The Fighter

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John Bolton was once the enfant terrible of the Republican Party. Is he now its conscience?

This article was first published in Foreign Policy on February 6th, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

John Bolton is worried about a virus but probably not the one you’re thinking of. The former U.S. national security advisor arrives for lunch at Edgar Bar & Kitchen in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington carrying a long umbrella and a 5,000-word printout of an essay he had written over the holiday break for the National Review. The subject of his cri de coeur? The “virus of isolationism” that has gripped the fringes of his beloved Republican Party. 

Like the restaurant’s namesake—J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director, who dined at the hotel on a daily basis—Bolton is a regular. The seat at the back corner, in front of a shelf of Prohibition-era liquor bottles, is his usual spot, the hostess informs me. There is a frisson of excitement among the servers, who evidently know who he is. Shortly before Bolton’s arrival, a Secret Service agent with a discreet coiled earpiece sweeps by, a reminder of the Iranian bounty on his head. “I was offended that they only offered $300,000,” Bolton says when I ask him about it later, before wondering aloud if the price had gone up now that he has a security detail.

Bolton has long served as the id of the Republican Party, happy to say the quiet part out loud on cable news and in the op-ed pages of national newspapers. He has advocated for the bombing of North Korea and Iran, joked on CNN about plotting coups, and most recently called for Turkey to be ejected from NATO.

He joined the White House in April 2018 as then-President Donald Trump’s third national security advisor, at the point when any illusions that the weight of the office would cause Trump’s better angels to prevail had been long since banished. Seventeen months later, he was out—fired or resigned, as Bolton has claimed—as the relationship soured. While much of the Republican Party continues to turn on the Trump axis, Bolton has broken with his former boss in a dramatic fashion. Many of his peers have contorted themselves to fit the MAGA mold or slunk from the limelight altogether, but Bolton has kept on Boltoning. Now, as the Republicans take the gavel in the House of Representatives and Russia’s war in Ukraine approaches its first-year anniversary, I invited Bolton to lunch to find out what one of the party’s foremost hawks makes of recent calls from Republicans to curb U.S. support to Kyiv. 

We meet in early January as Congress is on its sixth—or maybe seventh or eighth or ninth—vote for House speaker as Kevin McCarthy battles a handful of rebels from within his own party. Bolton dismisses the spectacle unfolding on the House floor with trademark alacrity. “I don’t think it’s an ideological division,” he says, “so much as it is between people who may have diverging views but are serious about governing versus people for whom politics has become performance art.”

It’s not that group’s willingness to buck consensus that seems to bother him the most but the hollowness of their position. “If one of the isolationists would stand up and make the case that assisting Ukraine is not in the strategic interest of the United States, then you could at least have a discussion, but that’s not what they do.”

Bolton refused to testify during Trump’s first impeachment hearing, but it was the former president’s declaration that the U.S. Constitution should be terminated that prompted Bolton to throw his hat into an ever-expanding ring of Republican hopefuls weighing a 2024 bid for the White House. “Donald Trump is unacceptable as a Republican nominee,” he said on NBC’s Meet The Press in December. “I had not intended to [run] until Trump came out with his comment,” Bolton tells me. 

One of the presumed 2024 candidates with whom Bolton seems most comfortable is the one who has most often been described as Trump’s heir apparent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Bolton has known since 2012. “I’ve watched him very carefully. I’d feel very comfortable with his foreign policy.”

Bolton is something of a nerd, and true to form, while we wait to order our salads, he offers a potted history of the restaurant, and we get onto the topic of the Mayflower’s cameo in many a Washington spy scandal. This leads us to one of his latest book acquisitions, Cloak and Gown by Robin Winks, about the secret history between academia and the intelligence agencies during World War II and the early years of the Cold War. 

Whether it’s just his nature or experience born out of years of talking to journalists, Bolton offers compact, to-the-point answers to my questions, distinguishing himself from many a voluble Washington denizen of his tenure. Maybe that’s why he feels the need to justify the length of his essay on isolationism. “My feeling has been that I needed to write all this out. So that’s why it’s 5,000 words long,” he says. 

It’s unclear how many Republicans who have questioned military aid to Ukraine would sit down to read such a treatise on U.S. foreign policy. But Bolton got his start in a different era. During his five decades in Washington, Bolton has served in four Republican administrations, holding positions at the Justice Department, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Through those various stints in office, he enjoyed many wrestling matches with the bureaucrats. In an era of spicy tweets, dubious facts, and 30-second cable news sound bites, though, I can’t help but wonder if Bolton is bringing a knife to what is now a gunfight. 

It was during his tenure as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in George W. Bush’s first term that Bolton was dubbed “human scum” and a “bloodsucker” by North Korean state media. That came after he delivered a speech in which he described North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator.” He would later describe the moniker from Pyongyang as the “highest accolade” he had received during his time in the junior Bush’s administration. 

During Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination to serve as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations in 2005, an altogether more serious series of claims were made—that Bolton had sought to cherry-pick intelligence and bullied analysts who challenged his conclusions. Bolton was a “kiss-up, kick-down” sort of guy, the former head of the State Department’s in-house intelligence bureau, Carl W. Ford Jr., told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bolton denied the allegations, but his nomination stalled, and he was ultimately sent to the United Nations as a recess appointee. 

Bolton does not seem to mind and perhaps even revels in his reputation as the enfant terrible of the Republican Party. I ask him how he would describe his role within the ecosystem of the party, but the man who has been called all sorts of things says he is not a fan of labels. “I don’t like these bumper stickers, this taxonomy of trying to put people in boxes,” he says.

In August 2022, the Justice Department revealed that it had charged an Iranian man with plotting to have Bolton assassinated. This was in apparent retaliation for the U.S. drone strike at the beginning of 2020 that killed Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani. Bolton was first alerted of the plot in early 2021. He was called into FBI Headquarters shortly before Thanksgiving that year to be warned that the threat had become more specific. 

“‘If this threat were because of my op-eds and speeches, I would be flattered, but I don’t think that’s what it is. I think it’s what I was doing in the government,’” he recalls telling the room of 15 or so investigators, before suggesting that it was perhaps incumbent on the government to therefore to do something about it. “They said, ‘Have you called the Biden White House?’ And I said, ‘Are you crazy? Of course I haven’t called the Biden White House. Why don’t you call the Biden White House?’” Shortly afterward, President Joe Biden signed an order providing Bolton with Secret Service protection. 

Although Bolton’s service in the Trump White House follows him quite literally these days—in the form of a security detail—he is eager to distance himself from the former president. In fact, in diagnosing the resurgence of isolationism within the Republican Party, Bolton points to Trump as patient zero.

Pinning down a coherent way to describe Trump’s foreign policy evaded the Washington commentariat throughout his presidency. His administration cranked the dial on U.S. competition with China, assassinated an influential Iranian general, and brokered the Abraham Accords between Israel and a number of Arab states, while also alienating allies in Europe, signing a catastrophic deal with the Taliban, and withdrawing the United States from both the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords. 

It was an approach forged by the president’s own whims and whichever faction of the bureaucracy around him had succeeded in getting his ear. “Donald Trump didn’t have an ideology or a philosophy either, because he couldn’t think coherently enough to have one,” Bolton says flatly. 

Trump’s promises of ending the so-called forever wars tapped an anti-interventionist nerve running through both parties these days. But it is on the question of military aid to Ukraine that the isolationist streak in the Republican Party has been most pronounced. Eleven Republican senators voted against a $40 billion package for Ukraine last May, while Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Chip Roy, and Matt Gaetz are among those who have called U.S. military aid for Ukraine into question, joining Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. (Speaking at an event in Washington on Wednesday, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “amazed and horrified by how many people are frightened of a guy called Tucker Carlson. … All of these wonderful Republicans seem somehow intimidated by his perspective.”)

Bolton is convinced that the isolationist sentiment that has welled up around Ukraine has more to do with fealty to Trump than the result of a strategic assessment of U.S. national security priorities. The former president’s personal distaste for Ukraine has been well documented by former White House officials. It emerged during impeachment hearings in 2019 that Trump had become convinced by what his former top Russia advisor Fiona Hill described as a “fictional narrative” that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election—and not in his favor. 

“It colored his whole attitude toward Ukraine and therefore colored the minds of some people in Congress,” Bolton says.

U.S. intelligence officials concluded that the narrative was likely cooked up by Russian intelligence to undermine U.S. support for Kyiv. If Bolton’s theory is correct, that would mean that elements of the current resistance to sending further military aid to Ukraine may well represent, however unwittingly, the long tail of a Russian disinformation campaign still playing out in Washington.

There is an old saying in Washington that when it comes to choosing their presidential candidates, Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line. In light of McCarthy’s humiliating road to become House speaker, I ask Bolton whether he still recognizes his party as it stands today. “Oh, sure. I still think the isolationist virus is a very small percentage of the party both in Congress and in the public at large,” he replies. 

I tell him I’m inclined to agree, but the skeptic in me is unsure whether the quiet majority will win out against the vocal minority. But Bolton is ready for the fight. 

“I don’t plan to rest on my laurels. Let’s have the debate. That’s how you find out who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. I’m ready for it.”

Germany must decide whether it is a ‘normal nation’

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Germany’s very public agonizing over whether to provide its Leopard II tanks to Ukraine (or allow other states that had purchased Leopard II’s to send theirs) graphically exposed Berlin’s continued confusion about its status as a NATO member. Just days after his tank decision, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is already warning against a “competition” to supply Ukraine with needed weapons systems, and ruling out Germany supplying combat aircraft. 

While there is momentary relief that, at last, Scholz has committed to provide the armor Ukraine requested, he did so only after President Joe Biden also agreed to send roughly a battalion of America’s Abrams tanks. While Biden’s decision was correct on its own merits, it was hardly a matter of strategy, and more a matter of horse-trading to persuade Berlin’s decidedly reluctant leadership. 

Amid the illusory self-congratulation following the tank decision, a pattern that has characterized much of NATO’s response to Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine, a much larger issue lurks, one which only Germany’s citizens can resolve. Their reluctance to support a military capability appropriate to their country’s economic weight is uniformly expressed through the prism of the Nazi horror, and the death and destruction wreaked upon Europe and the world until Adolf Hitler’s monstrous tyranny was crushed in 1945. 

Shame and penance are appropriate and necessary reactions for any country electing leaders such as Germany did. But there also comes a time when outsiders can legitimately ask that Germany behave as a responsible military ally, while continuing to carry those burdens. The real question is whether Germany wants to be a full NATO ally, or a doughnut hole in an otherwise strong alliance. Ukraine is as good an issue as any to leverage this decision. 

Germany’s general unhelpfulness on Ukraine, often allied with France (which lacks Germany’s excuse), surfaced almost fifteen years ago by rejecting George W. Bush’s suggestion at the April 2008 NATO Summit to put Ukraine and Georgia on a fast track to join the alliance. Unfortunately, Bush’s key insight — NATO membership was the most effective deterrent to Russia — was ignored, even derided. 

By torpedoing Bush’s proposal, Berlin and Paris almost certainly contributed to Moscow’s decision to invade Georgia four months later, and proclaim two provinces as “independent” countries, a classic manifestation of Moscow’s stratagem of creating “frozen conflicts” in former Soviet republics. When Russia then committed aggression against Ukraine in February, 2014, annexing Crimea and seizing the Donbass, NATO collectively responded with pathetic weakness, undoubtedly contributing to the Kremlin’s assessment that a second invasion in 2022 would evoke an equally limp NATO response. 

