Biden’s foolish rush to rejoin UNESCO has nothing to do with China

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This article was first published in The New York Post on June 20, 2023.  Click Here to read the original article.

Demonstrating yet again that it’s little more than Barack Obama’s third term, the Biden White House is once more pressing to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

This ill-advised gambit will cost about $600 million, apparently just a rounding error for the administration’s budgeteers.

Ronald Reagan rightly withdrew the United States in 1983, citing UNESCO’s highly politicized hostility to freedom of the press and general anti-Americanism; pervasive antisemitism and anti-Israel biases; and utter lack of program and budget discipline.

UNESCO’s US supporters, almost all on the political left, launched a series of unsuccessful efforts to rejoin, repeatedly seeking a new pretext to end the horror of being outside a multilateral organization, no matter how failed and irreparable.

Unfortunately, they persuaded President George W. Bush to return, ostensibly to mitigate the bad press he received for conducting a “unilateralist” foreign policy. Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

With the unwitting Americans seduced back in, UNESCO’s true political agenda emerged under the Obama administration’s welcoming gaze.

In 2011, continuing its decades-long campaign to demonstrate international “statehood” by obtaining membership in UN bodies, the Palestinian Authority, heir to the Palestine Liberation Organization, applied to join UNESCO.

Obama’s support for Palestinian causes so weakened the US position that the PA/PLO’s illegitimate campaign succeeded.

At that point, however, Congress rigorously adhered to a statute (originating as an appropriations rider from then-Sen. Bob Kasten in 1990) prohibiting contributions to UN bodies that admit or increase the status of the PA/PLO, meaning that US “arrearages” began to accrue immediately.

Biden’s excuse for rejoining UNESCO is to counter rising Chinese influence.

The State Department argues, for example, that “we can’t afford to be absent any longer from one of the key fora in which standards around education for science and technology are set.”
This claim is entirely specious. There is little to no need for America to rejoin UNESCO to prevent harmful Chinese influence.

UNESCO “standards” for any sort of education are irrelevant, if not harmful to real education, as we’ve learned over many painful decades.

Even on accords in which UNESCO acts as depositary or assists in administrating a treaty, like the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, America is typically a party to the agreement. So Washington can’t be excluded from any aspect of treaty affairs, whether or not America is inside UNESCO.

The broader issue of Chinese influence in the UN system turns on just how valuable that system is.

Chinese and Russian vetoes block effective action by the Security Council, as during the Cold War.

The UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have also become essentially irrelevant, leaving only the question of which UN specialized and technical agencies are still worth protecting.

Some certainly are, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Maritime Organization.

But UNESCO, which never had a clearly defined mission, fails under any sensible cost-benefit analysis.

Biden is making precisely the same mistake as Obama, and, if Biden proceeds further, Congress should firmly block any UNESCO funding, as it has consistently done.
Although the administration obtained authority to waive the Kasten amendment in December 2022 (probably in the dark of night), appropriators can correct the mistake in the coming months.

House Appropriations Committee Republicans should lead the effort to defend taxpayer dollars by repealing this waiver. After all, it was passed in Nancy Pelosi’s waning days as speaker.

Not only that, House appropriators should make clear they will be scrutinizing Biden administration dealings with UNESCO and the UN system more broadly.

With the 2024 presidential campaign underway, moreover, none of the declared Republican candidates appears to support rejoining UNESCO.
Biden’s obsession with returning conveniently highlights several of his vulnerabilities, since basically only liberal Democratic elites care about rejoining. The overwhelming majority of Americans do not.

Make no mistake, UNESCO sees Washington as a spigot from which assessed contributions would flow regularly into its coffers and which Biden’s White House would turn to fully open.

Arguing that it’s trying to counter rising Chinese influence reveals the administration’s double standard on Beijing, given its craven efforts to “improve” relations with Beijing on climate-change issues and many others.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping only underlines the need for real, not illusory, measures to counter Beijing.

Returning to UNESCO is a waste of time and money, not an effective riposte to China.

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. 

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. 

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. 

