Biden’s trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea is critical to American security

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This article was first published in The Washington Examiner on August 17, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

This Friday, President Joe Biden will host a trilateral summit critical to American security for decades to come.Joined by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Biden hopes to “advance a shared trilateral vision” in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Aspirations for the summit are high, but whether the leaders are truly prepared for effective trilateral teamwork, or whether Friday is just another meeting on their busy schedules, is unclear.The White House hails the “ironclad” U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK alliances, but that very formulation highlights probably the most difficult immediate obstacle they face: Can America’s long-standing “hub-and-spoke” Pacific alliances be transformed, even partially, into collective self-defense structures? This is not the work of one summit, or of only these three partners. No one expects to see an Asian NATO imminently. Nonetheless, China’s existential menace requires evolving beyond the hub-and-spoke paradigm. While Biden’s summit announcement mentions North Korea’s threat, the word “China” does not appear, perhaps for legitimate optical reasons. But if China is not absolutely central to the discussions, Friday’s summit will be a waste of time.A strong Pacific alliance will take work on multiple fronts. For their part, Japanese-Korean relations post-World War II are colored by history, and progress overcoming that history has often been reversed by new waves of hostility, generated by their respective domestic politics. Leaders such as Yoon and Kishida have heavy lifting to do, and despite opposition, both men seem determined to try.In their efforts, trilateral rather than bilateral security strategies and programs can be helpful. This is also how Washington can help pragmatically, moving beyond just voicing strong support for closer Tokyo-Seoul cooperation. A trilateral paradigm can give Seoul and Tokyo new room to enhance their relations, which can then permeate their bilateral dealings.In politico-military planning, trilateral cooperation can build patterns and habits of joint effort that transcend the constraints of bilateral relations, which the respective sides often see as zero-sum exercises. In a trilateral context, allocation of roles and responsibilities, defining and planning for contingencies, and the inevitably more complex consultations, can take the edge off purely bilateral issues. For example, discussing military budgets and defense-production programs — the meat and potatoes of any successful collective-defense partnership — while often contentious, can help justify decisions by each partner in ways that would otherwise be far more difficult to achieve individually or bilaterally. Closer trilateral cooperation is central to effective collective self-defense. For example, Donald Trump once asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in how South Koreans would feel about having Japanese troops fighting alongside them to repel a North Korean invasion. Moon was visibly uncomfortable with the question, given his domestic politics, and largely successful in avoiding a clear answer. Ineluctably, however, the logic for Japanese combat arms assisting South Korea’s defense is unassailable. It could prove far easier to realize in a trilateral structure than bilaterally. The leaders should also discuss how Japan and South Korea can enhance other emerging Indo-Pacific alignments. The Asian security “Quad” (India, Australia, Japan, and America), for example, does not include Seoul or other key players. Adding South Korea to form a “Quint” makes sense but may not yet be ripe. Accordingly, how the ROK and others can participate in the Quad’s emerging agenda is a vital topic. Similarly, neither Japan nor South Korea are now members of the AUKUS project for Great Britain and America to build nuclear-powered submarines with Australia, but they could easily have similar arrangements. Until Congress and the Biden administration take seriously the need for extensive increases in U.S. naval warships and submarines, not to mention more domestic shipbuilding capacity, working with Indo-Pacific allies to enlarge their respective arsenals is essential. Finally, Biden, Yoon, and Kishida should discuss how to cooperate in fending off Chinese designs on Taiwan and the East China Sea. While South Korea has understandably concentrated for decades on North Korea’s threat, Seoul’s leadership increasingly grasps that the more serious threat, economically as well as militarily, is China. It is already a commonplace understanding for the Japanese that an attack on Taiwan is an attack on them, and Koreans increasingly see threats to Taiwan in the same light. South Korea’s interests are essentially those of Japan, and indeed of America.Holding the line against Beijing and Pyongyang in all the waters around Korea and Japan is fundamental, and Taiwan is an essential ally for doing so. Positioned between the East and South China Seas, Taiwan is the key hinge point against China’s threat throughout East Asia. The summit leaders should be clear they will not be inhibited by Beijing’s insistence that countries either recognize China or Taiwan. There are numerous ways to engage in collective security with Taiwan as an effectively independent country, which it is, without saying so expressly.The sheer breadth of Beijing’s challenge is more than one summit can resolve, but the need for Indo-Pacific grand-strategy thinking is urgent. Regularizing these trilateral summits would be an important practical outcome this Friday.