The importance of NATO membership as a deterrent has now been graphically proven by the Swedish and Finnish decisions to join the alliance after Russia’s second Ukraine invasion. Abandoning the foundational neutrality premise of their post-1945 foreign policies, Stockholm and Helsinki concluded that the only guarantee of impunity against Kremlin aggression was to put a sheltering NATO border around their countries. Undoubtedly, what was happening in Ukraine reminded them of the consequences of NATO rejecting Bush’s 2008 initiative. 

Since Russia’s February 24 invasion, there has been one disagreement after another within NATO on what weapons systems to provide Ukraine, with Germany almost always on the reluctant side, fearful of provoking a larger war, so its officials said. So doing, however, demonstrated that the Kremlin was effectively deterring NATO, and underlined NATO’s failure to deter Russia’s initial aggression. Germany’s first assistance to Ukraine was 5,000 military helmets. 

Then-Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said, “The German government is agreed that we do not send lethal weapons to crisis areas because we don’t want to fuel the situation, we want to contribute in other ways.” Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko called the offer a “joke,” and it remains a paradigm of the doughnut-hole approach. Moreover, Germany’s 2022 defense spending was 1.44% of GDP, still well-below NATO’s 2% of GDP target. 

Berlin has a new defense minister and Leopard II tanks are a step up, but Germany needs to make a broader conceptual decision. Japan shows a way forward. From the 1990’s, there was a quiet but profound debate among the Japanese on the question, “Is Japan a normal nation?” That debate’s outcome was reflected in now-deceased Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to amend Japan’s post-1945 pacifist constitution, imposed by Washington, and his successor Fumio Kishida’s recent announcement that Tokyo would double defense spending from 1% to 2% of GDP over five years, giving Japan the world’s third-largest military, after America and China. Japan has clearly decided it is, indeed, a normal nation. 

Germany should have the same debate. In 1961, Ronald Reagan said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream.” Totalitarianism isn’t transmitted through the bloodstream any more than freedom. Nobody should forget Germany’s past, certainly not its own citizens, but neither are they ruled by that past. Germany must decide whether it is “a normal nation,” and, if so, act like one. 

John Bolton was the national security adviser to former President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2019. Between 2005 and 2006, he was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 

Is Washington’s arms control theology finally on the verge of collapse? 

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Three freshly installed Republican House chairmen of key national security committees are raising potentially fatal issues for the New START arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia. In letters to Biden Cabinet officials, the chairmen ask whether Russia is in material breach of the agreement. Along with the administration’s failing, misguided effort to rejoin the flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal, one could ask whether Washington’s arms control theology is finally verging on collapse. 

The House chairmen of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees (Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio), respectively) are men to be reckoned with. Although the Senate has constitutional power to ratify treaties, for the next two years, House Republicans can require extensive scrutiny of Russia’s New START performance.  

One of President Biden’s first official acts (and a badly mistaken one) was extending the treaty until Feb. 4, 2026, after America’s 2024 presidential election. With no end in sight to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the odds Moscow and Washington can agree on a successor deal under Biden diminish every day, further reason to ensure the White House fully describes Russia’s potential treaty violations. 

The House chairmen should also scrutinize White House efforts to make enough concessions to Tehran for Washington to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Despite administration assurances that Iran’s ongoing uprising against the ayatollahs has halted its diplomacy, the obsession to rejoin remains. 

New START has always been a bad deal. Its warhead limits and “counting rules” for attributing nuclear devices to delivery vehicles, Cold War-era methodologies, are outdated and ineffective. Moreover, New START’s ceilings, even in their day, failed to reflect the different status of Russia and the United States, as President George W. Bush’s 2002 Treaty of Moscow did, namely that Washington needs different upper limits than Moscow because it faces more threats than just a bipolar face-off with Russia.  

Finally, New START’s verification provisions do not afford nearly the level of certainty necessary to satisfy U.S. concerns, given decades of cheating on similar agreements by Russia and other authoritarian states, which all have problems with the truth. 

In today’s world, New START is even more dangerous, which is why Biden’s 2021 decision to extend its terms for five years without any modifications leaves America in an ever-more-precarious position. 

Added to these pre-existing concerns, the questions raised by Chairmen McCaul, Rogers and Turner underscore legitimate concerns about the treaty even if Russia were fully compliant. 

The State Department has reportedly sent Congress a report that finds that Russian violated the treaty’s verification and consultation provisions, which State says are repairable. Desperate to save New START, the more serious violations of concern to the three chairmen are not addressed. Congressional oversight is clearly warranted. 

Even beyond the failures of New START itself and the prospect that Russia is violating it, the agreement is fatally outdated for additional reasons. Here, the three Republican chairmen and their Senate counterparts can do important work over the next two years to elaborate on these new issues and to prepare a successor administration to address the dangers ahead. 

First, the days of meaningful bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic weapons treaties have ended. During the Cold War, we lived in essentially a bipolar nuclear world, the arsenals of other nuclear states, legitimate or illegitimate, being insignificant for our purposes.  

Today, however, China is rapidly manufacturing and deploying nuclear warheads in significant numbers, likely approaching the New START limits applicable to Russia and the U.S. imminently. The U.S. simply cannot accept bilateral limits on its nuclear stockpiles or delivery systems when it will soon face two peer or near-peer nuclear adversaries, a dramatically dangerous new environment. 

Whether Moscow and Beijing combine against Washington, or we face one confrontation with the risk of another following, we are in a tri-polar nuclear world, and must plan and act accordingly. Thus far, China has flatly refused to engage in diplomacy, saying its current warhead stockpile is too low to join U.S.-Russia talks. Beijing is essentially asking for a pass until it comes close to our existing ceilings, and only then talk, an approach in which Russia has acquiesced. We should tell Moscow sooner rather than later that there will be no talks on extending or modifying New START until China sits at our negotiating table. 

Second, a basic New START flaw is its failure to limit tactical nuclear weapons, which Moscow possesses in far greater numbers than Washington. With Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to use tactical strikes in Ukraine, there is no longer a serious argument to allow this issue to remain outside the overall nuclear-arms negotiations. If Russia disagrees, we should not resume talks, and should make our own plans at both the strategic and tactical levels accordingly. The potential for substantially broader coverage of nuclear warheads also raises new, difficult verification issues beyond the existing treaty’s failings. 

Third, New START fails to deal satisfactorily with new technologies that have matured since 2010, especially advanced hypersonic capabilities. Biden’s failure to address these new developments before extending the treaty in 2021 was a grave mistake, and it would be diplomatic malpractice to repeat it in discussing a successor deal. 

While we consider our post-New START options, we are also, hopefully, witnessing the last throes of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. For any number of compelling reasons, the White House should do far more to support the Iranian opposition and its struggle to overthrow the ayatollahs.  

One benefit of regime change in Tehran would likely be a new government that renounces the pursuit of nuclear weapons and opens the files of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and other actors in its nuclear-weapons program. We will undoubtedly learn far more about how the mullahs led western governments by the nose during the negotiation and implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, and especially how Iran repeatedly violated it. This new information might even shake the faith of the arms-control priesthood, but at a minimum it would enlighten those determined to prevent nuclear proliferation. 

These are all issues for the 2024 campaign. Chairmen McCaul, Rogers and Turner have done the country a great service by getting us started. 

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior State Department posts in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is “The Room Where It Happened” (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy. 

Bolton says Trump’s 2024 campaign is “poison” for GOP and “will continue to go downhill”

Former national security adviser John Bolton told CBS News he is seriously considering a 2024 presidential bid and said that former President Donald Trump is a threat to U.S. national security who acted “very erratic” and “was not impressed by the gravity and the importance of the national security decisions he had to make.” Trump’s campaign, he added, is “going downhill and I think it will continue to go downhill.”

This interview was first aired on CBS News. Click here to watch the original.

America remains irreplaceable

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The greatest threats to the world come from China and Russia. Only the U.S. guarantees global order and security.

This article was first published in Weltwoche, on January 26th, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine, coined the term “American Century” in 1941, almost nine months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He intended the phrase to describe what he saw in the decades ahead, which turned out to be largely correct. In the next six decades, the United States won two world wars, one hot against the Axis powers and one cold against the Soviet empire. Without necessarily so intending, and despite numerous imperfections, mistakes, and defeats, Washington created a kind of “world order,” which we basically still inhabit. This “order” has been and remains defensive and reactive in nature, not enforcing peace and stability affirmatively, but trying to deter or respond to threats when they arise, as they do so often.

Many countries, probably a majority at various times, resisted not just “Pax Americana,” but what it stood for: free peoples, under free governments, living freely. Soviet Communists obviously despised the American Century, and their Russian successors are waging war against it in Ukraine even now. China’s Communist Party retained power while the Soviet Union disintegrated, brutally repressed dissent in Tienanmen Square in 1989, and then followed for decades Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “hide and bide”: hide your capabilities and bide your time. Now, most immediately along China’s Indo-Pacific periphery, but also increasingly worldwide, China is no longer hiding and biding.

In addition, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, newly independent states, former colonies of collapsed European empires, tried repeatedly to create a “Third World, a “new world order,” a “new world information and communication order,” and more, all of which are now merely historical curiosities. Nonetheless, present today throughout the former Third World are continuing, grave problems of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Internal strife has produced the near-collapse or actual disintegration of several post-colonial states, and more may follow.

What exactly motivated the United States, from 1945 on, to fashion the partial, ad hoc, incomplete “order” we now see? Contrary to familiar anti-American propaganda, we were not motivated by imperial aspirations, certainly not compared to Europe’s conquests in preceding centuries or prior great empires. Secretary of State Colin Powell, paraphrasing World War II General Mark Clark, often said, “the only land we ever asked for was to bury our dead.”

Nor, also contrary to contemporary criticism, was America obsessed with spreading democracy. Instead of looking exclusively to Woodrow Wilson’s view that America’s World War I goal was “to make the world safe for democracy,” the more accurate, realistic view was that of former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “First and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves. This is our primary interest. This is our war, America’s war.”(“make+the+world+safe+for+ourselves”+&source=gbs_navlinks_s)

Stemming from a variety of causes, America’s complex, post-1945 role internationally, along with its Free World allies, launched multiple experiments in foreign affairs to help restore peace and stability. Some collective-security efforts, notably the United Nations, failed, and continue to fail in the world’s most important political conflicts, like the Cold War. By contrast, collective-defense efforts worked, notably NATO, the most successful politico-military alliance in history. Outside the North Atlantic area, Washington forged strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and others. In economic affairs, new financial and trade institutions were created, some successful, some not, and needing either reform or abolition.

Much of this effort was explicitly directed again Communism’s threat, and it was never designed to be comprehensive. All of it has evolved, some parts better than others, as the world changed.

Those dissatisfied with this American-led effort are free to suggest other, more-workable alternatives. But who, or what, can perform such a role? And, since anarchy is the world’s default position, if America were to retire to its shores, the central risk is that whoever rushed to fill the vacuum would not have the Free World’s best interests at heart.

