Trump’s Choice –John Bolton as National Security Adviser

March 23, 2018

Trump Taps John Bolton for NSA Post

President had discussed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster’s departure for ‘some time,’ White House says

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President Trump’s Choice as National Security Adviser–The Neo-Con (Amb) John Bolton

President Donald Trump said he named former Ambassador John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser, succeeding Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday. “I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.”

Mr. Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has openly discussed his interest in taking the national-security post in the Trump administration. He will be Mr. Trump’s third National Security Adviser in 14 months.

Mr. Bolton, who won’t need Senate confirmation to take the job, has been a controversial figure in Washington and has pressed the White House to take tougher positions on Iran and North Korea in editorials, television commentary and other conversations.

In a Fox News interview Thursday evening, even Mr. Bolton seemed taken aback by the news of his appointment. “I really didn’t expect the announcement this afternoon,” he said. “I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” he added, noting that he was “in limbo” until he takes over next month.

Mr. Trump last week conveyed his decision to replace Gen. McMaster to John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, according to administration officials. The President had sought a more graceful exit for his National Security Adviser than the one he afforded his Secretary of State, whom he fired over Twitter last week.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump began discussing potential successors for Gen. McMaster, according to former Trump administration officials. Mr. Trump met with Mr. Bolton last week and again on Thursday.

In a statement, Mr. Trump thanked Gen. McMaster for his service. “He helped develop our America First National Security Strategy, revitalize our alliances in the Middle East, smash ISIS, bring North Korea to the table, and strengthen our nation’s prosperity,” the President said. “This work and those achievements will ensure that America builds on its economic and military advantages.”

Gen. McMaster said in a Thursday statement that he was “requesting retirement from the U.S. Army effective this summer after which I will leave public service. Throughout my career it has been my greatest privilege to serve alongside extraordinary service members and dedicated civilians.” He said he was “thankful” to the President and proud to have served on the National Security Council.

A White House official said the President and Gen. McMaster had discussed the national security adviser’s departure for “some time” and that the timeline had been “expedited as they both felt it was important to have the new team in place, instead of constant speculation.”

The announcement, coming so soon after the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior officials, left the West Wing in a downbeat mood Thursday evening, with aides offering gallows humor about the number of White House departures and jobs that needed to be filled.

The 69-year-old Mr. Bolton has urged the administration to strike first against North Korea and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in columns published by The Wall Street Journal.

“North Korea test-launched on Friday its first ballistic missile potentially capable of hitting America’s East Coast. It thereby proved the failure of 25 years of U.S. nonproliferation policy,” he wrote in an August 2017 column. “It is past time for Washington to bury this ineffective ‘carrots and sticks’ approach.”

Last month, he penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First,” in which he argued in favor of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, calling the threat “imminent.”

Mr. Bolton has dubbed the Iran agreement the “diplomatic Waterloo Mr. Obama negotiated.” Mr. Trump faces a deadline in May to extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under the accord. The president threatened in January to pull out of the deal if Europe and Congress can’t find a way to address his concerns by then.

Democrats and some Republicans have previously suggested that if Mr. Bolton were nominated for roles at the State Department, they would oppose him, citing his foreign-policy views. Mr. Trump has considered Mr. Bolton for roles including Secretary of State.

“The problem with John Bolton is he disagrees with President Trump’s foreign policy,“ Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) said last year on ABC. ”John Bolton still believes the Iraq war was a good idea. He still believes that regime change is a good idea. He still believes that nation-building is a good idea.”

On Thursday, Republican lawmakers praised the appointment of Mr. Bolton to the national-security post. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) called him an “excellent choice.”

Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon, said he believed that Messrs. Trump and Bolton have “jelled” through conversations over the past year and predicted Mr. Bolton could be a forceful presence in the West Wing.

“Trump likes someone who will tell him straight how it is,” Mr. Kazianis said. “I don’t think Trump would have brought him in as national security adviser if he didn’t think it would work out. It could be a very strong marriage, where Bolton serves out the whole tenure of the administration.”

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Bloomberg News

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which advocates sanctions against Iran and North Korea, said Mr. Bolton’s appointment would likely be the final nail in the coffin for the Iran deal. Mr. Dubowitz expressed hope that the rise of a more hawkish national security team would actually make it less likely that the U.S. would start a war.

“Bolton is a believer in the robust use of all instruments of American power,” he said. “But perhaps the perception that Trump, Bolton and (Secretary of State nominee Mike) Pompeo are willing to use these instruments will make it less likely they have to be used. (Ayatollah) Khamenei, Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin and others become more—not less—aggressive when they perceive American weakness.”