Western weakness could still allow Putin to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat 

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This is a decisive year for Ukraine, and whether the West can show Russia, China and Iran the strength of its resolve 

By Ambassador John Bolton

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

President Volodomyr Zelensky’s December 21 Washington address to both houses of Congress was a dramatic reminder of how critical Europe’s biggest land war since 1945 is for the US, the UK and the Nato alliance. Summing up the 10 months of relentless combat since the Kremlin’s February 24 invasion, thanking the West and (being a savvy politician) especially Congress for its assistance, Zelensky made it clear that more was needed. He closed by saying, “Happy Victorious New Year!” 

Let’s hope Zelensky’s wish comes true, because 2023 is likely to be Ukraine’s year of decision. If Washington and London don’t get Ukraine right over the next 12 months, the negative consequences will be felt far beyond the present battleground. It will be all downhill in dealing with China, Iran, North Korea and others who will see anything less than an unambiguous victory for Kyiv as evidencing Western weakness, which they will not hesitate to exploit. While the nuclear ambitions of Tehran and Pyongyang are massively threatening, and while resisting China’s existential threat will be the West’s major endeavour in this century, the urgency of Ukraine’s fate cannot be ignored. 

This is no time to pat ourselves on the back. Despite significant advantages, including the fighting spirit of Ukraine’s population; substantial weapons and intelligence assistance, especially by London, Washington, and Eastern Europe’s stalwarts; and the appallingly poor performance by Russia’s forces – land, air, and sea – the war is now at a stalemate. Economic sanctions have impaired Russia’s economy, but Ukraine’s economy is in worse shape, with substantial portions of its physical capital literally being ground into dust. Finland and Sweden have made the stunning decision to join Nato, but Russia’s commercial and military partners have not yet deserted it in its hour of need, sadly including Turkey, whose Nato membership should be at issue in 2023 if president Erdogan is (probably through fraud) re-elected. 

The real issue is Western unity and resolve. Neither is guaranteed. Start with Germany. Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a Zeitenwende (“sea change”) in Berlin’s foreign policy shortly after Russia’s invasion. He announced that Germany, in 2023, would more than meet Nato’s 2014 Cardiff commitment for members to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence matters; created a 100 billion euro fund for weapons procurement; and committed to spend 30 billion of those euros to purchase 35 nuclear-capable F-35s to replace Germany’s ageing Tornadoes. 

However, little has actually happened, and the pledges are in doubt. Germany’s regular 2023 defence budget will be smaller than 2022. The 2 per cent target is now a target for 2025, maybe, which is little better than what Angela Merkel promised when she was chancellor. None of the 100 billion euros has been contracted, and the F-35 purchase appears stalled by bureaucratic infighting. Good thing there’s not a war going on in Europe. 

By comparison, Japan recently announced that it will more than double its defence budget in the next five years to achieve Nato’s 2 per cent target, and in so doing will become the world’s third largest military, after the US and China. It’s the kind of performance that reinforces former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar’s proposal, made over 15 years ago, to take Nato global, starting by admitting countries like Japan, Australia, Singapore and Israel. 

Then there’s France. Zelensky and Emmanuel Macron have clashed about what to “give” Russia to reach a diplomatic resolution. As recently as December 4, Macron said, “one of the essential points we must address, as President Putin has always said, is the fear that Nato comes right up to its doors,” which has long been a Kremlin talking point. There is, of course, no evidence that Ukraine ever constituted a threat to Russian security, or that Nato has ever been anything but a defensive alliance. Worse, however, Macron also said, “we need to prepare… how to give guarantees to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table”. The aggressor deserves no security guarantees merely for showing up to discuss reversing its aggression, rather than actually doing something concrete, like withdrawing its forces to Russian territory. 

The United States also has problems. Since the American media enjoys critiquing internal political splits among Republicans more than those among Democrats, its reporting has highlighted signs of opposition to Washington’s continued assistance to Ukraine from a small number of isolationists on the Right, ignoring the much-graver threat from Leftist “progressives”. 

A few Republicans, reflecting their disdain for serious geostrategic work, did indeed skip Zelensky’s address. Progressives, however, have groused at length on Ukraine, most recently in an October 24, 2022 letter to President Biden. Thirty House Democrats urged him “to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push”. Their suggested conditionality was music to Moscow’s ears, although the resulting firestorm led to the letter’s quick withdrawal. The co-signatories, however, apologised only for making a timing error in the letter’s release (because of the approaching mid-term elections). They made no criticism of the letter’s substance. With the new Congress convening today, expect to hear more from the progressives. Fortunately, neither Russia nor Ukraine shows any desire to negotiate. 

