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Shinzo Abe’s smashing victory in Japan’s legislative elections in October certainly points to a more assertive Japanese posture, given Abe’s longstanding desire to free his country from the shackles of its pacifist constitution. South Korea, like Japan, has avoided developing its own nuclear capability, preferring instead to rely on the American deterrent. The voices that are calling for Seoul to possess its own independent nuclear capability are getting louder, however, in the face of North Korea’s ongoing weapons and missile tests. The assertion by Assemblyman Won Yoo-cheol of the ruling Saenuri Party that South Korea “cannot borrow an umbrella from a neighbour every time it rains. We need to have a raincoat and wear it ourselves” typifies this view.

At the time of writing, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had brought down indictments on 12 counts, including money-laundering and multiple counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank accounts, against Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time election campaign chairman, and his associate Rick Gates, also a member of the Trump campaign team. If convicted on all counts, both men could spend the rest of their lives in prison — unless they turn state’s witness against senior members of the Trump White House. That already appears to be the case with respect to a relatively junior Trump campaign official, George Papadopoulos, from whom Mueller obtained a guilty plea for having lied to the FBI. Papadopoulos had actively sought contacts with the Russians during the presidential campaign, and had even suggested to more senior campaign officials that Trump travel to Russia. Having exchanged emails with Manafort and other campaign personnel, Papadopoulos could represent a serious threat to persons close to the President.

Trump is clearly frustrated by these developments, over which he has no control. Should he choose to fire Mueller, or even to restrict the funds available to him, his actions could be interpreted as obstruction of justice. In turn, that could trigger an impeachment process on Capitol Hill that Republicans, already nervous about their prospects in the 2018 legislative elections, may find themselves unable to prevent. The President has been obsessed with the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections ever since they were launched. He is unlikely to be less concerned about them today, or indeed for as long as they continue. Foreign policy, never Trump’s strong suit, is certain to suffer as a result, especially given the ongoing turmoil at the State Department, where Secretary Rex Tillerson often appears to focus more on personnel reductions than on America’s role overseas.

America’s friends and allies thus have good reason to be nervous. Nevertheless, this is not the first time in recent memory that America’s commitment was in doubt: Washington’s dismal international standing is not very different from that of the Jimmy Carter era, when Europe witnessed the neutron bomb fiasco, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Iran took American hostages. America’s alliances withstood those tests, and reemerged even stronger in the ensuing years as the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War was won. Certainly these are trying times, yet America’s strategic fundamentals remain sound. Its military is still the most powerful in the world; its economy is on the upswing; its technology base is second to none. Washington’s alliances and friendships have weathered many crises in the past. No doubt they will do so again — but only in due course. 
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