The appointment also drew criticism from Democrats, some former diplomats and others, who said the addition of Mr. Bolton would heighten the risk of a future military conflict. “President Trump is assembling a war cabinet full of ‘yes men’ who will fan his worst impulses,” said Sen. Edward Markey, (D, Mass.).

A Senior Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a frequent commentator on Fox News, Mr. Bolton has cultivated a reputation as a brash conservative with an aggressive style.

He has pushed for limiting U.S. involvement in multilateral institutions and treaties, including the International Criminal Court, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol.

Recent Commentary from John Bolton

Mr. Bolton left his U.N. post after he failed to gain enough support in Congress to be confirmed in 2006. President Bush had originally used a recess appointment to put him in the role after his nomination had been blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

In addition to his U.N. post, Mr. Bolton also served in the Bush administration as Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005.

Gen. McMaster has been working with strained alliances both inside and outside the White House and has faced persistent speculation that he would be pushed out as soon as the White House settled on someone to take his place.

Gen. McMaster has little chemistry with the President and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Gen. McMaster would typically lay out multiple options for the President, explaining each one at length, and Mr. Trump would grow impatient, preferring more to-the-point discussions, the people said.

Gen. McMaster had told associates last week that he believed he was safe and that the President urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November. On Tuesday, he was one of a handful of U.S. officials in an Oval Office meeting between the president and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Another reason Mr. Trump has sought to speed the hiring of a new national security adviser is that he wants to have a team in place ahead of possible talks with North Korea later this spring. This past weekend, Gen. McMaster traveled to San Francisco for a trilateral meeting with South Korea and Japan to discuss plans for the summit.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Corrections & Amplifications
John Bolton is 69 years old. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated his age as 68 years old. (March 22, 2018)

America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P

March 22, 2018

America–Led Liberal World Order, R.I.P

by Richard N. Haass–haass-2018-03

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America’s decision to abandon the global system it helped build, and then preserve for more than seven decades, marks a turning point, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

NEW DELHI – After a run of nearly one thousand years, quipped the French philosopher and writer Voltaire, the fading Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Today, some two and a half centuries later, the problem, to paraphrase Voltaire, is that the fading liberal world order is neither liberal nor worldwide nor orderly.

The United States, working closely with the United Kingdom and others, established the liberal world order in the wake of World War II. The goal was to ensure that the conditions that had led to two world wars in 30 years would never again arise.

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To that end, the democratic countries set out to create an international system that was liberal in the sense that it was to be based on the rule of law and respect for countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Human rights were to be protected. All this was to be applied to the entire planet; at the same time, participation was open to all and voluntary. Institutions were built to promote peace (the United Nations), economic development (the World Bank) and trade and investment (the International Monetary Fund and what years later became the World Trade Organization).

All this and more was backed by the economic and military might of the US, a network of alliances across Europe and Asia, and nuclear weapons, which served to deter aggression. The liberal world order was thus based not just on ideals embraced by democracies, but also on hard power. None of this was lost on the decidedly illiberal Soviet Union, which had a fundamentally different notion of what constituted order in Europe and around the world.

The liberal world order appeared to be more robust than ever with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. But today, a quarter-century later, its future is in doubt. Indeed, its three components – liberalism, universality, and the preservation of order itself – are being challenged as never before in its 70-year history.

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Liberalism is in retreat. Democracies are feeling the effects of growing populism. Parties of the political extremes have gained ground in Europe. The vote in the United Kingdom in favor of leaving the EU attested to the loss of elite influence. Even the US is experiencing unprecedented attacks from its own president on the country’s media, courts, and law-enforcement institutions. Authoritarian systems, including China, Russia, and Turkey, have become even more top-heavy. Countries such as Hungary and Poland seem uninterested in the fate of their young democracies.

It is increasingly difficult to speak of the world as if it were whole. We are seeing the emergence of regional orders – or, most pronounced in the Middle East, disorders – each with its own characteristics. Attempts to build global frameworks are failing. Protectionism is on the rise; the latest round of global trade talks never came to fruition. There are few rules governing the use of cyberspace.

At the same time, great power rivalry is returning. Russia violated the most basic norm of international relations when it used armed force to change borders in Europe, and it violated US sovereignty through its efforts to influence the 2016 election. North Korea has flouted the strong international consensus against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The world has stood by as humanitarian nightmares play out in Syria and Yemen, doing little at the UN or elsewhere in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Venezuela is a failing state. One in every hundred people in the world today is either a refugee or internally displaced.Image result for Liberal World Order, R.I.P.

