John Bolton is set to clash with some of the United States’ closest allies


March 23, 2018

LONDON — In a move that may have far-reaching implications for U.S. stances on crises around the globe, President Trump on Thursday replaced Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser with conservative firebrand John Bolton.

March 23, 2018

LONDON — In a move that may have far-reaching implications for U.S. stances on crises around the globe, President Trump on Thursday replaced Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser with conservative firebrand John Bolton.

The news, announced by Trump in a series of tweets, did not go down well among some close U.S. allies. "Bolton? Really? Where’s the bunker?" responded Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden.

No European government offered a public rebuke of Trump's choice of national security adviser, but the decision is likely to further widen the foreign policy and international security divide that has emerged between Europe and the United States, given Bolton's past statements and how they compare to policy stances in Europe.

Bolton's remarks on North Korea: 

The former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state for arms control during the George W. Bush administration has emerged as one of the harshest commentators on North Korea, even suggesting that a preemptive war may be necessary to stop Pyongyang's nuclear weapons advances.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in February, Bolton explained his position, writing: "It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current “necessity” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first."

As the White House prepares for a summit later this spring between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Bolton's raised profile could complicate those efforts. The new national security adviser has called negotiations with the regime in Pyongyang a waste of time, even though he later positively framed Trump's announcement of a summit, saying that it did not follow the norms of traditional diplomacy.

Bolton's remarks have also reflected a more general skepticism of the traditional diplomacy that tends to be favored by a number of U.S. allies.

What some U.S. allies think:

When Trump himself threatened North Korea with a military escalation last August — saying that the regime would be hit with "fire and fury" if provocations continued — U.S. allies widely condemned the rhetoric that now appears to be backed by Trump's new national security adviser.

At the time, Germany's Foreign Ministry cautioned Trump that "saber-rattling won't help." The spokeswoman for the European Union's foreign policy chief agreed that "a lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula must be achieved through peaceful means…. That excludes military action."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull similarly warned that responding to North Korea's threats with "fire and fury" would have "catastrophic consequences" worldwide. Like his European counterparts, the Australian leader argued that instead, economic pressure and sanctions could be more effective at deterring the Kim Jong Un regime.

As my colleague Anna Fifield wrote, South Korea and Japan are especially worried that a military escalation could quickly result in artillery or missile attacks from North Korea.

Bolton's remarks on Iran: 

Bolton is known for his tough stance on Iran and opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement reached during the Obama administration between Tehran and six world powers, including the United States. The timing of Bolton's appointment comes at a critical time — with less than two months left until Trump will have to make a renewed decision whether the United States will reimpose economic sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal.

Bolton has also openly advocated a U.S.-supported overthrow of the Iranian regime. "Our goal should be regime change in Iran," Bolton told Fox News in January.

What some U.S. allies think: 

Even though there might be flaws, the current Iran nuclear deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing.

“It is essential to maintain it to avoid proliferation. In this period when we see the risks with North Korea, we must maintain this line,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last September.

After the agreement was struck, Iranian exports to the European Union increased by 375 percent from 2015 to 2016, and European companies have already invested a significant amount of money in the country, raising the stakes of any decision that could result in the deal’s collapse.

European allies have also voiced concerns over remarks that indicate the West's willingness to topple the regime in Tehran, as Trump did in several tweets in early January when he wrote: “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime…. The U.S. is watching!” Some observers worried at the time that Trump’s accusations and support for the protesters could become the pretext for a crackdown. Bolton's previous remarks are likely to trigger similar fears.

Bolton's remarks on the U.N. and other international organizations: 

Despite having served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton has frequently expressed skepticism of international organizations such as the United Nations and NATO. "There is no United Nations… There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along," Bolton said in 1994.

What some U.S. allies think: 

Europe still very much relies on the mechanisms and organizations created during the 20th century, perhaps because the repercussions of World War I and World War II are still more visible and omnipresent here than in the United States.

Especially when it comes to defense issues, the “old continent” heavily relies on NATO and the United States. European allies have long given the United States leeway to build bases in their countries, in exchange for the protection they offer.

Without that protection under the NATO framework, Europe's ability to defend itself would be cast into doubt, and leaders here have frequently offered strong criticism of any efforts to question the military alliance.

Bolton's remarks on Russia: 

Even though Bolton has voiced skepticism of international organizations such as NATO, he has been unusually staunch in regard to one key rival of the alliance: Russia. Amid fears of Russia's military might in a number of European nations, including in Sweden and Estonia, Bolton vowed "that we will not let Russia push the U.S. or its allies around."

What some U.S. allies think: 

Some European allies that have recently reintroduced conscription or increased military spending over fears of a possible Russian military attack may be relieved by Bolton's remarks on Russia.

Moscow has been accused of election meddling in the United States as well as in Europe, and its military exercises have raised worries in Eastern and Central Europe. In Scandinavia, a number of nations have taken preemptive measures to defend themselves against the theoretical scenario of a Russian invasion by expanding military bases and shelters.

But there is likely to be dissent among at least some European Union member states. And the most populous E.U. member, Germany, has a strong pro-Russia lobby that has recently argued in favor of normalizing relations with Moscow, rather than escalating tensions.

Courtesy/Source: Washington Post