The G-7 Shows It Still Doesn’t Understand The China Threat

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The global West’s disarray only encourages Xi Jinping’s belligerent tendencies.

This article was first published in 1945 on May 25, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

By John Bolton

Last Saturday, leaders of the G-7 nations meeting in Hiroshima issued a 40-page communique addressing, most importantly, their relations with China.

The communique was touted as demonstrating G-7 unity and strength against Beijing’s economic warfare, but the China language instead reflects disarray and incoherence.

Embarrassingly weak, for example, is the Taiwan passage.

It is essentially unchanged from recent G-7 statements, ignoring China’s rapidly rising menace during the same period. Similarly, the G-7 urged China to speak directly to Ukraine, but referred only to a peace “based on territorial integrity,” not on the full restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as its territorial integrity — a restoration all NATO members profess to support.

By resorting to bromides regarding both Taiwan and Ukraine, the leaders of the global West do precisely the opposite of what they intend: They reveal weakness rather than unity and strength. 

An Empty Slogan

The communique is weakest and least coherent on the G-7’s economic relationship with China, the very front where current Chinese efforts at regional and global hegemony are playing out. Instead of forthrightly confronting Beijing’s economic aggression, the Hiroshima document relies on a slogan, a sure signal of inadequate strategic substance. The communique adopts the mantra first unfurled by the European Union and quickly adopted by the Biden White House.

The slogan holds that the G-7 nations favor “derisking, not decoupling” their economies from China. This is a bumper sticker in search of a meaning, masking both the European Union’s flat unwillingness to acknowledge the Chinese threat, and significant policy disagreements and inadequacies within the G-7. It reflects not so much a failure of leadership in bringing along the lagging Europeans, but a collapse of U.S. resolve at the very outset.

The G-7 communique is quick to say, “we are not decoupling or turning inwards.” In fact, the concept of “decoupling” was always a straw man, an exaggeration implying near-cessation of business between China and the West. Deployed in America by those who overprize economic relations with Beijing — placing their importance above American national security — the term aimed to panic businesses and policymakers who were beginning to awaken to the re-emergence of significant international political risk. This “project fear” meaning of decoupling was never accurate.

Nor was “decoupling” ever seriously suggested in the sense of a government-mandated, latter-day industrial policy. Such an approach was no more likely to succeed than other industrial policies, which all rest on the assumption that politicians and government bureaucrats are better at making economic choices than markets. Existing levels of trade and investment between the global West and China are, for well or ill, too complex to believe that top-down government decision-making would lead to anything other than confusion and disorder.

Where government-directed decoupling is necessary, and should be expedited, is where it can eliminate dependency on goods and services that significantly impact U.S. national security. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have imposed significant sanctions on China in the high-tech field.

Europe trails far behind. France and Germany still see China almost exclusively through an economic prism, as repeatedly confirmed by statements from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Even the United Kingdom is torn, with significant debate between the hawkish Conservative parliamentary party and a China-friendly Ten Downing Street.

China Decouples

The hollowness of the “derisking, not decoupling” mantra is most evident at the level of individual firms, which have no practical way to derisk without decoupling. They must either reduce capital investment, or at least not increase it; withhold intellectual property (at risk from decades of Chinese piracy); reduce supply-chain reliance; find other markets; or take other defensive measures, depending on the circumstances of the particular firm. Many companies are already deeply engaged in reducing or hedging their risks, but others are not. These latter may ultimately pay the greatest economic price for their lack of diligence.

In due time, the sum of national security prudence and businesses’ political-risk decisions will determine the extent of decoupling, not the G-7’s false dichotomy. 

Tellingly, China is already far along in decoupling from the West, preparing for future military conflict by reducing its dependence. In what should have been required reading for G-7 leaders at Hiroshima, Ross Babbage’s The Next Major War demonstrates what Beijing was doing while we slept. Babbage explains four decades of China’s policy of so-called dual circulation, or “two markets, two resources.” Beijing’s “domestic market [was] a resource to protect and insulate, while foreign markets were to be penetrated and exploited.” He quotes McKinsey’s conclusion that “‘China has been reducing its exposure to the world, while the world’s exposure to China has risen.’”

Poor Signals From the G-7

However, China was far from successful in insulating itself. Its dependence on massive energy imports and other raw materials remains a critical weakness — one very difficult for China to correct in the foreseeable future, given its lack of domestic mineral and hydrocarbon resources.