From Moscow’s side, there is continuing disturbing news about Belarus. Since the invasion, Putin has engaged his counterpart, Aleksandr Lukashenko, in intense personal diplomacy, meeting, for example, twice within a week at year’s end, in Minsk and then St Petersburg. Public readouts of the meetings did not mention Ukraine, but there is little doubt it was a principal subject of discussion. Belarus recently complained about a stray Ukrainian missile hitting its territory, a classic pretext for later military action. 

Russia’s abysmal military performance may continue in 2023, Putin’s political position may be weaker, and economic constraints may grow. But every day that passes without the withdrawal of Moscow’s forces from Ukraine risks adding to strains within the West. US and UK leaders still need a strategy to give the Ukrainian people that “Happy Victorious New Year!” 

Joe Biden’s ‘Strategic Patience’ On North Korea Is A Historic Mistake 

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This article was first published in 19FortyFive on December 21, 2022. Click Here to read the original article.

North Korea’s Friday announcement that it had successfully tested a “high-thrust, solid-fuel motor” was seriously bad news for the United States and its allies. Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program has long received considerable international attention (although regrettably little effective response), but last week’s test reached a potentially significant milestone. Solid-fuel missiles, unlike their liquid-fueled counterparts, are quickly launchable once deployed from hidden arsenals. They are essential to a nuclear power’s first-strike capability, sent on their way before they can be pre-emptively destroyed on the launching pad, which is a major risk for liquid-fueled missiles. North Korean propaganda always merits independent verification, but this rings depressingly true, following as it does months of extensive, continuing missile testing, nearly 70 launches this year, and increasingly harsh rhetoric by Kim Jong Un’s regime

The Biden administration reacted passively, letting the test proceed without significant reaction. Perhaps it was consumed with its rearrangement of the bureaucratic deck chairs on the State Department Titanic to handle its nearly invisible China strategy. There’s nothing like a government reorganization to help divert from a policy vacuum. Unfortunately, North Korea’s quickening menace hasn’t even provoked any visible paper reshuffling.  

While Beijing is undoubtedly this century’s existential threat for America, Pyongyang is an immediate danger — to Northeast Asia, the United States, and worldwide. As the North’s capabilities accumulate with increasing speed, it may be difficult to identify the significance of each new piece of bad news. But North Korea remains a desperately impoverished country, once again reportedly enduring significant food shortages and still shrouding its experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. Indulging in the expenditures necessary for the offensive military systems it is building, its nuclear-weapons program most prominently, underlines just how determined, and likely how close to fruition, Kim’s project is. 

Japan and South Korea Getting Serious 

North Korea is effectively China’s surrogate in destabilizing Northeast Asia. Although both sides deny that Pyongyang is subordinate to Beijing, it is long past time to appreciate that China’s support for the North is effectively the foundation keeping the Kim dynasty in power. China’s Communist party supports the world’s only hereditary Communist dictatorship because it suits them; if China wanted North Korea’s nuclear program ended, it could terminate its support tomorrow. Kim Jong Un would be unable to hold onto power for long, replaced most likely (and perhaps bloodily) by a general at Beijing’s beck and call. Stripped to its essentials, the Beijing-Pyongyang relationship is not nearly so complicated as the charade we have, in effect, accepted these many years. 

The key conclusion is that China and North Korea constitute a joint threat. They are not independent variables, although the nature of their threat manifests itself in many different ways. From that conclusion flows the logic that an opposing strategy must address how to handle this combined threat over time, whatever aspect seems most imminent at any particular point. Indeed, if anything, given the intensifying cooperation between North Korea and Russia regarding Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the global nature of the growing threat is even clearer. Washington may be having trouble understanding this point, but last week, after due deliberation, Tokyo reacted with stunning decisiveness. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to double Japan’s defense budget in five years (thereby reaching the target of 2% of GDP for military expenditure set eight years ago for NATO members). Fulfilling the pledge would make Japan’s defense outlays the world’s third-largest, behind only the United States and China. Tokyo also published Defense of Japan 2022, a white paper stressing the threat from Beijing and Pyongyang and the continued strengthening of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Moreover, as Japan foreshadowed earlier this year announcing its assistance to Ukraine, the new defense strategy says clearly that “North Korea defends Russia.” The European Union should certainly take note of this resolve emanating from the Far East. 

