America’s new national security advisor is fond of quoting a Roman military maxim: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”
Trump’s new security chief would ‘risk military conflict with China’
He appears to be gearing up for just that.
John Bolton is willing to risk a military conflict with China to achieve President Donald Trump’s goals for America, two former senior US officials have told the South China Morning Post.
Bolton would use military force to coerce compliance from China – which an increasingly hawkish White House has painted as a competitor, if not an adversary, said the former officials who had worked with Bolton.
The national security advisor, who began his new job on Monday, also seeks to challenge Beijing over its “one China” policy on Taiwan, a move that would certainly inflame tensions amid a looming US-China trade war.
But while Bolton is seen as a military hawk who shares the “Make America Great Again” world view that underpinned Trump’s 2016 election campaign, the president is believed to oppose the idea of hostilities with another nation.
Those opposing views set the stage for a potentially contentious relationship between Bolton and Trump on certain US foreign policy and security matters.
‘Most dangerous American’
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, told the Post he doubted Trump would tolerate Bolton’s disagreeing with him at any point.
However, “if Trump surprises me and does warm to Bolton, we are all in trouble – from North Korea to China,” Wilkerson said.
A major witness during Bolton’s Senate UN ambassadorship hearing in 2005, Wilkerson has labelled Bolton “the most dangerous American” for US foreign security policy.
Bolton, 70, was named by Trump as H.R. McMaster’s replacement in a Tweet on March 22.
I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2018
Bolton’s views on ending the North Korean nuclear crisis are already well-known. He has advocated launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea over its threat to use nuclear weapons against the US.
It is unclear what Bolton’s endgame for China would be.
If the ultimate goal would be merely to push back against China in a show of American might that would placate Trump’s voter base, who have accepted the president’s claim that China is taking advantage of the US at the US’s expense, Bolton could play a significant role.
But Bolton’s critics increasingly worry that any outbreak of hostilities now would be ill-timed coming ahead of the proposed historic meeting between Trump and North Korea’s Kim and the reportedly unprecedented visit to Taiwan by a top US official, possibly Bolton himself, in June.
Bolton has said the US should intensify its military forces on the US island territory of Guam, in Japan and in the Yellow and East China seas.
To convince China to “crack down” on North Korea’s nuclear activities, he has argued that Washington should make a case to “reunify the [Korean] peninsula” and make military threats toward Pyongyang “credible.”
China opposes an outbreak of war between the two Koreas on its doorstep, for various reasons.
One China no more?
On Taiwan, Bolton is equally hard-nosed.
In an opinion essay he wrote for The Wall Street Journal in January, Bolton called on the US to “revisit the One China policy,” suggesting a renegotiation of the US-China agreement that Taiwan and China are part of the same nation.
“Let us see how an increasingly belligerent China responds,” Bolton wrote.
Speculation grew over the weekend that Bolton could visit Taiwan in June when the new American Institute on the self-governed island is slated to open, Taiwan News reported. The institute represents US interests in the absence of formal ties.
Beijing regards the self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under Beijing’s rule by force if necessary.
China has warned the US to back down from any official exchange with Taiwan.
Ruan Zongze, a former minister counsellor for political affairs at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Monday that China will do “whatever it can” to defend the one-China principle. “China has no interest in backing off,” he said.
One the same team
It remains unclear now whether an aggressive Bolton could work with his new colleagues on the president’s national security team, including incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Mark Groombridge, a long-time advisor for Bolton at the State Department, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that Bolton's style was to "run an imperial National Security Council.”
Groombridge said that “the State and Defense departments are there to implement White House policy”.
The National Security Council traditionally serves to get bureaucracies to support the President’s agenda, said Douglas Paal, vice-president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There are multiple ways to accomplish that objective, ranging from gentle to harsh. But the real measure will be their effectiveness, not their style.”
Paal sensed that there is “a broad bipartisan consensus in the US that China is taking advantage of the US in many dimensions,” and that “it is time to push back.”
When Hillary Clinton appeared the front-runner in the 2016 presidential election, China feared she would pursue an “anti-China direction if elected, and she likely would,” Paal said.
“If Trump’s key advisors all were changed again tomorrow, the direction would be basically the same.”
That Roman maxim might be holding true for Trump and Bolton alike.