The global West is only belatedly grasping the extent of China’s theft of intellectual property, massive protectionism, and governmental subsidies. As the gauzy era of globalization dissipates, political risk has re-emerged as a central factor in international business, especially with China. Political risk is not and never was confined to the world’s economic fringes. Under Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “hide your capabilities and bide your time,” Beijing convinced too many Western politicians and businesses of the fantasy that China was little more than a pure economic play. This holiday from history is over, and China’s misdeeds and threats, politically, economically, and militarily, are increasingly evident.

G-7 meetings come and go, and their leaders’ statements fade quickly. The impression that will not fade after the Hiroshima summit, certainly not from the minds of policymakers in Beijing, is that the great industrial democracies are still divided and unsure about how to oppose China’s economic warfare against them. The global West’s disarray only encourages Xi Jinping’s belligerent tendencies.

Biden’s half-hearted nuclear deterrence plan

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This article was first published in The Hill on May 5, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

Last week’s summit between President Biden and President Yoon Suk-yeol of the Republic of Korea (“ROK”) had a full agenda, but there is little doubt that Yoon’s top priority was the omnipresent, growing North Korean nuclear threat.

Unfortunately, the celebration of the ROK-U.S. alliance’s 70th anniversary produced a joint statement, the Washington Declaration, that fell far short of what was necessary.

The Declaration’s modest measures will not slow Pyongyang’s efforts to reunite the Peninsula under its control, so tensions in Northeast Asia will almost certainly continue rising.

Reflecting a growing fear that America’s nuclear “extended deterrence” is no longer reliable, either against the North or, importantly, China, South Korean public opinion has increasingly supported an independent nuclear program.

Biden’s response to Beijing’s and Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and ballistic-missile threats, embodied in the Declaration, will do little to alleviate these ROK concerns.

The most palpable new U.S. commitment to opposing North Korean belligerence is that our nuclear ballistic-missile submarines will, for the first time in 40 years, resume docking, occasionally, in South Korea. Anonymous U.S. officials also predicted there would be a “regular cadence” of visits by aircraft carriers, bombers and more.

Did the White House really believe Pyongyang’s leadership thought America’s nuclear arsenal was imaginary? Perhaps. It’s a strange leadership, with strange ideas, so parading the cold steel from time to time might have an effect, if not on China’s Xi Jinping, perhaps on North Korea’s Kim Jung Un.

Far more likely, however, is that neither Kim nor Xi doubt Washington has massive nuclear assets. Instead, ironically but tellingly, they, like South Korea’s citizens, think very little of today’s U.S. leadership, Republican or Democratic.

China and both Koreas perceive a lack of American resolve and willpower to act decisively when ROK and U.S. national interests are threatened. If so, the Washington Declaration’s rhetoric about the U.S. commitment to extended deterrence and strengthening bilateral military ties will be seen as words, and words alone. We are kidding ourselves to believe that having “boomers” pitch up in South Korean waters sporadically will have any deterrent effect.

By contrast, redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, effectively indefinitely, is several orders of magnitude more serious. First, these weapons would remain under sole American control, and immediately available to assist in defending deployed U.S. forces, and their Republic of Korea cohorts. “We go together” (or “katchi kapshida” in Korean) becomes much more than the combined forces’ long-standing slogan when backed by battlefield nuclear capabilities. That is far more palpable than submarine port calls.

Second, tactical nuclear deployments would give heft to the Washington Declaration’s creation of the Nuclear Coordination Group (“NCG”), charged with strengthening extended deterrence, discussing nuclear planning and managing North Korea’s proliferation threat. The new NCG would be far more than just another bureaucratic prop if it had real-world questions like optimizing the deterrent and defensive value of tangible nuclear assets. Lacking concrete responsibilities, how will the new NCG differ from the existing Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, and others, which the Declaration says will be “strengthened”?

Third, while the issue of an independent ROK nuclear capability is politically and militarily separate from returning American tactical nuclear weapons to the Peninsula, renewed deployment would nonetheless buy valuable time for Seoul and Washington to evaluate fully the implications of South Korea becoming a nuclear-weapons state. The presence of American nuclear assets on the Peninsula neither precludes nor renders inevitable a separate ROK program, which has the further advantage of keeping Beijing and Pyongyang guessing.

Moreover, the implicit message weakening the Washington Declaration is that America’s antiproliferation efforts to stop Pyongyang from becoming a nuclear power have failed. Consider the proliferation aspect of the NCG’s mandate: it is to “manage” the North Korean threat. Not “defeat” that threat, not “eliminate” or “end” that threat, but merely “manage” it.