The United Nations is certainly not the answer. Russia and China, permanent Security Council members, have the veto power protecting them against any meaningful UN action. Because the veto applies to amendments to the UN Charter, Moscow and Beijing are totally secure within the UN.

Nor is the European Union the answer. One dangerous contemporary fantasy is the idea that the EU was principally responsible for preventing war on the Continent. Instead, allied occupation of the defeated Axis powers, followed by basing substantial NATO forces during the Cold War, meant that not a sparrow fell in Europe’s defense-industrial complex without Washington knowing. Unlike the post-1918 period, under an essentially permanent foreign troop presence, Europe’s defeated nations did not rise again to threaten world peace. And it was Ronald Reagan, not an EU leader, who publicly said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

Since the virus of US isolationism has recently reappeared among both Republicans and Democrats (albeit for different reasons), it is critical that Americans and foreigners alike appreciate that Washington’s foreign policy does not, and never has, stem purely from altruism( This reality should not concern friends and allies, but reassure them; acting to support a country’s own interests is far firmer ground on which to form alliances and friendships than fickle ideological theorizing or emotional impulses. Admittedly, building even an incomplete, imperfect order was easier when America’s natural allies recognized both the need and their own initial inability to take the necessary steps until they recovered from World War II. Former Axis powers, of course, took no role until the Cold War’s dimensions became clear.

Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, despite the overwhelming, peaceful victory of the US-led anti-Communist bloc, the Cold War’s ending debilitated Western collective defense, and we are only now recovering. Some said the USSR’s collapse meant we had reached “the end of history.” They saw a “peace dividend” as the reward, resulting in massive cuts to NATO and other allied defense spending which did not even begin to recover until the 9/11 attacks woke the world to the threat of international terrorism and nuclear proliferation. George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to build national missile defenses for the United States and for allies. Even so, memories were short. Military spending had decreased so dangerously that even Barack Obama sought to persuade NATO to increase defense spending, agreeing in 2014, to reach spending levels of 2% of GDP by 2024. Although Donald Trump gained notoriety by stressing the 2% target, he was actually just saying more loudly what other Americans, including Obama, had said for years: the allies should bear their fair share of the burden. Many are, unfortunately still nowhere near achieving the target.

In 2022, Emmanuel Macron famously said NATO was “brain dead.” Russia proved him wrong, although the West collectively failed to deter the invasion, and still doesn’t have an adequate strategy to defeat Moscow’s aggression. Nonetheless, NATO proved sufficiently

attractive, despite Macron’s view, for Finland and Sweden to seek membership. Perhaps the new arrivals will encourage existing NATO members to meet their budget commitments.

Thus, as with the founding of NATO and America’s other post-1945 alliances, it took visible threats to force the complacent, bourgeois West to see that international risks and dangers had not disappeared. And the threats came in many ways worldwide. Led in many respects by Australia and New Zealand, we began to understand the nature of China’s threat to international telecommunications, using “businesses” like ZTE and Huawei to gain control of fifth-generation systems so they could channel whatever data they desired back to Beijing. That in turn led to a better understanding of Beijing’s whole-of-society efforts — economic and social as well as political and military measures — to gain hegemony along its vast Indo-Pacific periphery, and ultimately worldwide. Beijing is threatening Taiwan and the East China Sea; claims to have annexed the South China Sea, menacing all the littoral nations; increased provocations and deployments along its southern borders, from Vietnam to India; and is using its Belt-and-Road Initiative to extend its influence across Africa and the Middle East, and over Europe as well.

Joseph Biden’s withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, following Trump’s disastrously bad agreement with the Taliban, led to catastrophic consequences, opening Afghanistan once again to be a haven for international terrorists, creating a vacuum for China and Russia to fill, and oppressing the Afghan people. Iran continued progress toward deliverable nuclear weapons, as did North Korea, notwithstanding, in Iran, widespread protests that have imperiled the rule of the ayatollahs more seriously than at any point since the fall of the Shah in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And for Europe, of course, the threatening century ahead became clear last year on February 24 when Russia launched its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. There was as well more evidence of instability and threats to peace in the former Third World.

These problems, starting with an increasingly apparent China-Russia entente, constitute global threats that require a united Western response. America must lead this response, most importantly because its vital national interests are endangered by each of these spreading threats. What our allies and friends in Asia and Europe must recognize, however, is that they too face a global struggle, and need to participate fully in the response. Chancellor Olaf Scholtz seemed to have recognized this imperative shortly after Russia’s aggression when he announced a zeitenwende in German security policy. Unfortunately, despite a few modest steps, the “sea change” has not occurred. That must change, as should Macron’s attitude toward NATO.

The January 13 Kishida-Biden summit was an historic opportunity. Just prior to the meeting, Japan’s leader Fumio Kishida announced a bigger policy shift even than Scholtz, amending de facto its pacifist Constitution, a long-time goal of his predecessor Shinzo Abe. Clearly responding to the massive threats posed by China and North Korea, Kishida pledged that Tokyo would double its defense spending to 2% of GDP (the NATO target) in five years. If Japan does so, it will have the world’s third biggest military after America and China. Kishida’s decision followed decades of quiet internal debate about whether Japan had become a “normal nation,” one that could be trusted to maintain its self-defense, together with the US, its closest ally. Germany needs to have the same debate, and come to the same conclusion.

Equally important, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and the manifest political support provided by China, accelerated Japan’s decision, and is changing other Asian views in many important ways. Under Abe, Tokyo led efforts to energize the Asian “Quad” (Japan, India, Australia, and the US), and South Korea is now selling Poland weapons. Not having dense

alliance relationships like NATO means that Asia’s hub-and-spoke bilateral alliances with Washington have a long way to go before there could constitute East and South Asian collective-defense arrangements comparable to the North Atlantic, but events are moving fast.

Meanwhile, neither Europe nor America can afford more mistakes or timidity. The global threats we already know, and many we do not, are advancing, not receding. The next two years will therefore amount to a “window of vulnerability.” China and Russia (the world’s two greatest strategic threats), as well as terrorists, proliferators, and rogue states will seek to exploit the current environment before the West is prepared.

The outcome of America’s upcoming 2024 presidential elections could well shape Washington’s foreign policy for the rest of this century. In all probability, neither Trump nor Biden will be the candidates of their respective parties, and the contests for the Republican and Democratic nominations will be wide open. Given the breadth and dangers of the national-security threats, there is also every prospect that foreign and defense issues will be far more central to the 2024 than in other post-Cold War US elections. Although isolationists have recently gotten more than their share of press attention, they still represent a very small portion of the American electorate. The real question is whether the Republican Party has within it a new Ronald Reagan to forge and develop the security structures that will protect the Free World in yet another American Century. We shall see.

Im Jahr 1942, fast neun Monate nach dem japanischen Überfall auf Pearl Harbor, prägte
Henry Luce, der Herausgeber der Zeitschrift
Time, den Begriff «amerikanisches Jahrhundert».
Damit wollte er beschreiben, wie er sich die
nächsten Jahrzehnte vorstellte, und seine Einschätzung erwies sich als weitgehend korrekt.
In den folgenden sechs Jahrzehnten gewannen
die Vereinigten Staaten zwei Weltkriege, den
gegen die Achsenmächte und den Kalten Krieg
gegen die Sowjetunion. Unbeabsichtigt und
trotz zahlreicher Schwierigkeiten, Irrtümer und
Niederlagen schuf Washington eine Art «Weltordnung», in der wir heute im Grunde immer
noch leben. Diese Ordnung, von ihrem Wesen
her defensiv und reaktiv, erzwingt nirgendwo
Frieden und Stabilität, sondern ist bemüht, Bedrohungen entgegenzuwirken und überall dort
zu reagieren, wo sie sich zeigen.
Viele Länder, zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten
wahrscheinlich eine Mehrheit, lehnten nicht
nur die Pax Americana ab, sondern alles, wofür
sie stand – freie Völker, die unter freien Regierungen in Freiheit leben. Die sowjetischen
Kommunisten verachteten das amerikanische
Jahrhundert natürlich, und der Krieg ihrer russischen Nachfolger in der Ukraine richtet sich
auch gegen Amerika. Die chinesische Kommunistische Partei blieb an der Macht, während die
Sowjetunion zerfiel. 1989 ging die Pekinger Führung brutal gegen die Demonstranten auf dem
Tiananmen-Platz vor, und dann folgten lange
Jahre unter Deng Xiaoping, dessen Motto lautete: «Stärke verbergen und auf den richtigen
Augenblick warten». Heutzutage verbirgt China
seine Stärke nicht mehr, wie im Indopazifik und
in wachsendem Mass weltweit deutlich wird.
Junge, unabhängig gewordene Staaten, einstige Kolonien europäischer Kolonialmächte,
versuchten in den 1950ern und 1960ern, eine
«Dritte Welt» zu schaffen, eine «neue Weltordnung», eine «neue internationale Informations- und Kommunikationsordnung» und
so weiter – heute nicht mehr als historische
Kuriositäten. Gleichwohl sind überall in der
ehemaligen Dritten Welt schwerwiegende Probleme des internationalen Terrorismus und der
Verbreitung von Massenvernichtungswaffen zu
beobachten. Interne Konflikte haben in mehreren postkolonialen Staaten für Auflösungs- und
Zerfallserscheinungen gesorgt, und das wird
auch in Zukunft so sein.
«Das ist unser Krieg, Amerikas Krieg»
Was genau bewog die Vereinigten Staaten, nach
1945 die unvollständige «Ordnung» zu schaffen,
die wir heute haben? Entgegen der üblichen antiamerikanischen Propaganda liessen wir uns nicht
von imperialistischen Ambitionen leiten, schon
gar nicht, wenn man es mit den europäischen Eroberungen in vorangegangenen Jahrhunderten
oder den alten Grossreichen vergleicht. Aussenminister Colin Powell hat, Weltkriegsgeneral
Mark Clark paraphrasierend, oft gesagt: «Das
Land, das wir haben wollten, sollte nur dazu dienen, unsere Toten zu begraben.»