The Retreating Eagle–“America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.–Richard N. Haass

There are several reasons why all this is happening, and why now. The rise of populism is in part a response to stagnating incomes and job loss, owing mostly to new technologies but widely attributed to imports and immigrants. Nationalism is a tool increasingly used by leaders to bolster their authority, especially amid difficult economic and political conditions. And global institutions have failed to adapt to new power balances and technologies.

But the weakening of the liberal world order is due, more than anything else, to the changed attitude of the US. Under President Donald Trump, the US decided against joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. It has threatened to leave the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. It has unilaterally introduced steel and aluminum tariffs, relying on a justification (national security) that others could use, in the process placing the world at risk of a trade war. It has raised questions about its commitment to NATO and other alliance relationships. And it rarely speaks about democracy or human rights. “America First” and the liberal world order seem incompatible.

My point is not to single out the US for criticism. Today’s other major powers, including the EU, Russia, China, India, and Japan, could be criticized for what they are doing, not doing, or both. But the US is not just another country. It was the principal architect of the liberal world order and its principal backer. It was also a principal beneficiary.

America’s decision to abandon the role it has played for more than seven decades thus marks a turning point. The liberal world order cannot survive on its own, because others lack either the interest or the means to sustain it. The result will be a world that is less free, less prosperous, and less peaceful, for Americans and others alike.

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*Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.


Cambridge Analytica official admits ‘doing work in Malaysia’

March 21, 2018

Cambridge Analytica official admits ‘doing work in Malaysia’

A TOP official from Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm banned by Facebook, has boasted in a British Channel 4 expose that his company has done electioneering work in Malaysia.

Cambridge Analytica official admits ‘doing work in Malaysia’

Mark Turnbull (right), managing director of CA Political Global, was caught on tape saying that Cambridge Analytica has helped electioneering work in Mexico and Malaysia. – YouTube pic, March 20, 2018.

Mark Turnbull, managing director of CA Political Global, told a reporter this during a series of undercover videos filmed over the last year.

The Channel 4 News team caught executives at Cambridge Analytica appear to say they could extort politicians, send women to entrap them, and help proliferate propaganda to help their clients.

The sting operation was conducted as part of an ongoing investigation into Cambridge Analytica, a data consulting firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“If you’re collecting data on people and you’re profiling them that gives you more insight that you can use to know how to segment the population to give them messaging about issues that they care about and language, and imagery that they’re likely to engage with, and we use that in America, we use that in Africa, that’s what we do as a company.

“We’ve done it in Mexico, we’ve done it in Malaysia and now we’re going to Brazil,” Turnbull said, proceeding to mention Australia and China.

The two executives were meeting with a Channel 4 reporter posed as a fixer for a wealthy Sri Lankan family, wanting to know how the company could help get future candidates elected in the country.

Cambridge Analytica and its affiliate, SCL, have denied Channel 4’s accusations that “Cambridge Analytica or any of its affiliates use entrapment, bribes, or so-called ‘honey traps’ for any purpose whatsoever”.

Facebook last week banned the data analytics firm after it failed to delete user data sent to it by a popular psychology test app maker.

Also suspended were the accounts of its parent organisation, Strategic Communication Laboratories, as well as those of University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie, who runs Eunoia Technologies.

In 2015, Kogan was accused of violating Facebook’s platform policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica.

Kogan’s app, thisisyourdigitallife, offered a personality prediction test, describing itself on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists” and some 270,000 people downloaded the app, allowing Kogan to access information, such as the city listed on their profile or content they liked.

According to its website, Cambridge Analytica has offices in four major cities in the world and one mysteriously in the Kota Damansara suburb outside Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian Insight visited the address on Sunday and found that it led to a gated and guarded community.

The mystery has deepened as the property owner, who has been living there for four years, said the office does not exist in the address listed on the website.

The Malaysian Insight has contacted SCL’s Southeast Asia head Azrin Zizal and is awaiting a response. Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of SCL Group, a big data company.

Apart from Malaysia, the data company has offices in New York, Washington, London and Sao Paulo.

AFP reported that Cambridge Analytica, the US unit of British behavioural marketing firm SCL, rose to prominence after the pro-Brexit group Leave.EU hired it for data gathering and audience-targeting.

Locally, Cambridge Analytica supported Barisan Nasional in Kedah with a targeted campaign highlighting its school improvements since 2008.

BN won Kedah back from Pakatan Rakyat in the 13th general election with wins in 21 out of 36 state seats and 10 out of the 15 parliamentary seats in the state. – March 20, 2018.

