killings constitute egregious human rights violations under international law.

Mr. Duterte’s policies initially precipitated a refusal by the U.S. to continue selling the Philippine assault rifles. By mid-December Washington halted all aid based on “…significant concerns around the rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines.” In 2016, the U.S. provided the Philippines with over $120 million in military aid, a $50 million increase over 2015, and an additional $42 million coming from the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.

Mr. Duterte responded by stating, “Eat your aid and we will survive. I’ll go to China.”

Despite more than a century of U.S.-Philippine military cooperation, this was followed by a statement that the Philippine’s government was scaling back on routine joint military exercises with the U.S. and that the Philippines would no longer host U.S. military ships patrolling the SCS. Legally, under the April 28, 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the U.S. patrols the SCS to protect the Philippines’ EEZ.  Under the EDCA, the U.S. also rotate troops in the Philippines; builds and operates temporary facilities on Philippine’s bases, for both American and Philippine forces; and gives giving Philippine’s personnel access to American ships and planes. Under the U.S. and Philippines 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the U.S. is be obligated to come to the defence of the Philippines if it is attacked by any foreign power.

Thereafter, Mr. Duterte has vacillated between the U.S., China and Russia.

At the November APEC forum Russia increased Philippines imports to $2.5 billion. In return, the Philippines agreed to hold talks on signing a defense cooperation agreement with Russia. A government decree, signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, stated, “To accept the proposal of the Russian Ministry of Defense, together with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to negotiate an agreement between the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Department of National Defense of the Philippines on defense co-operation.”

Mr. Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private November 19th meeting at the APEC forum Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Damage control quickly followed.  On November 30th Philippine’s Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. refuted rumors that Mr. Duterte’s upcoming visit to Russia was to establish a military relationship. Mr. Yasay stated that the focus was on defense cooperation limited to sharing information on terrorism, drugs and enforcement. It is questionable what information Mr. Duterte plans on sharing with Russia, given that under the EDCA, Philippine’s military personnel have access to U.S. military weapons and equipment and, therefore, the underlying technology.

Mr. Yasay stressed that, “The President has declared we will only have one military alliance and that is with the U.S. We have our Mutual Defense Treaty which the President said he will respect, together with all of the support agreements.”

At this time, the direction Mr. Duterte takes at the 2017 ASEAN summit is anybody’s guess.

Japan’s Multilateral Relationships

Mr. Abe has used every opportunity to engage in peace building with China. In private talks initiated by Mr. Abe with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the November APEC meeting,  Mr. Abe stated, “I want to improve bilateral ties across the board and forge a stable and good relationship by resolving issues in an appropriate manner and from a comprehensive viewpoint.” Mr. Xi responded by stating that he was “impressed with the prime minister’s words. It is important to settle issues properly and increase popular sentiment toward improving ties.”

Understanding that the TPP could help stabilize Southeast Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was the first foreign minister to meet with Mr. Trump post-election. Even if the Trump administration pushes Japan to join RCEP, the long-standing U.S. and Japanese military alliance is not for sale. Both countries have united to respond to provocation by the erratic North Korean demagogue Kim Jong-un and an increasingly militaristic and aggressive China.

Fearing further regional destabilization, in late December Mr. Abe approved a record defence budget, including five new large patrol ships, 200 additional maritime law enforcement staff, and a ballistic missile defence system upgrade.

The increase came as China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier traversed through Japan’s Ryukyu island chain and the East China Sea to the SCS where neared Taiwan, fueling tensions not only in Japan but also Taiwan. According to the Japanese defence ministry the Liaoning is one of a fleet of eight Chinese warships including destroyers and frigates.

The Destabilization of Sino-U.S. Relations

The Liaoning’s passage near Taiwan can be attributed to Mr. Trump foreign policy naiveté. His first major faux pas was recognizing Taiwan in a matter deemed by China to violate the “One-China” policy. The “One-China” policy is accepted by the United Nations, which has denied Taiwan member state status for the reason that it is not a sovereign nation but rather falls under Chinese sovereignty. As a United Nations member nation, the U.S. to bound to the “One China” policy.