Amerika war auch nicht darauf aus, Demokratie zu verbreiten, wie heutzutage oft behauptet wird. Statt sich an Woodrow Wilson
zu orientieren, der es als Ziel Amerikas im Ersten Weltkrieg bezeichnet hatte, die Welt «sicher
für die Demokratie» zu machen, vertrat Präsident Theodore Roosevelt, ein Republikaner,
die sehr viel realistischere Ansicht: «Wir müssen die Welt in erster Linie für uns selbst sicher
machen. Das ist unser Hauptinteresse. Das ist
unser Krieg, Amerikas Krieg.»
Nach 1945 unternahm Amerika aus diversen
Gründen gemeinsam mit den Verbündeten der
freien Welt verschiedene aussenpolitische Versuche zur Wiederherstellung von Frieden und
Stabilität. Einige Sicherheitsorganisationen,
namentlich die Vereinten Nationen, sind
bei den wichtigsten politischen Konflikten
der Welt, wie etwa dem Kalten Krieg, erfolglos gewesen und sind es weiterhin. Dagegen
funktionierten Verteidigungsbündnisse, insbesondere die Nato, die erfolgreichste politischmilitärische Allianz der Geschichte. Neben dem
nordatlantischen Bündnis schmiedete Amerika starke bilaterale Bündnisse mit Japan,
Südkorea, Australien und anderen Staaten.
Auf wirtschaftlichem Gebiet wurden unterschiedlich erfolgreiche Finanz- und Handelsinstitutionen gegründet, die weder reformbedürftig noch überflüssig sind. Viele dieser
Organisationen richteten sich ausdrücklich
gegen die kommunistische Bedrohung. Sie
alle haben sich in einer sich wandelnden Welt
weiterentwickelt, einige besser als andere.
Virus des Isolationismus
Kritikern dieser von Amerika angeführten Bestrebungen steht es frei, bessere Alternativen
vorzuschlagen. Aber wer oder was könnte eine
solche Aufgabe wahrnehmen? Ein Rückzug
Amerikas aus der Welt ginge jedenfalls mit dem
Risiko einher, dass derjenige, der über kurz
oder lang die Leerstelle füllen würde, nicht die
Interessen der freien Welt im Sinn hätte.
Die Vereinten Nationen sind gewiss nicht
die Antwort. Russland und China, ständige
Mitglieder des Sicherheitsrats, können durch
ihr Veto jede bedeutsame Aktion der Uno verhindern. Weil das Vetorecht auch für eventuelle
Änderungen der Uno-Charta gilt, können Moskau und Peking sich innerhalb der Vereinten Nationen völlig sicher fühlen.
Ebenso wenig kann die Europäische Union
die Antwort sein. Die Vorstellung, die EU habe
dafür gesorgt, dass es auf dem Kontinent keinen
Krieg mehr gegeben habe, ist ein gefährlicher
Irrglaube. Vielmehr bedeutete die alliierte Besatzung der geschlagenen Achsenmächte, auf
welche die Stationierung starker Nato-Verbände
während des Kalten Kriegs folgte, dass Washington bestens über die Verhältnisse im militärischindustriellen Komplex Europas Bescheid wusste. Dank der Präsenz von Besatzungstruppen in
den besiegten europäischen Ländern ging von
ihnen, anders als in der Zeit nach 1918, auch
keine Gefahr für den Weltfrieden aus. Und
es war nicht irgendein EU-Politiker, sondern
Ronald Reagan, der in Berlin ausrief: «Mr Gorbatschow, reissen Sie diese Mauer ein.»
Seit in jüngster Zeit der Virus eines Isolationismus unter Republikanern wie Demokraten
(wenn auch aus unterschiedlichen Gründen)
wieder umgeht, sollte in Amerika und im Ausland erkannt werden, dass die amerikanische
Aussenpolitik noch nie von reinem Altruismus
getrieben war. Diese Realität sollte Freunde und
Verbündete nicht beunruhigen, sondern ihnen
Sicherheit geben. Eine Politik, die den eigenen staatlichen Interessen dient, ist eine weitaus zuverlässigere Grundlage für Bündnisse
und Freundschaften als beliebige Ideologien
oder emotionale Impulse. Gewiss, der Aufbau
selbst einer unvollständigen, unvollkommenen
Ordnung war leichter in einer Zeit, in der die
natürlichen Verbündeten Amerikas eingedenk
ihrer eigenen Schwäche die Notwendigkeit erkannten, die erforderlichen Schritte zu unternehmen, bis sie sich nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg
wieder erholt hatten. Ehemalige Achsenmächte
übernahmen erst dann eine Rolle, als die Dimensionen des Kalten Kriegs klarwurden.
Trotz des überwältigenden, friedlichen
Siegs des von den USA geführten antikommunistischen Blocks schwächte der Ausgang des Kalten Krieges bedauerlicherweise
das westliche Verteidigungsbündnis. Davon
erholen wir uns erst jetzt. Manche sprachen
nach dem Zusammenbruch der Sowjetunion
von einem «Ende der Geschichte». Sie sahen
eine «Friedensdividende» als Belohnung, was
zu massiven Kürzungen bei den Verteidigungsausgaben von Nato-Staaten führte, die erst
dann aufwachten, als die Welt nach den Anschlägen vom 11.September 2001 mit internationalem Terrorismus und atomarer Aufrüstung konfrontiert war. Präsident George
W.Bush kündigte den ABM-Vertrag von 1972,
um das Raketenabwehrsystem NMD für die
Vereinigten Staaten und für Verbündete aufbauen zu können. Dennoch hatten viele Leute
ein kurzes Gedächtnis. Die Militärausgaben
waren so drastisch gekürzt worden, dass selbst
Barack Obama der Nato empfahl, die Verteidigungsausgaben zu erhöhen. 2014 wurde
vereinbart, die Ausgaben bis 2024 auf zwei
Prozent des Bruttoinlandprodukts (BIP) zu
erhöhen. Obwohl Donald Trump auf der Einhaltung dieses Ziels bestand und sich damit
unbeliebt machte, sagte er nur ein wenig lauter, was andere Amerikaner, einschliesslich

Barack Obama, seit Jahren gesagt hatten: Die
Verbündeten sollten sich angemessen an den
Verteidigungsausgaben beteiligen. Leider sind
viele noch immer weit von diesem Ziel entfernt.
Selbstzufriedener Westen
2019 bezeichnete Emmanuel Macron die Nato
als «hirntot». Russland widerlegte ihn, auch
wenn der Westen die Invasion nicht verhindert
und nach wie vor keine adäquate Strategie im
Kampf gegen die russische Aggression hat.
Dennoch erwies sich die Nato als so attraktiv, dass Finnland und Schweden einen Aufnahmeantrag stellten – trotz Macron. Vielleicht
werden die Neuen die übrigen Nato-Staaten
ermutigen, ihren Rüstungsverpflichtungen
Wie bei der Gründung der Nato und anderer westlicher Bündnisse nach 1945 bedurfte
es unübersehbarer Gefahren, die den selbstzufriedenen, bürgerlichen Westen zu der Erkenntnis brachten, dass internationale Risiken und Bedrohungen nicht verschwunden
waren. Die Gefahren zeigten sich weltweit
in vielerlei Gestalt. Australien und Neuseeland wiesen uns auf die Bedrohung der internationalen Telekommunikation durch China
hin, das sich anschickte, mit Unternehmen wie ZTE und Huawei die Kontrolle über Telekommunikationsnetze der fünften Generation zu erlangen, um an interessante Daten zu
kommen. Daraus ergab sich ein tieferer Einblick in die wirtschaftlichen, sozialen, politischen und militärischen Interessen Chinas, das
entschlossen ist, sich im indopazifischen Raum
und weltweit als Hegemonialmacht zu etablieren. China geht auf Konfrontationskurs mit Taiwan, erhebt Ansprüche auf das Südchinesische
Meer und bedroht die Anliegerstaaten. Man provoziert die südlichen Nachbarn, von Vietnam
bis Indien. Mit Hilfe der Neuen Seidenstrasse
will China seinen Einfluss in Afrika, Nahost und
auch in Europa ausweiten.
Präsident Bidens Abzug der westlichen Streitkräfte aus Afghanistan, dem Trumps desaströses Abkommen mit den Taliban vorangegangen
war, hatte katastrophale Konsequenzen. Afghanistan wurde abermals ein Rückzugsort
für internationale Terroristen, das entstandene
Vakuum wird von China und Russland ausgefüllt, und die Bevölkerung wird unterdrückt.
Der Iran schreitet auf dem Weg zur Produktion
einsatzfähiger Atomwaffen immer weiter voran
(genau wie Nordkorea), obwohl das Mullah-Regime durch massive, landesweite Proteste ernsthafter gefährdet ist als zu irgendeinem Zeitpunkt seit dem Sturz des Schahs 1979 durch die
Islamische Revolution. Für Europa zeigte sich
die Jahrhundertbedrohung am 24.Februar vergangenen Jahres, als Russland unprovoziert die
Ukraine angriff. Auch in der ehemaligen Dritten
Welt kam es zu Instabilität und Gefahren für
den Weltfrieden.
Diese Probleme, angefangen mit der chinesisch-russischen Entente, stellen globale Bedrohungen dar, die eine vereinte Reaktion des
Westens erfordern. Amerika muss diese Reaktion anführen, weil seine nationalen Interessen durch jede dieser Gefahren bedroht sind.
Unsere Verbündeten und Freunde in Asien und
Europa müssen jedoch erkennen, dass auch
sie mit einem globalen Konflikt konfrontiert
sind, und sich vorbehaltlos an der Reaktion beteiligen. Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz hat dies
offenbar erkannt, als er kurz nach der russischen Invasion von einer «Zeitenwende» in der
deutschen Sicherheitspolitik sprach. Leider ist,
abgesehen von einigen bescheidenen Schritten,
bislang wenig passiert. Das muss sich ändern,
und das gilt auch für Macrons Haltung zur Nato.
Das Gipfeltreffen von Joe Biden und dem japanischen Ministerpräsidenten Fumio Kishida
am 13.Januar war eine historische Gelegenheit.
Kurz zuvor hatte Kishida eine noch grössere
Wende als Scholz angekündigt, als er bekanntgab, dass die faktisch pazifistische Verfassung
abgeändert werden solle – ein altes Projekt seines Vorgängers Shinzo Abe. Offenkundig als Reaktion auf die massiven Drohungen von China
und Nordkorea versprach Kishida, dass Japan
seine Rüstungsausgaben binnen fünf Jahren auf
zwei Prozent des BIP (das Nato-Ziel) erhöhen
werde. Japan wird dann, nach Amerika und
China, das drittstärkste Militär der Welt haben.
Kishidas Entscheidung waren jahrzehntelange
Debatten vorausgegangen, ob Japan eine «normale Nation» geworden sei, die – in enger Kooperation mit den USA – für seine Verteidigung
einstehen könne. Die Deutschen müssen die
gleiche Debatte führen und zu dem gleichen
Ergebnis kommen.
«Fenster der Verwundbarkeit»
Der russische Angriff auf die Ukraine und die
Unterstützung durch China beschleunigte
natürlich die japanische Entscheidung und
wird auch in anderen Teilen Asiens zu einem
Stimmungsumschwung führen. Unter Abe gab
Tokio wichtige Impulse, um die Quad-Gruppe (Japan, Indien, Australien, USA) zu stärken,
die das Ziel verfolgt, einen «freien und offenen Indopazifik» zu garantieren, und Südkorea liefert mittlerweile Waffen nach Polen.
Da viele asiatische Länder nur bilaterale Verträge mit Washington geschlossen haben,
wird es noch lange dauern, bis es ost- und südasiatische Militärbündnisse gibt, die mit der
Nato vergleichbar wären. Aber die Dinge entwickeln sich schnell.
Weder Europa noch Amerika können sich
weitere Fehler oder Ängstlichkeiten leisten. Die
globalen Bedrohungen, bekannte und noch unbekannte, nehmen zu, nicht ab. Die nächsten
zwei Jahre werden daher ein «Fenster der Verwundbarkeit» sein. China und Russland (die beiden grössten weltweiten Bedrohungen), Terroristen, Waffenhändler und Schurkenstaaten
werden bestrebt sein, die aktuelle Situation auszunutzen, bevor der Westen bereit ist.
Der Ausgang der nächsten Präsidentschaftswahl in Amerika könnte die amerikanische
Aussenpolitik für den Rest des Jahrhunderts
prägen. Höchstwahrscheinlich werden weder
Trump noch Biden kandidieren, und wer von
den beiden Parteien ins Rennen geschickt wird,
ist völlig offen. Angesichts der Bedrohungen
für die nationale Sicherheit dürften aussenpolitische und militärische Themen eine
wichtigere Rolle spielen als bei jeder anderen
Präsidentschaftswahl seit dem Ende des Kalten Kriegs. Zwar haben Isolationisten in der
jüngsten Zeit unverhältnismässig viel Medienaufmerksamkeit bekommen, aber sie repräsentieren nur einen sehr geringen Anteil der Bevölkerung. Die eigentliche Frage lautet, ob es in
der Republikanischen Partei einen neuen Ronald Reagan gibt, der die Sicherheitsstrukturen
schaffen und stärken kann, welche die freie Welt
in einem zweiten amerikanischen Jahrhundert
schützen werden. Wir werden sehen.
Weder Europa noch Amerika
können sich weitere Fehler oder
Ängstlichkeiten leisten.
«Unsere Verbündeten müssen erkennen, dass wir mit einem globalen Konflikt konfrontiert
sind»: Biden (l.) und Putin bei Guy Parmelin in Genf, 16. Juni 2021.
John Bolton war nationaler Sicherheitsberater
des ehemaligen US-Präsidenten Donald Trump.
Aus dem Englischen von Matthias Fienbork

When Blinken goes to China, he should call its bluff on North Korea 

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This article was first published in The Washington Post, on January 25th, 2023. Click Here to read the original article

John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald Trump and is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Beijing in early February to meet with his new Chinese counterpart, Qin Gang. Bilateral relations between their two countries are on shaky ground, so the agenda will be crowded. 