American Foreign Policy after Rexit

March 20, 2018

American Foreign Policy after Rexit

Mr, Rex Tillerson was a poor secretary of state. What follows may be worse.

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Mr. Rex Tillerson paid  a heavy price for calling his White House Boss  “Moron”

EVEN by the reality-TV standards of this White House, the manner in which Mr. Rex Tillerson was sacked as Secretary of State was jaw-dropping. President Donald Trump fired him by tweet, saying that he would be replaced by Mr. Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. He did not call him until much later, nor did he offer an explanation. Mr. Tillerson’s spokesman said that he had no idea why his boss had been fired. So he was fired, too.

Mr. Tillerson was a poor Secretary of State. Having run ExxonMobil, the tenth-biggest company in the world by revenue, he treated diplomacy like business and his department like a division ripe for restructuring. He seemed to regard his underlings as idle assets and they repaid him with their scorn (see article). So, too, did the President, at least after reports that Mr. Tillerson had called him a “moron”.

Image result for mike pompeo and trumpMr. Mike Pompeo


The new man, Mr. Pompeo, has distinguished himself in Mr. Trump’s eyes by talking up a Trumpian, America First view of the world (see Lexington). The result may well be a more co-ordinated policy, with fewer public rifts between the State Department and the White House. But when you look at the two biggest tests facing American foreign policy, the new set-up does not inspire confidence.

The first of these is North Korea. Mr. Trump’s decision to kick-start negotiations by talking directly to Mr. Kim Jong Un is unconventional. A photo-op with the American President is a great prize for Mr. Kim and, rather than holding it out as a reward, Mr. Trump has chosen to give it away cheap. That is not necessarily a bad idea, given that other approaches have failed and that merely talking is a chance for him to reinforce deterrence by setting out his red lines.


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The trouble is that, whereas the talks aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons will be delicate, complicated and technical, Mr. Trump is impulsive and self-indulgent—as this week’s sacking of Mr. Tillerson showed. Mastering the specifications of the North’s programme and knowing how to blunt it require deep expertise. Any deal to ensure that the North does not cheat, as it has so often before, will need to be thorough and enduring. America must not enhance its own security at the cost of lower security for its allies in South Korea and Japan. And if the talks should come to nothing, as is likely, both sides will need to be sure that the bad blood does not lead to conflict.

The combination, to put it mildly, sits ill with Mr Trump’s style of government. In a properly run administration, the fiddly stuff could be left to underlings. Yet America has no ambassador to South Korea and no under-secretary for arms control. Even if it did, it is not clear that Mr. Trump would give them the time of day. He shows every sign of thinking that he has the flair to broker a breakthrough all by himself. There is a risk Mr. Pompeo would seek to flatter his boss by agreeing.

By a curious symmetry, the second test of American policy involves a nuclear deal that Mr. Trump seems determined to wreck. In May he is due to decide whether to stick with the agreement that curbs Iran’s nuclear programme or pull out. Mr. Pompeo, unlike Mr. Tillerson, is a longtime opponent, as are many Republicans. A pull-out is therefore likely.

That would be a mistake. When it comes to deals, Mr. Trump always believes that he can get a better one—especially if they were negotiated by his predecessor, Mr. Barack Obama. But the Iran deal is already the result of hard-fought trade-offs. The chances that it can be substantially renegotiated are slim indeed. Opening it up in the hope that America can expand it to force Iran to limit its regional ambitions is almost certain to fail.

If America walks away, its European allies will stick with the deal but they will conclude that Mr. Trump puts a low value on the transatlantic alliance. The nuclear agreement may not collapse immediately, but the odds would increase of a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt began to prepare for the day when Iran had the bomb. And because of the symmetry, Mr. Kim would surely be less willing to think he could trust an agreement struck with Mr. Trump.

It’s simple really

To hope that Mr. H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, who may shortly be fired himself, or Mr. James Mattis, the Defence Secretary, can be relied on to constrain the president is to clutch at straws. Mr. Trump does not have a foreign policy so much as a worldview rooted in grievance and a belief that others must lose for America to win. He has his tariffs, his talks with North Korea and maybe soon a Middle East peace plan. The world is about to witness Mr.Trump unbound. What could go wrong?

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “After Rexit”

Four Challenges for Australia–ASEAN Relations

March 16, 2018

Four Challenges for Australia–ASEAN Relations

by Anthony Milner, Asialink

Image result for asean-australia special summit 2018Sydney plays host to ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in 2018, 

ASEAN is back on Australia’s agenda. The media release for the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper states that Australia’s first foreign policy priority is to ‘increase [its] efforts to ensure [Australia] remain[s] a leading partner for Southeast Asia’. At a time of deep uncertainty, engaging with ASEAN is a prudent policy direction. But Australia faces at least four challenges.