This is the language of bureaucrats, not statesmen, and it sounds suspiciously like giving up on working to prevent North Korea from becoming able to deliver nuclear payloads.

It is therefore appropriate to emphasize that those who opposed taking decisive steps against nuclear proliferators like North Korea and Iran long argued that we had ample time for negotiations. Accordingly, they said, efforts at regime change or pre-emptive military action were over-wrought, premature and unnecessary. Now that Pyongyang has detonated six nuclear devices, and Iran continues to progress toward its first, these same people say the rogue states are already nuclear powers, and we must hereafter rely on arms control and deterrence.

In other words, first it was too soon to take decisive action, and now it is too late. One might almost conclude that for all the posturing over the years that North Korean (or Iranian) nuclear weapons were “unacceptable,” that’s not really what many U.S. politicians and policymakers actually believed. They were prepared to accept American failure, but they knew it was impolitic to say it out loud in public. We are all now at greater risk because of this hypocrisy.

In the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East, where the menace of nuclear proliferation is all too real, others have refused to give up. In his first year in office, for example, Yoon has made improving ROK-Japan relations, badly damaged by his predecessor, a top priority. Better Tokyo-Seoul cooperation is critical to enhanced three-way efforts with Washington, and Yoon’s diplomacy with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is paying dividends. Kishida will visit South Korea, the first such visit in five years, just before the Hiroshima G-7 meeting, to which Yoon is invited.

It’s obviously easier for Kishida to sell U.S. deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the South than an independent ROK nuclear force, which would instantly raise in Tokyo the complex question of a comparable Japanese capability.

Biden’s half-hearted efforts to enhance U.S. national security should be a significant political vulnerability in the 2024 presidential campaign. It remains to be seen whether Republicans have the wit to make it an issue.

To Help Ukraine, Japan Must Stand against Iran

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This article was first published in the National Review on April 21, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has forced hard choices on the U.S. and its allies in determining how to respond to such unprovoked and unwarranted aggression. The U.S. is doing its part, but Japan, a member of the G-7 and the third-largest economy in the world, has dragged its feet and stopped at mere rhetoric. A more robust Japanese response is necessary to support Ukraine, beginning with cutting off trade with Russia’s staunch ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran is one of the few countries helping the Russian military kill innocent Ukrainian civilians and continue its invasion. For months now, the Russian military has used Iranian drones, and it is also seeking to acquire Iranian missiles, according to the Biden administration. And Japan appears to recognize the importance of Iranian weaponry to Russian forces: Earlier this month, Deputy Foreign Minister Shigeo Yamada reportedly asked Tehran “to stop supplying weapons to Russia.”

This was a ridiculous request. Iran has no intention of voluntarily slowing its cooperation with Moscow; it must be compelled to do so. Unfortunately, Japan has shown no appetite for concrete steps to punish Iran. It is the only member of the G-7 that has failed to apply any sanctions whatsoever on Iranian officials or entities since September, and both money and commercial products are flowing from Tokyo to Tehran — helping to prolong the war and encourage Iran’s malign behavior.

In 2022, Japanese general trading company Sojitz was fined more than $5 million by the U.S. Treasury Department for purchasing 64,000 tons of Iranian high-density polyethylene resin, which the Biden administration said “conferred significant economic benefits to Iran and undermined broad U.S. sanctions specifically targeting Iran’s petrochemical sector, a major source of revenue generation for the Government of Iran.” Later in the year, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) published evidence that Iran-backed Hezbollah is using communications equipment manufactured by Japan’s Icom Inc., which has another firm acting as its “official representative in Iran.”

More recently, UANI uncovered evidence that Japanese defense firm Fujikura — which has contracts to support the Japanese Self-Defense Forces — is simultaneously engaged in the Iranian market as an approved vendor of several sanction-designated and state-owned entities, including some linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Japanese businesses also appear to be selling commercial products to companies in China that source components and software found in Iranian drones.

These commercial ties should be as unacceptable to the U.S. as the purchase of Iranian oil, which Japan has done without since May 2019. Japan should suspend its trade relationship with Tehran and, like the United States, force businesses worldwide to choose between doing business in Iran or Japan. After all, trade between Japan and Iran, directly and indirectly, supports Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

Suspending trade with Iran, as Japan’s allies and partners have already done, is the least that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can do to support Ukraine given his country’s continued reliance on Russian energy.