A few days before, Japan announced its purchase of up to 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles, a move the Washington Post characterized as “a stunning break with a long tradition of eschewing offensive weapons.” With a range exceeding 1,000 miles, Tomahawks fired from Japan could easily reach Beijing, and they could hit all of North Korea. Obviously much more remains to be accomplished before Prime Minister Kishida’s objectives, and those of Defense of Japan 2022, can be achieved, but Tokyo’s forward thinking is impressive. 

In South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, still a relatively new president, has had considerable success in moving away from the “sunshine policy” of his immediate predecessor, notably by restarting joint military exercises with the U.S., which were unwisely curtailed during President Donald Trump’s futile efforts to negotiate with Pyongyang. Yoon has also taken steps to improve relations with Japan, which is critical to more effective collective-defense measures in the Western Pacific. South Korea’s growing appreciation that Chinese threats to Taiwan implicate its own national security marks a critical advance in Seoul’s strategic vision. 

Foreign Policy Is a Big Domestic Political Issue 

The real problem here, in facing China and North Korea, is the passivity of the United States. President Biden’s seeming resolve to continue for a third term the failed Obama administration policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, and its self-imposed imperative of climate-change negotiations with China, have stifled development of an effective U.S. policy response. Once-promising initiatives like the Asian Quad are stalled, and new military initiatives regarding Korea, worthwhile though they may be, are decidedly limited in scope. Around the region, for example, concern for China’s efforts to establish hegemony has motivated Vietnam to consider major increases in weapons purchases from America, but Washington is reacting to these developments, not leading. 


The already-underway 2024 U.S. presidential campaign is likely to turn more on foreign policy and defense matters than most other recent elections. A major land war in Europe, the continuing threats of international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, and above all China’s growing menace and that of its North Korean sidekick, are increasingly impossible to avoid. The Biden administration’s quiescence, particularly on Asian threats, jeopardizes U.S. national security. Now that it could jeopardize Biden’s political security, perhaps the White House will awaken. 

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton. 

No wonder the Brits voted Leave

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This article first appeared in Politico Europe on October 24th, 2022. Click Here to read the original article.

By Ambassador John Bolton

John Bolton served as the 25th United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and as the 26th United States National Security Advisor from 2018 to 2019.  

Watching the United Kingdom’s ongoing political turmoil is hardly edifying, neither is it any measure of London’s long-term international standing. 

All democracies experience periodical political unrest, especially under constitutional systems where executive authority depends on parliamentary majorities. In response to contemporary doomsayers, the British can rightly say their democracy did much better during the 20th century than those on the Continent. 

Forecasting what now lies ahead for the U.K. requires starting with the broader international political environment. Earlier this year, the United States and its NATO allies failed to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. Notwithstanding the West’s enormous efforts after February 24, the foundational historical reality is their collective failure to prevent Moscow’s attack ab initio. Nuclear deterrence, after all, brought us through to victory in the Cold War, yet the Alliance seemed clueless about how to establish deterrence against a conventional attack.  

Worrying about governmental instability is entirely proper, but if governments cannot fend off external threats, whether they are stable or unstable ultimately means very little. And the consequences of failing to deter Russia in Ukraine are small change compared to failing to deter future belligerent actions by China along its extensive Indo-Pacific periphery.  

When we look at the international threats now looming, it helps keep Britain’s political dustup in perspective. 

Moreover, following the Kremlin’s attack, there’s a strong, indeed compelling, case that Great Britain has been the leading foreign power supporting Ukraine. Under the triumvirate of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, London was at the forefront of political resolve and leadership, and on a per capita basis — along with Poland and the Baltic republics — Kyiv’s largest supplier of military assistance.  

Of course, aggregate U.S. assistance, particularly including intelligence, has been much larger, but British political resolve and commitment have been consistently robust. There was no talk or uncertainty about a “minor incursion” by Russia, as from U.S. President Joe Biden in the perilous days before the invasion, and no hesitations afterward about what to provide to Ukraine, and how much, as in Washington and European capitals.   

That both Johnson and Truss fell from power without impairing the U.K.’s focus on its Ukraine objectives is a telling point regarding the underlying strength and resilience of Britain’s place in world affairs.  