This may seem an inopportune moment to propose North Korea as a central agenda item. But recent threatening actions from Pyongyang, including ballistic-missile testing and preparing for a seventh nuclear test, offer Blinken a good way to gauge Beijing’s sincerity about seeking Indo-Pacific peace and stability. 

Moreover, important policy decisions by Japan and South Korea are rapidly changing the Indo-Pacific’s political-military landscape and fully justify emphasizing North Korea in Washington-Beijing negotiations. 

The United States has for too long allowed China to escape responsibility for North Korea’s threat, and the administration should use the Blinken-Qin meeting to reverse course. For decades, China has reassured the United States, Japan and others that it opposed Pyongyang’s program to build nuclear weapons and the long-range ballistic missiles that could deliver them. 

A nuclear-armed North Korea was not in China’s interest, one Beijing leader after another claimed. It would destabilize northeast Asia, they said, implying that they feared a nuclear North Korea would provoke Japan and perhaps South Korea to seek nuclear arms, thus generating further instability. And instability, Beijing’s elite fretted, would hamper China’s own economic growth — and economic growth, they promised Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, was China’s only priority. 

The United States and its allies have swallowed this line for decades, allowing China to pose as a mediator and conciliator between North Korea and its potential targets. In the 2000s, Beijing played the congenial host for round after round of the failed six-party talks, which essentially consisted of repeated Chinese attempts, as our delegation faithfully reported from Beijing, to get U.S. and North Korean diplomats alone in a room together for the “real” negotiations. Somehow forgotten amid this performance art was the Chinese and North Korean communist parties’ insistence that they are as “close as lips and teeth.” 

With admittedly perfect hindsight, we now see that Beijing did not genuinely oppose Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations. By focusing on North Korea as a pressing threat while assuming that China was similarly concerned, the United States not only doomed its own Korea nuclear policy but also missed the mounting menace from Beijing. With China now pursuing hegemonic objectives along its periphery and expanding its military power, its performance regarding a nuclear North Korea can be seen as reflecting the “hide and bide” approach Beijing has long practiced. It was a kind of disinformation campaign. 

Only now are we fully realizing the scope of Beijing’s threat. And despite decades of U.S. presidents saying it was unacceptable for North Korea to possess nuclear weapons, it is on the verge of success. Indeed, those who repeatedly advocated negotiations with North Korea instead of using coercive methods are saying we should treat North Korea as a nuclear power. The only way to peacefully prevent the unacceptable might be for China to actually adopt the policy it had only espoused. 

After all, North Korea’s dangerous behavior is bringing about exactly what China earlier said it feared. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced that Japan’s defense budget will double from 1 percent to 2 percent of gross domestic product in five years, thus giving Japan the world’s third-largest military, after the United States and China. China surely knows that Japan’s already-announced purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles gives it significant counterstrike capabilities, with Beijing in range. North Korea will know it as well, since all of North Korea will also be in range. 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has revived discussion of his country’s acquiring its own nuclear-weapons arsenal or again deploying U.S. tactical nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula. Although Yoon later softened his comments, public support for such proposals, especially among Korean conservatives, is rising. Moreover, cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul, always difficult, as well as trilateral cooperation with Washington, appears to be increasing. 

China’s neighbors are worried about both its long-term intentions and, particularly for Taiwan, its short-term intentions. And domestically, Chinese President Xi Jinping faces a public-confidence crisis because of his regime’s pandemic bungling. Blinken will arrive in Beijing well-positioned to turn up the heat regarding North Korea. 

To prove its benign intentions, China need simply act on the mellifluous words it has mouthed for decades about North Korea’s nuclear program. Beijing’s extensive energy, food, military and other aid to Pyongyang is all that stands between Kim Jong Un and retribution from his long-suffering people. 

NATO’s Electoral Message for Erdoğan 

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The alliance ought to put Ankara’s membership on the chopping block if the Turkish president meddles in the upcoming contests. 

This article was first published in the Wall Street Journal on January 16th, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

With Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the helm, Turkey is again “the sick man of Europe,” albeit for reasons different from those that inspired the original 19th-century epithet. Mr. Erdoğan’s performance has consistently been divisive and dangerous. His belligerent regional policies have been similarly perilous, from subverting key elements of Turkey’s post-Ottoman secular constitution to repeatedly compromising its financial system and economic stability. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but it isn’t acting like an ally. 

Yet there’s a chance he can be stopped, if the West takes bold action to help ensure his domestic opposition gets a fair shake in upcoming presidential elections. To do so, the alliance ought to put Ankara’s membership on the chopping block. Considering expulsion now will allow for the alliance to debate the pros and cons of its membership and emphasize—both to Turkish voters and NATO members—the high stakes of the coming election. 

Turkish voters will have a chance to take their country back in June, or May if Mr. Erdoğan manipulates the polling schedule. Opposition candidates stand a real chance. They won key municipal elections in 2019, in cities including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. This was despite Mr. Erdoğan’s efforts to corrupt the electoral process by using prosecutions to cripple the opposition and filing trumped-up charges against its leaders, including the Istanbul mayor he tried so hard to defeat. 

There are troubling signs of similar behavior this time around. Mr. Erdoğan and his allies are accusing the opposition of disloyalty to Turkey and harassing the few independent media that remain in the country. Mr. Erdoğan is likely to pile on additional measures against Turkey’s Kurds, such as defunding one of its main political parties, and arrest followers of the dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen on specious terrorism charges. 

The West can prevent this outcome by putting a spotlight on Mr. Erdoğan’s duplicity by encouraging increased international monitoring and media reporting of the Turkish elections. NATO, likewise, can make clear that Turkey’s failure to conduct free and fair elections would be the final trigger in deciding whether to revoke its NATO membership. The alliance’s founding charter doesn’t provide for expulsion or suspension, but the international-law principle of rebus sic stantibus—“as things now stand”—provides more than ample basis to do so. NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, would have plenary authority to take the necessary measures to protect its institutional security. 

No country is entitled to participate in the alliance, and Mr. Erdoğan hasn’t been behaving like an ally. His worst offense in recent years was purchasing Russia’s sophisticated S-400 air-defense system in December 2017. That decision was incompatible with existing NATO defense measures and compromised America’s F-35 stealth technology, thereby threatening the security of NATO allies and Middle Eastern partners. 

President Trump should have promptly imposed strict sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, but his affinity for Mr. Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin prevailed. Sanctions weren’t announced until Dec. 14, 2020—after Turkey had accepted delivery and begun testing the S-400s, and after Mr. Trump had lost re-election. Congress barred Turkey from F-35 production and sales in 2018-19, but Mr. Trump’s delays in approving sanctions sent mixed signals, further encouraging Mr. Erdoğan’s intransigence. 

Other aspects of Mr. Erdoğan’s foreign policy are equally treacherous. He holds “neo-Ottoman” aspirations of regaining Turkey’s influence in Middle Eastern affairs. These drove his effort to establish Turkish hegemony over northern Syria amid the country’s civil war. Expressed at times in direct threats to insert Turkish forces where potentially dangerous contact with U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces was likely, Ankara endangered American efforts to defeat ISIS’ territorial caliphate, prevent its resurgence and keep Islamist prisoners incarcerated inside Syria. During the lengthy post-Arab Spring regional wars, Mr. Erdoğan has blackmailed Europe by enabling refugee flows through Turkey into neighboring countries, all while meddling in the anarchy that prevails across Syria. His consistent antagonism toward Israel similarly reflects his broader hegemonic designs in the Middle East. 

While Mr. Erdoğan won plaudits for providing Ukraine with drones after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, the move was more a publicity stunt to advertise his drone program and shouldn’t obscure his continuing threats elsewhere. Perhaps the most visible of these is his scheme to obstruct NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, extorting measures to assist his anti-Kurdish crusade and suppress dissent inside Turkey and the Turkish diaspora. This thuggish treatment of the two applicants—whose admission is supported by the entire alliance except Hungary—is classic Erdoğan behavior. The White House is apparently conditioning sales of F-16s to Turkey on supporting Finnish and Swedish accession, but congressional opposition to the sales is strong, reflecting widespread U.S. discontent with Turkey’s obstructionism. 

Turkish and outside observers agree that Mr. Erdoğan will be defeated in the election if the process is free and fair and the opposition stays sufficiently united to wage an effective campaign. It will be much harder for him to subvert the vote if NATO brings international attention to his efforts with the threat of expulsion. And if Mr. Erdoğan manages to steal the presidential and legislative elections, NATO can no longer afford to ignore the damage he has inflicted on the alliance and its members. 

Seriously considering Turkey’s expulsion or the suspension of its membership is obviously a grave business. But things will only get worse if the alliance fails to confront Mr. Erdoğan’s poisonous behavior. 

Mr. Bolton is author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” He served as the president’s national security adviser, 2018-19, and ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06. 

This week’s critical moment for Biden to act on China’s threat 

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Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida comes to Washington this week for a potentially critical summit with President Joe Biden — particularly on China, which Tokyo now publicly recognizes as its principal threat. 

Just weeks ago, Kishida announced a historical “turning point” in Tokyo’s security policy, vowing to double its defense budget in the next five years to 2% of gross domestic product, NATO’s target level, making Japan’s military topped only by America’s and China’s. 

Biden has paralyzed US strategic thinking about Beijing’s menace, obsessed instead with negotiating climate-change issues. Fortunately, our allies have progressed without us. 

Before arriving here, Kishida will sign a historic agreement with Great Britain, providing for reciprocal in-country treatment of each other’s servicemembers, thus facilitating joint military exercises and training. While not as far-reaching as Tokyo’s foundational, 1951 status-of-forces agreement with Washington, this new Japan-UK deal is an important step in building Indo-Pacific collective-defense structures. 