That conversation precipitated a Chinese navy ship intercepting and seizing a U.S. naval drone legally deployed from an unarmed naval research ship in international waters for ocean exploration under the guise that it was interfering with other craft.   The real reason for seizing the drone was for Beijing to send a militaristic message to Washington that Mr. Trump has angered China.

Tensions with China were further exacerbated following Mr. Trump’s appointment of Peter Navarro to lead a new presidential office for US trade and industrial policy. Mr. Navarro has published two books that are sharply critical of China; in the first, Mr. Navarro predicts that war between China and the U.S. is inevitable. Mr. Navarro recently stated that, “For more than two decades, I have been telling people that the first thing China would do before trying to take Taiwan would be to take the Spratly Islands. If the world simply ignored that, then Taiwan would be next,” no doubt influencing Mr. Trump’s decision to speak with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Many of Mr. Navarro’s other beliefs, assimilated by Mr. Trump, have been proved faulty.

Beijing responded to the appointment via its state-run newspaper the Global Times in which it was stated that, “The US can no longer push China around today… If Washington dares to provoke China over its core interests, Beijing won’t fear setting up a showdown with the US, pressuring the latter to pay respect to China.”

This was tempered by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, who correctly stated that, “As two major powers with broad mutual interests, cooperation is the only correct choice.”

George Tenet, former CIA director, astutely described the foreign policy reality that for every action “there is an unequal and opposite over-reaction,” a concept Mr. Trump has not yet mastered. Mr. Trump must learn the ‘diplomatic dance’ of maintaining cordial relationships China, and the seduction of soft and hard power China has successfully used in courting many of U.S. allies, indispensable if America intends upon remaining a superpower.


Not willing to concede its SCS claim to Beijing, Vietnam has made vast improvements to its air force capabilities on Spratly Island. After adding 57 acres or 23 hectares of land to Spratly Island, it doubled the single runway to 1,200 meters or 4,000 feet, and doubled the number of aircraft hangars to four, creating a base for maritime surveillance aircraft, transport planes, and combat aircraft. Vietnam fortified several islands with mobile rocket launchers capable of striking Chinese military installations in the SCS.

Fortifications such as the one on Vietnamese-controlled Phan Vinh Island in the South China Sea’s Spratly chain are one method countries in the disputed waters press their claims. Credit: Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

During a June 1, 2016 visit by Mr. Obama to Hanoi, he not only promoted the TPP but, announced that the lifting of a decades old arms embargo, new commercial agreements worth more than $16 billion, and the posting of Peace Corps volunteers to Vietnam. Mr. Obama successfully requested U.S. access to Vietnam’s sheltered deep-water Cam Ranh Bay military port.

Vietnam is now justifiably concerned about the TPP and ongoing U.S. trade relationship.  Mary Tarnowka, U.S. consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, attempted to provide reassurances that whatever the fate of the TPP, U.S.-Vietnamese economic link “has never been stronger.”

As for continued defense support there has been no comment by the incoming administration which is predicted to maintain its current position on the SCS dispute.


Thailand separates the Strait of Malacca from the SCS through which one-third of global trade and two-thirds of all oil and liquefied natural gas pass making it extremely important to Western countries trading with Southeast Asia and conducting Freedom of Navigation patrols. Thailand has remained neutral in the SCS dispute.

After Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in a May 2014 military coup, the U.S. froze security and defense aid to Thailand and scaled back on annual military exercises, precipitating a diplomatic hiatus for the reason that junta had failed to honor Rule of Law, including holding a free and fair election. In 2015 the U.S. resumed diplomatic talks with Thailand.