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First, the Australian government will struggle to maintain its priority on ASEAN. For some years, Australian commentary has been preoccupied with the US–China issue. The Australian government needs to explain that ASEAN is the central element in its overall Asia strategy, without implying that US–China issues are any less important. Deepening relations with ASEAN will make Australia a less lonely country and strengthen its influence in both Washington and Beijing.

Second, Australia is in some ways a less attractive partner for ASEAN than it once was. Compared with the 1970s — when Australia became ASEAN’s first dialogue partner — its economy is now far smaller than the ASEAN economy and its military advantage is also lessened. Not only are Japan and China massive economic partners for the region but South Korea — a minor economy in the 1970s — is now more important than Australia. The diminished position of the United States, Australia’s much-proclaimed ally, is a further element in this changed balance.

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Third, Australia needs to recognise and navigate differences between ASEAN and Australian policy objectives. For instance, there has long been anxiety in ASEAN about being forced to take sides in struggles between major powers. In the Cold War, a number of ASEAN countries resisted joining the US-led Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation and supported maintaining ‘equidistance’ between rival blocs. It is not surprising to encounter ASEAN concern about meetings between senior officials from Australia, Japan, India and the United States to discuss closer ‘quadrilateral’ cooperation. Such initiatives inevitably sharpen the sense of a pro-democracy gang-up on China.

Canberra needs to make it clear that its foreign policy has long been tailored to Australian rather than US interests — especially when the 2017 White Paper actually highlights the need ‘to broaden and deepen our alliance cooperation’.

For many years, Australia has focused on building ‘Pacific’ or ‘Asia Pacific’ institutions with a strong US presence. In contrast, ASEAN tends to favour an ‘East Asia’ concept and to concentrate on building the ASEAN community itself.

Today Australia’s advocacy of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept is causing confusion. The White Paper’s insistence that the Indo-Pacific is the region of ‘primary importance to Australia’ may seem a non-controversial innovation in Australia’s foreign policy rhetoric, but in Southeast Asia and China it is seen to diminish the term ‘Asia’ and imply an anti-China mindset.

There is sensitivity about terminology, partly because it can reveal serious policy orientation. It is regrettable that official Australian statements tend to refer to ‘Southeast Asia’, not ‘ASEAN’. Australia needs to emphasise that it is not hesitating on the project of building a strong ASEAN community.

A further divergence in policy of growing significance concerns China. ASEAN commentators seem less suspicious than Australians of China’s policies, including the Belt and Road Initiative. Informed by centuries of experience in handling China, ASEAN favours a policy of signalling support for China-led projects and only arguing hard about the details. ASEAN analysts do not advocate a subservient approach. They seek smart accommodation, not confrontation, with China.

In all these policy areas Australia will require a comprehensive and often subtle understanding of ASEAN perspectives. This raises the question of whether the government, media and university system still possess the level of Southeast Asia expertise achieved in the 1970s.

The fourth challenge that Australia faces with ASEAN concerns political culture. When Australian governments speak about ‘work[ing] more closely with the region’s major democracies’, they run up against the ideological tolerance that is a hallmark of ASEAN thinking. This tolerance underpinned, for instance, ASEAN’s rapid pursuit of relations with Communist Indochina after the United States’ withdrawal in the 1970s.

Australians do not reflect enough on how their liberal heritage may sharpen the sense of Australia being an outsider in many Southeast Asian eyes. Hostility to liberalism has been expressed not only in Islamic circles in Southeast Asia. Political change in Thailand and the Philippines suggests a reduced commitment to liberal values, and distinguished Singapore sociologist Chua Beng Huat has drawn attention to the determined rejection of Western-style liberalism in Lee Kuan Yew’s state.

A decade or so ago, Australian commentators thought they had heard the end of the ‘Asian values’ debate. As Australia works at being ASEAN’s ‘leading partner’, government officials and public intellectuals may well have to engage in more serious dialogue about values and ideology.

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Anthony Milner is Professorial Fellow at Asialink, University of Melbourne and Visiting Professor at the Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya. He is Emeritus Professor at The Australian National University.

This article appeared in the most recent version of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Why ASEAN matters’.


US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

March 16, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

by John C Hulsman*

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If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

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“Kim Jong-un’s dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.”–John C Hulsman

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

*John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and the author of To Dare More Boldly (Princeton University Press, 2018).