If Japan does so, Prime Minister Kishida will demonstrate that he is taking Japan into a new era of global leadership. He has already signaled a willingness to take political risks in ways that his predecessors did not by becoming the first prime minister to attend a NATO summit, doubling Japan’s military budget, and agreeing to “take on new roles” in the Indo-Pacific, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Prime Minister Kishida will also demonstrate that Japan is unafraid of using its substantial economic leverage to further international peace and security, drawing it closer to the U.S. and Europe and creating a stark contrast with malign states like China and Russia. Japan should adopt a version of the Magnitsky Act to more easily impose economic sanctions on individuals and entities suspected of human-rights violations.

Japan must recognize that it can have a tremendous impact on the war by targeting Iran for its role in supplying weaponry to Russia, and it need not wait until it hosts the next G-7 meeting in May to do so. If Japan addresses its ties with Tehran in the right way, it will create opportunities for a more confident and assertive nation to lead on the world stage. But if it addresses them in the wrong way, it will show that for all its economic strength, it is not yet confident enough to help direct world affairs.

It Is Not Too Late To Stop North Korea’s Rogue Nuclear March

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North Korea’s recent launch of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is another dangerous step toward Pyongyang acquiring the capability to target nuclear warheads worldwide.

This article was first published on on April 18, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

North Korea’s recent launch of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is another dangerous step toward Pyongyang acquiring the capability to target nuclear warheads worldwide. More disturbing, however, is the tacit assumption that underlies most reactions to news of the launch: that it represents another inevitable step for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to achieve an objective that American presidents said for decades was unacceptable.

It now seems that we are prepared to accept this outcome, but we’re just not very happy about it. The Biden administration, more concerned with their leader’s valedictory Ireland visit, managed a response only from a National Security Council deputy press officer. Likely setting a record for most cliches in a one-paragraph statement, the text condemned the launch as “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” and asked North Korea “to come to the table for serious negotiations.” Just so Pyongyang didn’t miss the point, the statement added “[t]he door has not closed on diplomacy,” and the North should “choose diplomatic engagement.”

No wonder the Kim family’s hereditary Communist dictatorship dismisses Washington’s formulaic criticisms. These contain little more than bluster in answer to the DPRK’s continued march toward becoming a nuclear-weapons state. Is this what “unacceptable” means? History will record that repeated, unsuccessful American calls for negotiations have empowered nearly three decades of North Korean advances in nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile technology. No one in Pyongyang fears that any dispositive action will be taken to thwart their efforts.

Indeed, the very people who most vociferously advocated a diplomatic resolution of rogue-state nuclear proliferation programs now argue just as vociferously that it is too late to take serious action, and that we must accept the DPRK — and soon enough, Iran — as nuclear powers. First, it was too soon to consider the use of military force or regime change, and now it’s too late. Pyongyang and other nuclear aspirants benefit from this muddled thinking, knowing what they want even if we don’t, and single-mindedly pursuing their objectives while we worry about those poor, brazenly violated Security Council resolutions.

Fortunately, it is not yet too late. It remains highly likely that the North still cannot mate a nuclear device to one of its ICBMs, nor is there physical proof that a missile and weapons payload can reach this country. We do not know if Pyongyang has successfully developed re-entry vehicles that can sustain warhead integrity and reliability when their trajectories bring them back into Earth’s atmosphere, nor do we know whether the DPRK has sufficient targeting capabilities to actually hit what it is aiming for.

As Donald Rumsfeld frequently warned, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and our level of uncertainty is high. But knowing, as we do, the complexity of the science and technology needed to fabricate deliverable nuclear weapons, we can have some confidence that North Korea’s threat is not yet fully realized. Of course, we cannot exclude that Pyongyang would simply place a nuclear device into one of its tramp steamers, sail to a U.S. port, and detonate it to considerable effect. Time is, as always, definitely not on our side.

But neither should we overestimate the strength of Kim Jong Un’s regime, economically or politically. Just weeks before last week’s Hwasong-18 launch, we saw new indications of the North’s efforts to assist Russia in its war against Ukraine. Incredibly, according to declassified intelligence, Moscow is offering to barter food with Pyongyang in exchange for artillery shells, showing how weakened both regimes are. Indeed, the DPRK’s food shortages are worsening, with unconfirmed reports of starvation and perhaps the worst levels of deprivation during Kim’s entire tenure.