While the U.S. is Thailand’s oldest ally, the junta views China as a noncritical security partner vital to Thailand’s economy. China has seized this opportunity to cultivate political, economic and defense ties, including talks about building military facilities in Thailand to produce small arms, drones, and other security-related equipment. Bangkok is engaged in similar talks with Russia.

Given its geographic location, the Trump administration must consider the negative impact of a failure to implement the TPP on U.S.-Thai relations and regional geopolitics.


On July 20, 2016 U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch filed complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than $1 billion in assets associated with an international conspiracy by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to launder misappropriated funds. The 1MDB was created by the Malaysia government to promote economic development through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, ultimately improving the well-being of the Malaysian people. Instead, 1MDB officials allegedly misappropriated more than $3 billion.

“The Department of Justice will not allow the American financial system to be used as a conduit for corruption. With this action, we are seeking to forfeit and recover funds that were intended to grow the Malaysian economy and support the Malaysian people,” stated said Attorney General Lynch.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is reputed to be the “Malaysian Official 1” referenced 36 times in the 136-page lawsuit and is believed to have personally received more than $1 billion of misappropriated funds. Mr. Najib has denied any wrongdoing or personal gain.

The lawsuit, as well as the improbability of U.S. ratification of the TPP, has upturned U.S.-Malaysian foreign relations. China has seized this opportunity.  Chinese investments into had Malaysia fallen by 30 percent in the first half of 2016. On November 1, 2016, Mr. Razak concluded a week-long visit to China with securing infrastructure investments in Malaysia of $32.2 billion, and by signing an agreement for SCS naval cooperation.

Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, and Malaysian PM Najib Razak at a Beijing parade on November 1, 2016. Credit: Xinhua

This is a reversal Mr. Najib’s previous position that Malaysia would not compromise its SCS claims, but hoped that it would be resolved through dialogue and peaceful negotiations; the position advocated by the U.S.

“Kuala Lumpur (has) sought direct engagement rather than confrontation with the Asian powerhouse over the South China Sea disputes,” observed Richard Javad Heydarian, Assistant Professor of International Politics at the Philippines’ De La Salle University.


Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently described the current international security environment as “the most complex and diverse array of global threats” he has faced in his 53 year career.

Soft power, which includes virtually everything save military support, is a foreign policy tool which not only attracts other countries but gains their acquiescence on more important issues and reduces threats. With strategic precision, China has deployed soft power in Southeast Asia, gaining support for its dominance in the SCS dispute and diluting the influence of the U.S. and other foreign powers.

“The revisionist powers in each region are cooperating with each other only superficially because they all see potential existential threats from each other,” confirmed Michael Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Trump administration must continue the Obama legacy of not only maintaining but strengthening U.S. relations in Southeast Asia. Mr. Trump must conceptualize the TPP as a necessary form of soft power. If the TPP is not ratified by the U.S., it will damage, or perhaps irreparably reverse, all of the work done thus far in the region.

“If the U.S. is unable to back up its regional role … the regional states have no other choice but to accommodate Beijing,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

If Mr. Trump’s administration fosters increased Southeast Asian dependence on China, then the U.S. risks its regional and global role as the only democratic superpower.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague and contributing editor to Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.


Green, Michael J., “Is the foundation of the U.S.-led order crumbling?”, November 15, 2016, Center for Strategic and International Studies, as found on the www at

Lardner, Cynthia, “Justice, Security and Rule of Law: How the United Nations Security Council Has Failed You”, July 15, 2016, as found on the www at

Lardner, Cynthia, “In Deep Waters with China and Russia”, June 10, 2016, as found on the www at; and

“‘One Belt, One Road’ An Opportunity for the EU’s Security Strategy”, November 2015, Clingendael, as found on the www at

“U.S. Seeks to Recover More Than $1 Billion Obtained from Corruption Involving Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund”, U.S. Department of Justice, July 20, 2016, as found on the www at

The Transpacific Trade Partnership, Office of the U.S. Trade Partnership, as found on the www at

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