More generally, there is no credible argument that any other European government is currently doing better in international matters. True, the British pound fell during the tumult and uncertainty of Truss’ government, but has anyone noticed the euro is still below parity with the dollar? 

In France, President Emmanuel Macron had to ram his government’s budget through, using extraordinary constitutional provisions because parliament wouldn’t act, and his own legislative support may be cracking under the strain. (To be candid, of course, America’s federal budget process hasn’t worked for many years either.)  

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is struggling with the consequences of decades of misguided energy policy in a coalition government that often seems paralyzed. He has repeatedly faced questions as to whether Germany is up to leading Europe, or even keeping its economy vigorous and its citizens warm this winter. 

Meanwhile, who knows what will happen with Italy’s new coalition government? And so on. 

The real trouble in the U.K. is the unwillingness of many Brits to accept the verdict of the 2016 independence referendum. This ongoing internal political debate has been significantly exacerbated by the European Union and its members, seeking reprisals against Great Britain’s temerity in exiting the EU. The Inquisition must have inspired the determination of many European political leaders to punish London’s heresy, in large part to discourage others from even considering breaking free. The prevailing mood in Brussels seems to be that the more unpleasant it can be made for the U.K., such as turning the Irish border question into a crisis, the better. 

No wonder the Brits voted Leave. 

Within Britain, there’s now a kind of Donald Trump problem. The former U.S. president refused — and still refuses — to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election (notably, almost no other election outcomes, at any level, across the U.S. were contested). Similarly, many British Remainers simply will not acknowledge that they lost in 2016. In Parliament and in the courts, Remainers tried to sabotage legislation implementing the Brexit referendum’s result and will not abandon hope of another vote. 

Even the many Remainers who publicly said that they accepted the results, didn’t really feel it in their hearts. For example, they continued adhering to the fiction that, before Britain’s formal exit occurred, EU treaties and regulations precluded London from negotiating bilateral trade agreements that could be brought into effect once full independence was achieved. But this was nonsense. The British people had announced, by their votes, that the U.K. was leaving.  

To accept being bound by requirements that were unenforceable and unreasonable in the circumstances tied Britain’s hands when it could have secured dozens of bilateral trade deals. Would Brussels have then behaved worse than it is now? 

Similarly, the British, especially the Conservative Party, shouldn’t conclude that Truss’ tax proposals, however badly mishandled, are doomed forever. Currently, little is understood about what the Truss government did or did not do in its rollout strategy, but whatever is later revealed will simply detail the tactics and mechanics of how bad politics derailed good policies. It will say nothing about the merits of the plans themselves, other than the fascination that U.S. and European Establishments have with keeping taxes high and interest rates low. Perhaps they really do fear economic growth. The moral is to remember the courage that Margaret Thatcher (“The lady’s not for turning”) and Ronald Reagan showed in their tax-cutting days. 

We shall soon know Britain’s next prime minister, and how they intend to proceed. For all the dire warnings about the Conservative Party’s imminent demise, remember who their opposition is: the Labour Party. That alone should lift their spirits. 

“Land of hope and glory . . . God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet!” 

Putin Must Go: Now Is The Time For Regime Change In Russia

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By Ambassador John Bolton

This article was first published on October 4th, 2022, in 19fortyfive. Click Here to read the original.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” President Biden said of Vladimir Putin in March, a month after Russia’s second unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, in remarks the Washington Post called “the most defiant and aggressive speech about Russia by an American president since Ronald Reagan.”(  Biden’s staff, however, immediately backpedaled, saying, “the president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”  Later, Biden himself dutifully resiled from regime change.(

Why the angst?  There is no long-term prospect for peace and security in Europe without regime change in Russia.  Russians are already discussing it, quietly, for obvious reasons.  For the United States and others pretending that the issue is not before will do far more harm than good.

Notwithstanding recent Kyiv’s military advances, the West still lacks a shared definition of “victory” in Ukraine.  Last week, Putin “annexed” four Ukrainian oblasts, joining Crimea, “annexed” in 2014.  The war grinds on, producing high Russian casualties and economic pain.  Opposition to Putin is rising, and young men are fleeing the country.  Of course, Kyiv’s civilian and military casualties are also high, and its physical destruction is enormous.  Hoping to intimidate NATO, Moscow is again rhetorically brandishing nuclear weapons, and has sabotaged the Nordstream pipelines.  Europe worries about the coming winter, and everyone worries about the durability of Europe’s resolve.  No one predicts a near-term cease-fire or substantive war-ending negotiations, or how to conduct “normal” relations with Putin’s regime thereafter.