Moreover, spurred by Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and its implications for Asia, Japan is showing new resolve to range far from its immediate region, providing unprecedented aid to Ukraine, including non-lethal military equipment. 

These Japanese initiatives parallel British leadership in assisting Ukraine. Since Feb. 24, successive UK governments have consistently outperformed the Biden administration in both political and military support for Kyiv. And in Asia, Britain took a critical catalytic role in forging the trilateral “AUKUS” partnership with the United States to develop and build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia’s navy. 

Not all is well, however, in the global West’s reaction to Beijing’s threat, reflecting the continuing, disconcerting lack of American leadership. Germany, for example, stands in sharp contrast to Japan and Britain. Despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s declared “sea change” in German security policy just days after Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, Berlin is failing to reach key goals, including increasing defense outlays to 2% of GDP this year and expending €100 billion ($106 billion) on defense assets, such as 30 nuclear-capable F-35s. 

What should happen at the Kishida-Biden summit — but probably won’t — is a start on fashioning elements of a new grand strategy to counter China and its growing entente with Russia. Japan’s landmark budget increases, its European outreach and its understanding of the China-Russia threat all contrast dramatically with the Biden administration’s overall timidity. 

Kishida should press for considerably greater activity by the Asian “Quad” (India, Japan, Australia and the United States), which Biden to his credit supports, continuing to move its members toward concrete joint action. Mirroring AUKUS, enhancing Japan’s naval capabilities with nuclear-powered submarines, could be enormously beneficial in East Asia. 

Biden in turn should show how his defense budgets will help rejuvenate America’s military-industrial base, lest even good ideas like AUKUS impair our own defense capabilities, as both Republican and Democrats fear

Biden and Kishida should propose making South Korea a full Quad member (forming a “Quint”), which is entirely sensible given the threats from North Korea and China. Indeed, on New Year’s Day, Kim Jong Un ordered “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal,” specifically including tactical nuclear weapons to use against the South, which also threaten Japan and deployed American forces. 

Even before Kim’s latest threat, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol was weighing calls to redeploy US nuclear weapons on the peninsula or develop Seoul’s own nuclear weapons. 

Japan and South Korea have a long, complicated history, which has prevented extensive trilateral cooperation with Washington. This history is impossible to ignore, but Biden should make every effort to facilitate Tokyo and Seoul coming closer together in collective-defense alignments. 

Taiwan’s security, which has enormous, bipartisan support, should also top the Kishida-Biden agenda. Beijing’s belligerence toward Taipei continues to escalate, including Chinese military aircraft’s repeated incursions into Taiwanese airspace. 

The world is increasingly, albeit slowly, realizing the need to deter Chinese aggression. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently visited Taipei, calling to “further strengthen the bonds between Taiwan and Europe,” an important signal of growing support for the island nation. Closer planning among Japan, America, other Asian partners and NATO allies should be a high priority. 

Even Biden officials acknowledge that China’s recent behavior is ever-more belligerent. This week’s Kishida-Biden summit is exactly the right forum both to prove continued allied solidarity against China’s unacceptable conduct and to rally others in Asia and Europe against its growing threat. 

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Donald Trump, 2018-19, and US ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-06. 

Containing Isolationism

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By Ambassador John Bolton

This article was first published in the National Review, on January 5th, 2022. Click Here to read the original article.

Among the many unwelcome legacies of Donald Trump’s random walk through foreign and defense policy during his presidency, the resurgence of isolationism and know-nothingism in the Republican Party is among the most distasteful and dangerous. Isolationism has never entirely disappeared from the Republican Party’s fringes, and the Democrats’ leftist marches are perennial habitats for this virus. Trump, however, fostered a toxic environment within which the virus spread.

Isolationism comes in many forms. Like all national-security tags (e.g., “realism,” “liberal internationalism,” and “neoconservatism”), the label obscures more than it reveals and is worsened when paired with “internationalism,” its presumed opposite, as if to embrace all foreign-policy thinking. Ultimately, artificial conceptual classifications in foreign affairs, and attempts to define precisely who is or is not an isolationist, or who is best described by which bumper sticker, amount to no more than arid scholasticism. Besides, today’s isolationists are aware enough politically to deny the title even when it fits perfectly.

Taxonomy, although omnipresent in current discourse, is far less important than understanding isolationism’s core impulse: believing that the outside world matters little to America and that its problems can generally be ignored. Obviously, not all foreign events affect us equally or even significantly, but U.S. policy-makers cannot simply shrug off the broader world, which is isolationism’s default position. Debating what constitutes national-security interests is always legitimate, but too many contemporary politicians are unable or unwilling to do so. Accordingly, isolationism’s real definition resembles Justice Potter Stewart’s test for hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

I. The History
The isolationist virus thrives on a fictional history of America, ironically one largely crafted by liberal historians aspiring to lionize Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. In this narrative, the United States rested peacefully alone, protected from foreign travails by broad oceans, until Wilson and Roosevelt dragged nativists kicking and screaming into the radiance of internationalism (and, later, globalism), a move the isolationists are now trying to reverse.

Actually, America was never as isolated or isolationist as some contend. At the outset, the U.S. abjured European conflicts to guard its independence and fragile unity against foreign meddling. In a critical but usually overlooked passage from his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington wrote, “If we remain one people, . . . the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; . . . when belligerent nations . . . will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest guided by justice shall counsel.” Washington’s advice was prudence, not blindness.

Our history, with some notable exceptions, reflects the sustained, successful pursuit of national interests and values, to the dismay of those, home and abroad, who share neither. America’s innovative capitalism drove us across the world seeking competitive advantage, complicating and interconnecting the world because it suited us. The United States prevailed repeatedly in Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction, enormously benefitting our citizens, not to mention untold numbers of foreigners. Backed by the American Revolution’s financier, Robert Morris, the Empress of China kicked things off, sailing for China just months after the 1783 Treaty of Paris confirmed our independence. Nor were we content with private commerce. John Adams fought the naval Quasi-War against French privateers in 1798–1800, and, from 1801, Thomas Jefferson fought the Barbary pirates in North Africa because Europeans were unwilling to do so, preferring to pay tributes and ransoms. We created the Navy’s first Pacific Squadron in 1821, with a major battle in Sumatra in 1831; the South Atlantic Squadron in 1826; and the East India Squadron in 1835. We sailed Commodore Perry’s Black Fleet into Tokyo Harbor in 1853 to open trade with Japan.

Our attentions and energies were always substantially focused abroad, and we often butted heads with greater powers or dealt with them. Before the United States even consolidated the Paris Treaty’s boundaries, Jefferson’s 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France nearly doubled the country’s size, hardly the mark of stay-at-homers. We fought a second war against the U.K. in 1812, reaffirming the 1783 result, and so tellingly defeated the British at New Orleans that all Europe took note. On we went, purchasing Florida from Spain in 1819; promulgating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and thereby telling Europe “hands off” the Western Hemisphere; inventing “Baltimore clippers,” the world’s fastest oceangoing ships; and annexing the Republic of Texas in 1845. Splitting disputed lands with London in 1846, we picked up the Oregon Territory. Defeating Mexico in 1846–48 added America’s southwest, and the 1853 Gadsden Purchase consolidated the southern border. Even the Civil War barely slowed us down, as we purchased Alaska from Russia’s czar in 1867.

America’s massive post–Civil War industrialization then produced comparable growth in international trade, reinforcing concerns for protecting our interests worldwide. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge embodied key elements of “the shift from continental to hemispheric defense,” in Colin Dueck’s phrase. This included annexing Hawaii in 1898 and significantly growing Navy budgets. Lodge worried about British designs on Hawaii and was appalled at Grover Cleveland’s acceptance of a U.K. firm’s laying telegraph cable from Hawaii to our Pacific coast rather than assisting a U.S. company. Lodge advocated “protecting American interests and advancing them everywhere and at all times. . . . I would take and hold the outworks, as we now hold the citadel, of American power.”

The 1898 Spanish–American War, following the probably accidental sinking of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor, resulted in America’s controlling the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba (temporarily). Theodore Roosevelt divided Colombia in 1903, making Panama independent, to build the long-imagined canal. He later visited his handiwork, the first president to travel outside America while in office. Having won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Russo–Japanese War, he dispatched the Great White Fleet (16 battleships plus accompanying escorts) around the globe in 1907, all actions consistent with the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the world’s greatest sea-power theorist.

Covering just over a century postindependence, even this Calvin Coolidge–length history hardly reveals a country sitting contentedly by the fireside, knitting. World War I, however, undeniably brought to the fore Wilson’s vision, which asserted that America’s principal wartime goal was to “make the world safe for democracy.” Theodore Roosevelt responded characteristically: “First and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves. This is our primary interest. This is our war, America’s war.” He argued further, “We cannot at this time make any distinction between the German people and the German rulers, for the German people stand solidly behind their rulers, and until they separate from their rulers, they earn our enmity.”

Congress’s post-war rejection of Wilson’s hallowed Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations was evidence less of isolationism than of his arrogance. The Senate comprised roughly three factions: Democrats supporting the treaty as written; Republicans led by Lodge supporting ratification, with reservations to protect U.S. sovereignty; and the Irreconcilables, totally resistant. Outright ratification, opposed by Lodge Republicans and Irreconcilables, lacked the required two-thirds Senate vote. Wilson doomed the treaty by refusing to allow Democrats to back Lodge’s reservations, making it the first peace treaty ever rejected by the Senate.

II. Some Lessons for Policy-Makers
A century separates us from Versailles, but the central conceptual national-security lessons of U.S. history were already evident then to anyone paying attention. After World War II, as America moved from hemispheric to worldwide defense, those lessons were debated and tested. Washington and its allies created a partial, contingent, imperfect world order, based often on our unilateral exercise of power, initially to withstand the Soviet-led communist challenge. This world order, although changing constantly, persists to this day. If we were to abandon this order, such as it is, as isolationists seemingly want, who would fill the gaps? Certainly not the United Nations or other international organizations. There are only two possibilities: adversaries such as China and Russia, or no one, creating anarchy, nature’s default condition. There is no rational argument that either alternative would be better for us.

Liberal internationalists argue that multilateralism, embodied in institutions such as the U.N. and the International Criminal Court under the rubric of “the rules-based international order,” is the answer. I have written previously in these pages (“A World without Rules,” February 7, 2022) why the “rules-based international order” is nonsense, and earlier on the U.N. and the ICC. The arguments need no repetition here, for despite their many faults, isolationists rightly oppose the Left’s theological obsession with multilateralism.

Ironically, a variant on liberal internationalism is generally called “neoconservatism.” Neocons have a harder edge than liberals, agreeing on many goals with plain conservatives but following a different logic. With Democrats, they advocate a “liberal world order,” contending it has long been our policy. This is surely false. Lodge and the Republican Roosevelt were classic national-interest advocates, blocking and tackling for America, not for abstractions (although if they had one, it was “America” itself). Isolationists caricature neocon views as those of the Republican establishment, which is also false, and an issue for later rebuttal. If foreign-policy debates were only between neocons and Roosevelt-Lodge Republicans, I would be a happy man.