Accordingly, when South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol meets with Biden next week, the top agenda item should be to develop new and improved means of facilitating regime change in Pyongyang. That is one sure way to eliminate its nuclear program, not to mention liberating its oppressed citizens. Reinvigorating and stiffening the enforcement of existing sanctions and expanding the range of economic and political pressure directed toward toppling the regime will be key. There is no denying the difficulties involved in pursuing regime change, but they pale before the potentially devastating consequences of the DPRK using its nuclear weapons, or threatening and intimidating weak American presidents away from our historic commitment to defend the South. Given the current White House occupant, Yoon’s leadership will be key to developing any effective new policy. Clearly, if Seoul is not actively concerned about the human rights and long-term prospects of its fellow Koreans above the DMZ, it will be difficult to inspire others.

South Korea is demonstrating an increased awareness that Beijing’s growing threat to Taiwan, and more broadly in the Indo-Pacific, directly affects the peninsula. This will contribute to rising Asian support for a vigorous counter-DPRK policy, which Japan will certainly welcome. Therefore, increasing trilateral Tokyo-Seoul-Washington cooperation against the menace of China and North Korea must also be a top agenda item for the Biden-Yoon summit. The historical obstacles to closer South Korean-Japanese cooperation are well-known, but Yoon’s recent efforts with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are promising, and they deserve full U.S. support.

One particularly important area is ongoing trilateral cooperation on missile defense, which recently resumed after a three-year break due to unrelated Tokyo-Seoul disagreements. America itself urgently needs to increase emphasis on national missile defense, further development of which would reduce, even if not completely eliminate, rogue-state threats of nuclear attack. Enhanced theater missile defense in East Asia, which amounts to national defense for South Korea and Japan, could pressure Pyongyang’s fragile economy just as Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative did to the collapsing Soviet economy, leading to its demise.

No one, least of all Kim’s regime, should harbor the misapprehension that America and its allies have grown indifferent to whether North Korea achieves deliverable nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding our manifest policy failures over the last 15 years, it is and always will be unacceptable for the DPRK to reach that goal.

A New American Grand Strategy to Counter Russia and China

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The U.S. and its allies can’t afford to drift aimlessly as history’s tectonic plates shift.

This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal on April 12, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

The post-Cold War era is over. This brief interregnum following the Soviet empire’s defeat proved an illusory holiday from reality and is now rapidly disappearing before expanding or newly emerging threats. History often fails to arrange itself conveniently for our understanding, especially for those alive when its tectonic plates shift. By any standard, however, history is now moving rapidly.

Xi Jinping certainly thinks so. He told Vladimir Putin after their recent Moscow summit: “Right now there are changes—the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years—and we are the ones driving these changes together.” For China’s communists, that century started with the 1927 onset of civil war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, culminating victoriously in 1949 when Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China and famously declared that “the Chinese people have stood up!”

Mr. Putin similarly proclaimed that “an era of revolutionary changes” is underway globally, but not as exuberantly as Mr. Xi. Mr. Putin is clearly the junior partner as the Beijing-Moscow relationship shifts from “entente” to “axis.” Nonetheless, the Kremlin holds a strong strategic hand in nuclear weapons and energy. China’s nuclear weapons remain critically dependent on Russia for highly enriched uranium, and Moscow’s grip on Europe’s civil nuclear-power industry is firm.

America’s next president will take office in 2025, the 75th anniversary of NSC-68, Harry S. Truman’s foundational document of U.S. Cold War strategy. With less than two years before Inauguration Day, presidential candidates should be thinking in grand-strategy terms, for both campaign policy statements and their incipient administrations. Given the Sino-Russian axis and accompanying rogue-state outriders like Iran and North Korea, any serious contemporary reincarnation of NSC-68 will be as daunting and hard to swallow as the original.
To get the ball rolling, here are three critical elements for any plausible course of strategic thinking:

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Putin-Xi summit should be a wakeup call on worldwide threats facing America

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This article was first published in The New York Post on March 21, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is more evidence of the increasingly worldwide nature of the threats facing the United States and its allies.

Beyond discussing Xi’s “peace plan” for the Ukraine war, the Moscow meeting further crystallizes the 21st-century’s anti-Western Axis.

Putin wrote that Russian-Chinese relations “today practically represent the cornerstone of regional, even global stability.”

He greeted his “dear friend” Xi, who proffered his “deep gratitude,” adding that China’s “friendship” with Russia is “growing day by day.”

There is little joy in Kyiv over the Chinese proposals, and there should be even less in Washington, since they amount to little more than a Sino-Russian propaganda exercise.