To avoid the war simply grinding along indefinitely, we must alter today’s calculus.  Carefully assisting Russian dissidents to pursue regime change might just be the answer.  Russia is, obviously, a nuclear power, but that is no more an argument against seeking regime change than against assisting Ukrainian self-defense.  White House virtue signaling already empowers the Kremlin, accusing us of “satanism,” to claim America is trying to overthrow Russia’s government even though Biden is doing no such thing.   (  Just to remind, the Kremlin has been doing this to us for many decades.  Since we are already accused of subverting the Kremlin, why not return the favor?  

Obstacles and uncertainties blocking Russian regime change are substantial, but not insuperable.  Defining the “change” is critical, because it must involve far more than simply replacing Putin.  Among his inner circle, several potential successors would be worse.  The problem is not one man, but the collective leadership constructed over the last two decades.  No civilian governmental structure exists to effect change, not even a Politburo like the one that retired Nikita Khrushchev after the Cuban missile crisis.  The whole regime must go.

Actually effecting regime change is doubtless the hardest problem, but it does not require foreign military forces.  The key is for Russians themselves to exacerbate divisions among those with real authority, the siloviki, the “men of power.”  Disagreements and animosities already exist, as in all authoritarian regimes, exploitable as dissidents set their minds to it.  Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank outside the Russian White House in 1991 evidenced the fracturing of the Soviet ruling class.  Once regime coherence and solidarity shatter, change is possible.

Inside Russia’s military, intelligence and internal security ministries, there is almost certainly shock, anger, embarrassment, and despair about Moscow’s performance before and during the current invasion of Ukraine.  As in many coups in third-world countries, the likely leadership for regime change will not come from the top flag officers and officials, who are too personally invested in the Putin regime, nor from the ranks of enlisted personnel or lower-level bureaucrats.  It is from the colonels and one-star generals, and their civilian-agency equivalents, where the most-likely co-conspirators to take maters into their own hands.  These are the decision-makers whom the dissidents must identify, persuade and support to facilitate regime change.  Obviously, the desired interim outcome is not an outright military government, but a transitional authority that can hold the ring while a new constitution is formed.  This stage alone is very risky business, but unavoidable given Russia’s current domestic political structures.

Outsiders can assist in many ways, including augmenting dissidents’ communications internally and with their diaspora, and significantly enhanced programs to transmit information into Russia (complicated by the long decline in US information-statecraft capabilities).  Financial support, especially given Russian economic conditions, and not necessarily in large amounts, can also be critical. What Washington says publicly about regime-change should be concerted with the dissidents and other foreign allies.  Keeping our actions covert may be impossible, but there is likely no need to ballyhoo them. 

Some will object that foreign involvement would compromise the dissidents, affording Putin propaganda openings.  The short answer is that he is already making this point, and will continue, whatever we say or do.  Our metric should be whether the dissidents themselves value outside help.  Most likely, their cost-benefit analysis will welcome the assistance more than they fear Putin’s anti-American rhetoric.  Russians have heard it all before.  

What follows the Putin regime is ultimately the most critical question. Russians are already considering their options, as they should, since it is primarily their task to form a successor government.(  Enough mistakes were made after the Soviet Union dissolved that humility in future planning this round is fully warranted, and highlights why immediate research and planning is necessary.  

Washington’s obvious strategic objective is having Russia aligned with the West, a fit candidate for NATO, as we hoped after the Soviet Union’s breakup.  Others may be unhappy about such a new Russia.  China can hardly welcome the collapse of a regime that is turning into Beijing’s junior partner, if not an outright satellite.  Chinese efforts to support Putin, even militarily, cannot be ruled out.

While Russian regime change may be daunting, America’s goal of a peaceful and secure Europe, episodically pursued goal for over a century, remains central to our national interests.  This is no time to be shy.

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as national security adviser under President Donald J. Trump. He is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” You can follow him on Twitter: @AmbJohnBolton.