Instead of abstractions, the pursuit of U.S. interests remains the foundation of conservative national-security policy. These interests are concrete, including defending our territory and its people; guarding our trade and commercial interests, including access to natural resources; and providing reliable protection for our allies. Declaring that nearly everything important involves “national security” debases the language: If everything implicates national security, then nothing does, and reason is lost. Of course, higher aspirations are noble, and appealing to the virtues is an inevitable aspect of political leadership. In recent history, America’s higher aspirations fused seamlessly with hard national interests, as in the 20th century’s world wars, two hot and one cold. But conservatives stress that our resources must be concentrated first on our interests, which are expansive.

The May 1947 speech of undersecretary of state Dean Acheson to Mississippi’s Delta Council admirably illustrates this clear-eyed approach. Acheson chose to make the Marshall Plan’s first public preview to an association of farmers and agricultural businesses in Cleveland, Miss., because of the audience’s self-interest. World War II had devastated U.S. farmers’ foreign markets, and Marshall aid could be critical in reviving them. Acheson began by saying, “You who live and work in this rich agricultural region . . . must derive a certain satisfaction from the fact that the greatest affairs of state never get very far from the soil.” He knew that business was business for the Delta’s residents, and abstractions such as internationalism or isolationism meant little to them. If he could convince Mississippi’s Delta farmers that the Marshall Plan was in America’s interest, who else could remain unmoved?

Unlike isolationists’ breezy dismissal of foreign affairs, deriving an interests-based U.S. foreign policy requires hard intellectual work, assessing priorities and constructing strategies to provide resources to achieve them. This is a source of strength, not weakness, as the timing and location of Acheson’s speech indicate. Making the economic and politico-military case is neither irrelevant (pace the neocons) nor unworthy of serious treatment (pace the typical isolationist sneering). Analysis and logic are critical both to implement sound policy and to ensure durable political support. Indeed, today, the principal threat to continued U.S. popular backing for Ukraine is President Biden’s failure to delineate his ultimate objectives and how to achieve them.

Calculating geostrategic advantage is often, with good reason, compared to playing chess. Statesmanship is not simply a “for want of a nail” litany, but a chain of logic and evidence. Isolationist politicians rarely engage in geostrategic analysis, preferring instead to intone their own mantras (“End the endless wars”), deploy non sequiturs (“What about the southern border?”), or make personal attacks against opponents. If they were ever to address geostrategy, that alone would be progress, albeit unlikely given the personalities involved.

Most foreign-policy decisions are made at the margin, day to day, like chess moves: Why act here? Why now? Nonetheless, however inconsequential a particular national-security decision point may seem, it didn’t arise without a history, and it will have future ramifications. Both the history and the future ramifications must be measured against American objectives and capabilities. Failure to grasp history or experience, and having no vision of future threats, increases the risk of catastrophic failure, which will present no good options. Prior decisions do not inevitably dictate subsequent ones, but whether the current decision is bold or timid, it will be a better decision if it reflects understandings of its origins and consequences. Unfortunately, isolationists play chess one move at a time, having no larger strategy, and their failures become incalculably costlier.

Analysis and persuasion must be sustained over time to ensure domestic support. Ronald Reagan, for example, stressed that America’s safety and prosperity depend on a strong international posture, and likewise that a forward position abroad rests on a strong economy and society. His “peace through strength” legacy echoed the Roman adage Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war), and it still represents the best rebuttal to the isolationists.

III. Applying the Lessons
Which brings us to today, when damage from the isolationist virus is already evident on many levels, starting with America’s retreat from Afghanistan, a blundering, bipartisan flight from reality. This totally unforced error, the epitome of Trumpian isolationism (and generic Democratic weakness), reflects disdain for the U.S. interests sacrificed. Among its consequences are (1) losing a critical surveillance post and staging ground against terrorism inside Afghanistan, and nuclear-proliferation threats from bordering Iran and Pakistan; (2) again exposing innocent American civilians to terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan, 9/11-style; (3) creating a power vacuum in central Asia that will be filled by China, Russia, terrorists, or all three; (4) lacerating the credibility of American commitments worldwide, especially with NATO allies who followed our post-9/11 lead, in NATO’s largest deployment in history; and, by the way, (5) sacrificing the Afghan people to renewed Taliban (and other extremist) misrule.

Trump’s first, most egregious mistake was negotiating with terrorists while excluding Afghanistan’s legitimate elected government, which we helped create at such cost in U.S. lives and treasure. The negotiations fatally crippled the Kabul regime, as Trump signaled he did not intend to hold the Taliban to their commitments any more than the Taliban intended to honor them (which there was never the slightest reason to believe anyway). In turn, Biden’s decision (entirely his own) to follow Trump’s fatally flawed deal reflects the Democratic Party’s Mahatma Gandhi wing. In July 1940, Gandhi advised the British about the Nazis: “If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered . . .” By departing Afghanistan, we effectively wrote its people the same message. And dealing with renewed terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan will weigh heavily on the next president.

America’s role in Iraq has a long, controversial history. Today’s dominant view is that the 2003 decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was mistaken. Rather than rehashing the question here, consider the key point of Barack Obama’s 2011 withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces under the pretext of being unable to negotiate a satisfactory status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) with Baghdad. That decision, clearly a sharp break with past policy, did not anticipate the consequences of upending ten years of America’s in-country presence (and foreshadowed the Trump/Biden retreat from Afghanistan).

Withdrawal was clearly wrong, as proven when Obama reversed himself in 2014, returning U.S. forces (without a SOFA) to oppose ISIS’s terrorist threat, which had metastasized from its previous al-Qaeda incarnation. Not only did America’s departure contribute to destabilizing a visibly wobbly post-Saddam Iraqi state, but our return, based significantly on mistaken views of Iran, materially empowered Tehran’s control over Iraqi-Shiite militia, which was clearly foreseeable. Thus, even our ultimate destruction of the ISIS territorial caliphate effectively strengthened the ayatollahs’ hand in Iraq and still failed to eradicate the ISIS threat. As Michael Gordon argues in his book Degrade and Destroy, Obama’s return to Iraq conceded that his “paradigm for ending the ‘forever wars’ had collapsed,” a lesson that isolationists (of Left and Right) have obdurately refused to learn.

U.S. policy disagreements on Iran reflect the pre-Trump world, with Republicans almost unanimously taking a hard line against Tehran’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs; its own terrorist activities and support for terrorist groups worldwide; and its malign regional conventional military operations. Trump left Obama’s misbegotten 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018, reimposing American economic sanctions (although not enforcing them effectively). Biden has spent nearly two years slavishly searching for the right combination of concessions to get back into the deal, so far unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Iran and its proxies continue to attack and threaten Americans in the Middle East and globally, unworried about a vigorous U.S. response. Intense, continuing, near-revolutionary opposition to the ayatollahs’ regime has now apparently awakened some administration officials, but Biden’s position remains merely that it is currently inconvenient to focus on reentering the deal. Once those distracting demonstrations end, Biden’s negotiators will be back at it. Absent a contrary sign from Trump, who has not (as yet) changed his view, Republicans of all stripes will continue adamantly rejecting the deal, a rare piece of good news.

Strategically, Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine is now America’s most urgent priority, with enormous global consequences if we get it wrong. We need to ensure that Ukraine does not become a second Afghanistan (and Taiwan a third); instead, isolationists concentrate on ignoring both Ukraine’s history and the implications of the war and its outcome. Unfortunately, the isolationist virus is having its most visible success on Ukraine, stemming almost entirely from the “Russia collusion” hysteria, Trump’s personal fixation with Ukraine as a purported nest of anti-Trump activity in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, and his resulting scorn for the country and its leaders. It is otherwise inconceivable that Democratic and Republican positions on the Kremlin, enduring through and after the Cold War, could be so thoroughly reversed. Happily, the extent of Trump’s damage among Republicans remains slight, but the media focus on Ukraine, hoping to anathematize all Republicans via Trump, is oxygen for isolationists.

When Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to Congress on December 21, some members weren’t paying attention or simply didn’t attend. They missed a compelling speech, directly confronting their “arguments” against U.S. assistance to Ukraine. Typically, the isolationists advance no strategic perspective, arguing instead against providing resources that should be used domestically (also a favorite argument of progressive Democrats) or arguing that we should pay more attention to our border with Mexico. Both of these arguments, of course, are non sequiturs, since failing to achieve certain objectives does not excuse failing to meet others. Zelensky rightly stressed that our aid was not “charity,” given America’s manifest interest in deterring or defeating aggression in regions critically important to Washington. As George H. W. Bush said in 1990 after Iraq invaded its southern neighbor: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

European peace and security have been cornerstones of American policy since 1945, for NATO members but also for countries whose independence and territorial integrity are critical to bordering and nearby NATO allies. George W. Bush was correct to propose fast-tracking NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008, and French and German opposition was a tragic historical mistake. Finland and Sweden, abandoning decades of neutrality that they maintained during the Cold War and even before, have now concluded that their security rests on joining NATO, showing more vision than isolationists who still can’t do their strategic arithmetic. Trump was hostile to NATO generally, as are his acolytes. Some argue that he was a necessary “disrupter” of complacency among European countries, and complacency there certainly was. But his disruption was not Schumpeterian, not aimed at improving NATO, but simply destructive. Vladimir Putin would have warmly welcomed more of the same from Trump’s second term, as Trump did to NATO what he did to Afghanistan.

Progressives have also opined on Ukraine, urging negotiations with Moscow in an October 2022 letter to Biden. Their missive raised inevitable comparisons to Neville Chamberlain’s characterization of Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland as “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Progressives quickly disavowed their letter’s timing, but none resiled from its substance. It was a classic Washington gaffe: saying exactly what they thought, just at an inconvenient time.

The progressives discerned Biden’s evident fears and uncertainties about his objectives in Ukraine. His lack of resolve has impaired both his policy’s execution and its domestic support. He has wilted under Putin’s threats and posturing — limiting, conditioning, and hesitating to provide needed assistance, ignoring Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s March 2022 comment that Putin has been “moving his forces into a wood chipper.” Thus, while America and NATO are degrading Russia’s military without a single U.S. casualty so far, a morganatic coalition of Left and Right isolationists nonetheless poses a considerable threat to thwarting Moscow’s Ukraine aggression.

Notwithstanding the Ukraine war’s urgency, the breadth of China’s threat throughout this century in economic, political, and military terms, while existential, is still hard for many in the West to absorb. Although Beijing’s immediate focus is hegemony over Taiwan and other points along its periphery, its long-term objectives, manifested, for example, in the Belt and Road Initiative’s economic reach, include dominance over Latin America and Europe and ultimately global hegemony. Moreover, the growing Beijing–Moscow geostrategic entente is actually strengthened by the Ukraine war, entirely to China’s advantage, as its needy junior partner sees its military humiliated. North Korea, China’s geographic adjunct (and whose progress toward deliverable nuclear weapons the Biden administration has done precious little to stop), and Iran in the Middle East increasingly seem parts of a broader coalition directly threatening America and the global West.