Putin characterized Russia’s war of unprovoked aggression against Ukraine as an “acute crisis,” which is certainly one way to put it.

Beijing’s Western sympathizers, during the nearly 13 months of Moscow’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, have repeatedly contorted themselves to explain that China was embarrassed by Russia’s conduct, China wanted to “separate” itself from Russia and China was not significantly aiding Russia’s war effort.

These assertions were palpably untrue even when the apologists were making their apologia and now stand fully exposed.

Today, it is the West’s China apologists who should be embarrassed.

In reality, China is the Ukraine war’s biggest winner no matter how it ends.

If Russia prevails in whole or in part, it is China’s ally that is victorious, over bitter Ukrainian resistance and substantial US and NATO assistance, thereby increasing the threat to other former constituent parts of the Soviet Union and to Western Europe generally.

And if Moscow is defeated, Beijing’s ally will be even more heavily reliant on China and thus even more in its thrall. It is hard to describe a range of scenarios more to Xi’s liking.

Unfortunately, Ukraine and the rest of the former Russian empire will not be the only targets of this new Eurasian Axis.

By denying the legitimacy of the basis on which the USSR dissolved, the Kremlin is calling into question the security of all former Soviet republics, including the three Baltic states, now NATO members.

In East Asia, Taiwan is urgently strengthening its defenses, while the United States, Japan and other allies consider larger structures of collective self-defense to blunt any hegemonic Chinese ambitions.

Others along China’s Indo-Pacific periphery are growing understandably nervous.

Russia and China, Security Council permanent members, immunized by their United Nations Charter-granted veto powers and deemed legitimate nuclear-weapons states by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are on the move, accompanied by assorted hangers-on like North Korea, Iran, Belarus and other nations not yet out of the closet.

Following China’s recent, surprising brokering of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore their sundered relations, who can predict what their next diplomatic ploy might be?

Even more graphically, after decades of the West pretending there was a “rules-based international order,” and the supposed deterrent impact of the International Criminal Court, Xi arrived in Moscow just days after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin.

The Kremlin’s leader had immediately disdained the warrant by traveling to Russian-occupied Ukraine, both Crimea and the Donbas.

Neither China nor Russia are parties to the ICC’s Rome Statute, and neither is likely to sign up any time soon. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman directly contradicted the ICC’s action, calling on the court to “respect the jurisdictional immunity of a head of state under international law.” (America is also not an ICC member, largely because of its fundamental illegitimacy.)

Moreover, during the COVID pandemic and until the present day, China has shown exactly what it thinks of the World Health Organization, systematically obstructing UN investigation of COVID’s origins and protecting China’s interests against other affected nations’.
And neither Russia nor China will contribute significantly toward substantive agreements or action in international climate-change negotiations.

Even on international trade and investment, the increasing prospects of long-term struggle between the Eurasian Axis and the West are growing rapidly.
So much for the benefits and protections of multilateral diplomacy. The only good news that might emerge from the Putin-Xi meeting is that Westerners who didn’t previously perceive the malign intentions of Russia and China will be awakened — and not a moment too soon.

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

After the Iraq War

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No one lied us into invading, and what came later was its own set of decisions

This article was first published in National Review Plus Magazine on March 16, 2023. Click Here to read the original article.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein were accomplished rapidly, with consummate skill and professionalism, and with thankfully low U.S. casualties. This period of major combat operations (March 20 until May 1) was close to flawless. Saddam’s day was over, and Iraq’s potential acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was foreclosed, effectively in perpetuity. We achieved our goals.

These key facts are essentially indubitable. Instead, critics dispute whether deciding to invade, and American policy after toppling Saddam, were correct and justifiable. These are no small matters. But the critical point, typically ignored or misunderstood, is that the “Iraq War” is not one indivisible, 20-year-long block of granite that can be judged only all or nothing. Instead, the ongoing U.S. presence there embodies a long, complex history, some of which Washington got right and some it didn’t.

The reasons to invade were clear and compelling: Saddam directly threatened U.S. security by pursuing WMD and supporting terrorism. After the 1991 Gulf War, U.N. inspectors found Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program far more advanced than indicated by previous intelligence assessments. Despite the physical destruction of centrifuges and other assets by the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency in the mid 1990s, Saddam retained the program’s core intellectual base: over 3,000 nuclear scientists and technicians, his “nuclear mujahideen,” to re-create it later. Under Security Council Resolution 687, Saddam also declared large supplies of chemical weapons and related assets. Pressed repeatedly by the U.N., Iraq claimed to have destroyed its chemical-weapons program but obstructed U.N. inspectors, refusing to supply any proof of its claims, leading essentially all observers to believe that it retained large chemical-weapons capabilities. Biological weapons, the easiest of the WMD to conceal or destroy, were suspected but not proven. Iraq’s ballistic-missile programs had continued.

All this WMD activity was undertaken against the day when U.N. economic sanctions were lifted and weapons inspectors departed. Indeed, sanctions were already collapsing when President George W. Bush was inaugurated. Proposals to “fix” the problem, such as “smart” (more-targeted) sanctions, were at best fig leaves, acknowledging the U.N.’s disarray (both politically and operationally) and its essentially inevitable failure. There are only two kinds of sanctions, but they are not “smart” versus “dumb.” The real dichotomy is between crushing sanctions, swiftly and massively imposed and then rigorously enforced, and all others. Most sanctions historically fail and become mere virtue-signaling. The lesson of twelve years of failed Iraq sanctions between 1991 and 2003 is that sanctions can help avoid war only if they are enforced cold-bloodedly. The U.N.’s Iraq efforts, especially the oil-for-food program, failed in every material respect.

No one lied about WMD. In the wake of 9/11 and the still-unresolved anthrax attacks, Saddam’s murderous history, domestically and abroad, made it entirely prudent to ensure that he could never again threaten America, the region, or the world with weapons of mass destruction. Melvyn Leffler’s recent book, Confronting Saddam Hussein, while not flawless, should be compulsory reading on President Bush’s pre-war decision-making. Post-war findings about the actual state of Iraq’s WMD do not invalidate the pre-war reasoning. Saddam’s real threat was not merely his intentions and capabilities in 2003 but what they could be in the future if he retained power. This was well understood and endorsed across America, which is why congressional and public support for the invasion was overwhelming. Indeed, in hindsight, Saddam should have been removed in 1991 after his unprovoked aggression against Kuwait.

In fact, the brunt of contemporary criticism focuses not on pre-war decision-making but on U.S. policies and what came after May 1, 2003. Certainly, the rapid, near-total collapse of Iraq’s government and the resulting disorder are facts. The real issue, however, is whether Washington should have moved immediately to turn governance functions over to Iraqis, or created, as it did, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which kept America intimately involved in Iraqi politics far longer than initially expected. Important decisions such as de-Baathification, the dissolution of Iraq’s army, and the broader efforts at nation-building and democracy promotion are also all debatable, especially with 20/20 hindsight. Nonetheless, despite the innumerable difficulties encountered and missteps U.S. authorities made, by embracing the 2007–08 “surge,” President Bush in fact reduced internal insurgency to a manageable, marginal level.

The key point, however, is not that these or other individual decisions were right or wrong but instead that they did not inevitably, inexorably, deterministically, and unalterably flow from the decision to invade and overthrow, and the rationale for it. Whatever Bush’s batting average in post-Saddam decisions (not perfect, but respectable, in my view), it is separable, conceptually and functionally, from the invasion decision. The subsequent history, for good or ill, cannot detract from the logic, fundamental necessity, and success of overthrowing Saddam, a threat to American national security since he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The biggest “Iraq War” mistake was Barack Obama’s catastrophic 2011 military withdrawal, which even Obama recognized as an error, reinserting U.S. forces in 2014 to counter the rise of ISIS. Withdrawing, obviously, was precisely the opposite of Bush’s decision to attack, which makes it hard to see these polar opposites as parts of the same block of granite to be judged as a unity. Moreover, other unforeseen post-2003 events had significant negative impacts on the Middle East, such as the Arab Spring’s rise and especially its collapse, and the resurgence of radical Islamism. How can a 2003 decision be faulted because of subsequent events that completely surprised the world?

Equally wrong was the Bush administration’s failure to take advantage of its substantial presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to seek regime change in between, in Iran, before Tehran’s own WMD programs neared success. Those who say invading Iraq distracted from Afghanistan, or that attacking Iraq rather than Iran prioritized the wrong target, should still agree that we had a clear opportunity to empower Iran’s opposition to depose the ayatollahs. Unfortunately, however, as was the case after expelling Saddam from Kuwait in 1991, the United States stopped too soon.

In any case, Iran policy, like so much else, was not predetermined by the 2003 invasion decision. Lumping everything together as “Iraq War” critics do disserves careful analysis of what America accomplished, or didn’t.

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. 

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.