The truly worldwide nature of China’s challenge precludes extended discussion here, but its emerging implications for the isolationist virus are noteworthy. Precisely because of the enormity of Beijing’s menace, some quasi-isolationists argue that crises elsewhere in the world (such as Ukraine, or Iran’s terrorist threats and potential acquisition of a nuclear weapon) are not significant enough, and that our resources are too limited, to risk distracting us from the main chance. This fantasy fails in many respects, but it may attract domestic support from those afraid to expose themselves as total isolationists, allowing them to write off the rest of the world under the guise of opposing China. They could maintain this pretext until the threat immanentizes and only then find it inconvenient to defend, say, Taiwan (never a Trump favorite), or ultimately anything else. Obviously, by then it will be too late to reverse the adverse consequences of having retreated elsewhere. A “China-only” foreign policy is isolationism’s version of John Ehrlichman’s “modified limited hangout”; however tantalizing, it won’t work any better now than the original did during Watergate.

IV. Tomorrow
America’s 2024 presidential campaigns, already under way, provide an excellent occasion for the necessary debate on isolationism, certainly for Republicans and conservatives, and even among Democrats if they are up to it. Since cashing in the illusory “peace dividend” at the Cold War’s end in 1991, U.S. and allied defense spending has been wholly inadequate. Prudent fiscal policy undoubtedly requires reducing federal deficits and the national debt, so the need for major defense increases means slashing unnecessary domestic spending even further. That budget exercise will pose difficult political challenges, but there is nothing better than a presidential election to uncover capable leaders. As Theodore Roosevelt said about World War I, “If we have the smallest power to learn by experience, let us face the damage done by our la-mentable failure to prepare in the past, so that we may learn the need to prepare for the future.”

The right Republican 2024 presidential nominee will stress bolstering existing alliances such as NATO; launching, enlarging, and expanding the scope of Indo–Pacific alliances; and taking advantage of the Middle East’s tectonic geopolitical changes to broaden Israel’s acceptance and strengthen partnerships against Iran’s malign activities. These alliances are not burdens for the United States but potential force multipliers, and they should be analyzed and evaluated as such. Undoubtedly, effective alliances also require that allies shoulder their responsibilities, lest isolationists, following Trump’s approach, deploy any failure to do so destructively against the very concept of collective-defense structures. Many NATO members still do not seem to be on the road to meeting the alliance’s 2014 Cardiff commitments to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense matters, something that conservatives can insist on with no fear of ceding ground to NATO opponents. And while enhancing collective-defense organizations, we should carefully avoid the short-term temptation presented even by sound allies, and otherwise sound Republicans, to endorse international tribunals in lieu of national judicial systems to try war-related crimes.

In the Indo–Pacific, in contrast with the North Atlantic, conditions have never been comparable to the latter’s environment, where dense and extensive partnerships on politico-military and economic matters have flourished. China’s unprecedented assertiveness is now beginning to change the Indo–Pacific’s state of play, making it far more favorable to deeper and broader alliance projects. Moreover, important building blocks already exist through numerous U.S. bilateral alliances: the Asian Quad (India, Japan, Australia, and America), which is still far from NATO but nonetheless has considerable promise; and AUKUS, the trilateral partnership for the United Kingdom and the United States to produce nuclear-powered submarines with Australia. Creativity in developing new politico-military partnerships should be the priority, rather than looking only to create an Indo–Pacific NATO. Japan’s recent announcement that it will double its defense budget in five years, reaching the NATO target and making Japan’s military the world’s third-largest after America’s and China’s, shows what is at work in the region. And possibilities for economic or technological combinations with strategic significance also exist.

In the Middle East, the Abraham Accords are already bringing beneficial results, and more diplomatic recognition for Israel globally is undoubtedly coming. The turmoil in Iran is proceeding at its own pace, but overthrowing the ayatollahs, which is what the opposition is now advocating daily, is closer to hand than at any point since the Islamic Revolution seized power in 1979. Politico-military cooperation with Israel and like-minded Arab nations could go a long way to eliminating that regime, the greatest threat to peace and security in the region and beyond, and to denying Russia and China an ally they both need.

Beyond politics, serious strategic thinking about U.S. and allied defense budgets is essential. Some years back, U.S. military planners contemplated “full-spectrum dominance” in military affairs, a concept not much mentioned today, but still compelling. What threat along the spectrum from terrorism to conventional military weapons to offensive cyberspace capabilities to weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical) does anyone seriously believe we can “isolate” ourselves from? Equally critically, over which parts of the weapons/combat spectrum are we willing to concede dominance to our adversaries? Let’s hear from isolationist opponents of defense-spending increases on these questions.

More prosaically, years of neglect have left us with inadequate supplies of existing weapons, demonstrated currently, for example, by the pressure to supply Ukraine with anti-tank Javelin missiles without completely depleting our own arsenals. New weapons systems to outpace China in all combat domains are critically needed, to say nothing of what we and our allies need elsewhere in the world. In particular, we need a dramatically expanded, modernized Navy to deter and contain China in the vast Pacific and Indian Ocean expanses. We have wasted decades by not expanding and improving our national missile-defense assets, a requirement defensive by definition and one that even isolationists should be willing to support. Dominance in space and cyberspace is essential not just for military purposes but to keep the homeland alive and functioning during crisis or conflict situations. And as was evident well before Covid but has been inescapable since, we need resilient, sustained American production capabilities for national-security requirements, with no reliance on insecure foreign supply chains.

This is nowhere near a complete list of what must be done not just to forestall isolationism but to correct long years of mistakenly believing that the Soviet Union’s collapse three decades ago had brought us to “the end of history” and a respite from strife. Republicans and conservatives, however, must urgently overcome the isolationist virus or there will be little hope of advancing the larger agenda. Now is the time to eradicate the virus politically, no matter how difficult the fight. Bring it on.

Mr. Bolton served as national-security adviser to President Donald Trump and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. He is the author of The Room Where It Happened.

When will Biden get tough with China? And other foreign policy questions that will define 2023

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This article first appeared in The Hill, on January 3rd, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

With 2023 opening under huge uncertainty about renewed COVID-19 outbreaks in China and other countries, one might think 2020 was repeating itself. In fact, Beijing’s mishandling of the original pandemic; its refusal to cooperate in serious, credible investigations of its origins; its disdain for the global consequences, including blatant dishonesty and concealment from other countries; and its authoritarian response domestically, all contributed to significant negative shifts in international attitudes about China’s communist regime.  

Moreover, concerns about Beijing’s hegemonic aspirations in the Indo-Pacific and beyond are increasing on many economic and political-military fronts. A recent Pentagon report judges that China’s defense budget almost doubled in the last decade, is still rising and includes new activities across nearly the full military spectrum. All this promises several 2023 pivotal moments at which to confront China’s threatening behavior. The real question for the United States is when our government will face up to this reality. 

Instead, the Biden administration’s first two years have been remarkable for not producing a coherent, let alone comprehensive, counter-China strategy. Some notable individual decisions deserve praise, but the general pattern has been passive and acquiescent, even as other regional powers have been addressing the increasingly unavoidable Chinese threat. The White House’s passivity can be explained by the priority it has assigned to negotiating climate-change issues with Beijing.  

A week after Biden’s inauguration, his global climate envoy, John Kerry, said “climate is a critical standalone issue” and that despite “serious differences with China on some very, very important” economic and political issues, “those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate.”  

Accordingly, he said, “it’s urgent that we find a way to compartmentalize, to move forward, and we’ll wait and see.”  

Thereafter, the White House emphasized its desire for progress above all else on climate-change matters, fearing to jeopardize potential environmental agreements by taking tough positions on imminent Chinese threats. In 2023, will the administration continue to marginalize China’s economic and politico-military aggressiveness, or will it assume the leadership position its regional allies are clearly hoping for? 

In fairness, Biden has gotten some things right. He has increased economic pressure on China’s telecommunications and information-technology sectors. He attended the first in-person, heads-of-government meeting of the Asian Quad (India, Japan, Australia and the U.S.), which Shinzo Abe, Japan’s tragically murdered former prime minister, sought to nurture. The Quad is no NATO and may never be. But as a partnership to address politico-military issues (and others) among four key players in the Indo-Pacific region, it is an excellent beginning. India is especially salient. We need to enlist New Delhi in containing Beijing, which is clearly in India’s interest. But we must also find ways to decrease India’s reliance on the Kremlin for sophisticated weapons and hydrocarbon fuels. Concurrently, India could also be instrumental in splitting the Russia-China entente before Russia becomes completely subordinate. 

Biden also approved cooperation with the United Kingdom and Australia (forming “AUKUS”) to produce a dozen nuclear-powered, hunter-killer submarines for Australia’s navy. AUKUS is still in its early stages, but it provides a useful pattern for many forms of military cooperation across the region. One could readily imagine Tokyo seeking a similar partnership on nuclear-powered submarines, and other Indo-Pacific countries participating with Washington and European powers in advancing a variety of miliary capabilities. 

Despite U.S. fecklessness, other regional states are not standing idly by. Undoubtedly the biggest recent sensation was Japanese Prime Minister Fujio Kishida’s announcement that his government would more than double Japan’s defense budget over the next five years, thereby equaling NATO’s commitment that each member spend 2 percent of GDP on defense programs, and making Japan the world’s third largest military after the United States and China.  

Spurred in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and thereby again demonstrating the extraordinary importance of unambiguously defeating Moscow’s aggression), Tokyo is now doing much of what Shinzo Abe long espoused. Japan is making it clear that, after full debate, it intends to behave as a “normal” nation, one that can be trusted with a strong military, especially when in close alliance with the United States. Germany should take note.  

South Korea has also increased its defense budget, responding to the North’s continuing, increasingly provocative and threatening behavior, although President Yoon has reduced the rate of increase, trying to restore fiscal discipline in Seoul. It may be unfair to fault South Korea’s budget performance since Congress has had to increase U.S. military spending over White House requests, and since, at least until after the 2024 elections, U.S. defense spending will not approach the necessary levels.  

Nonetheless, we can urge that, for now, Seoul follow Tokyo’s budgetary example rather than Washington’s. In addition, the South’s growing arms sales to Poland demonstrate both its own seriousness and the severe problems in U.S. military procurement systems, where assembly lines are significantly overbooked, with deliveries both to allies and our own arsenals alarmingly distant. This is not just a budget issue and requires a real change in U.S. attitudes to ensure stockpiling adequate weapons supplies before conflicts begin. 

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s recent decision to lengthen military service for draftees from four to 12 months was significant, both for its intrinsic merits and for the signal sent to Washington and Beijing that Taiwan is deeply determined to increase its own defense capabilities. There is a very real risk of near-term hostile action by Beijing, given its increasing violations of Taipei’s airspace and menacing of U.S. aircraft in the South China Sea and elsewhere. 

U.S. military sales to Taiwan are increasing but have been hampered by long delays in delivery dates, providing additional evidence that supply-chain inadequacies jeopardize our own posture as well as losing American firms’ sales opportunities, as with Poland. 

Campaign 2024 is already underway, so aspiring presidential candidates should be questioned closely about how they would handle Beijing’s belligerence. This is not an election cycle to allow national security issues to be obscured by purely domestic concerns. Too much is at stake, especially in the Indo-Pacific. 

John Bolton was national security adviser to President Trump from 2018 to 2019, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and held senior State Department posts in 2001-2005 and 1985-1989. His most recent book is “The Room Where It Happened” (2020). He is the founder of John Bolton Super PAC, a political action committee supporting candidates who believe in a strong U.S. foreign policy.