Wednesday, November 26, 2008


John R. Bolton

Ambassador John R. Bolton served as the Permanent U.S.
Representative to the UN from August 2005 until December
2006. He had previously served as Undersecretary of State
for Arms Control and International Security and in several
positions within the State Department, the Justice
Department and USAID. Before entering government service
Bolton was Senior Vice President for Public Policy Research
at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is based
on his keynote address at FPRI's annual dinner held

by John R. Bolton

Our national debate on foreign policy and national security
is going to be extremely important to our country over the
next several years. I felt that the election was going to be
more important in national security terms over the coming
years than was reflected during the debates in the election

Obviously, just as the current economic turmoil dominated
the last two months of the campaign, so too it will dominate
at least in the media the coverage of the transition and the
opening months or possibly even years of President-elect
Obama's time in office.

But the fact is, as obviously important as the economic
health of the country is, foreign policy and national
security will remain at the top of the agenda as they have
to for any president. Because it really is the president who
has the principal responsibility for guiding our nation's
foreign affairs. And these challenges that the new president
will face aren't waiting around for us to resolve our
economic problems. I want to cover some of them here in what
inevitably will be an inadequate presentation, because there
are so many.

Now to be sure, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we
don't face the daily civilizational challenge that we faced
from the prospect of an exchange of nuclear salvos between
the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. That truly existential
threat to our existence doesn't exist anymore. But too many
people have concluded that the collapse of communism
effectively meant that challenges to the U.S. overseas had
somehow been reduced to just above the noise level, and that
there was nothing so serious that couldn't be taken care of
in diplomatic exchanges and that there were no threats that
couldn't be resolved through reasoned discourse.

That isn't the case for us, and it's certainly not the case
for many of our friends and allies around the world, to whom
even countries that some might judge to be small threats are
very large threats. So the nature of the world we live in
has changed, and while the civilizational threat may be
extinguished, the number of adversaries we face in the world
and the complexity of international affairs if anything has

The decisions the new administration makes will affect us
not just during President-elect Obama's term, but in some
cases for decades to come. I could organize this in a number
of different ways; being a true admirer of Edmund Burke, I'm
not going to try to present it in grand themes but in
specifics, because I think it is in analyzing the concrete
challenges that you can see more clearly how difficult the
choices are.

Russia is significant not only because of the nature of the
regime and its interests overseas, but because President
Medvedev within 24 hours of our election seized on the
opportunity to win the first annual Joe Biden Award to
challenge the president-elect with a crisis that he
manufactured, in my view specifically to test the mettle of
the incoming administration.

This is something the Russians had thought about, I believe,
and I think it's a part of a pattern of their behavior that
we've seen over the past several years. The forewarning of
this was given I think three years ago by then Russian
president Vladimir Putin, now the prime minister but still
Number 1 inside the Kremlin, when he said that the collapse
of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical
catastrophe of the 20th century.

Most of us would probably think that the collapse of the
Soviet Union was a pretty good way to end the 20th century.
But that obviously is not the mood in the top leadership in
Moscow. I think we will look back on the events just of this
past August, when Russian forces invaded the tiny bordering
country of Georgia, as the first step in an effort by the
Russian leadership to reverse that catastrophe, to if not
reestablish the territory of the former Soviet Union/Russian
Empire, at least to make clear that Russia would have
hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union.

The question of who provoked that particular military
conflict is something people will argue about for a long
time, but just as who started which border skirmish in which
obscure part of the world led to larger conflicts, just as
those debates fade into history, the central fact that
emerges from the August 2008 Georgia crisis was that Russia
was prepared with an obviously well-planned military
operation, and if the provocation hadn't come from President
Saakashvili on August 6-7, it would have come on September
6-7 or October 6-7 or whenever it turned out to be
convenient for Russian forces to move into the country.

I think this was a clear effort to send a signal to other
parts of the former Soviet Union, and it also had an
important geostrategic objective of demonstrating that
Russia could seize the only oil and gas pipeline route out
of the Caspian Sea region that didn't already run through
Russia or Iran. In part, Russia reacted because it saw a
weakness on NATO's part in spring of 2008. President Bush
had proposed putting both Georgia and Ukraine on the path to
NATO membership. Through a formal NATO decision, our
European allies led by Germany rejected that. I think that
while they covered it over with words about ultimately
bringing Ukraine and Georgia in, Moscow saw that decision as
a real sign of weakness. While I do not want to overstate
the comparison, what drew my attention was the parallel
between the famous National Press Club speech Dean Acheson
gave in January 1950 describing the Western defense
perimeter of the U.S. that unfortunately left out South
Korea, followed in June 1950 by the North Korean invasion of
South Korea.

We have very little time left in the Bush administration. I
don't think that NATO's decision will be corrected. But I
think it's something the next administration is going to
have to ask very clearly, whether it wants a vacuum between
the eastern border of the NATO alliance and the western
border of Russia. That vacuum gives rise to the potential
for instability and to the possibility for further Russian
adventurism. I think that has been corroborated in the days
since the election, when we've seen President Medvedev
create a challenge to the new administration by threatening
to deploy Russian ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad
enclave, a little sliver of Russian territory bordering on
Poland, targeted at the missile defense base that the Bush
administration and the government of Poland had agreed to
establish. I think this was a carefully chosen decision by
the Russian government, which could have seen in President-
elect Obama's campaign position on missile defense what one
could euphemistically call constructive ambiguity, what a
less charitable interpretation would call weakness. They
want to challenge the new administration in a very direct
way to see what the reaction will be.

In fact, yesterday Russia made it even clearer by saying
that they didn't plan to negotiate with the Bush
administration on missile defense anymore, they were going
to wait until January 20. And today, to reinforce the point,
President Medvedev said that he would be willing to consider
undeploying Russia's missiles in the Kaliningrad if we would
not deploy missile defenses into Poland.

If President-elect Obama carries through on where I think
his real instincts lie on missile defense, which is not to
continue it, I think in Moscow they will read that as
responding to the threat and indeed the intimidation
reflected in Medvedev's speeches. I do not know what the new
administration will do, but I know that President-elect
Obama and Polish president Lech Kaczynski emerged from a
conversation they held several days ago with very different
impressions as to what was actually said. So we've had the
first public disagreement between the president-elect and
the head of a NATO ally on the missile defense question.

This is only one area where we and the Russian have
difficulties. Others include Georgia and Ukraine and the
whole question of the territory of the former Soviet Union;
Russia's unhelpfulness in what we have loosely called the
Middle East peace process for many years; its cover for
Iran's nuclear weapons program in the Security Council; and
its weapons sales into difficult, contentious areas of the
world is another. There are also potential areas of
cooperation, such as exchanging information on terrorism,
where we have had good success with Russia. We can certainly
say that one of the many benefits of the collapse in the
global oil price, which is now below $60/barrel, is that it
has put a major constraint on Russian efforts to modernize
their conventional military forces and upgrade their
strategic nuclear forces. But the way the new administration
handles Russia will have enormous consequences not just for
us, but on our friends in Europe, too, too many of whom
think that with the end of the Cold War they have passed
beyond history and no longer need to be concerned with
threats outside of their region. In fact, Europe is actually
more vulnerable now because of its dependence on Russian oil
and natural gas. That dependence is what led to weakness in
Germany and others when considering what to do with Georgia
and Ukraine. So the new administration will not have a lot
of time to consider the question of Moscow's capabilities
and intentions, because they're already on the table right

Potentially, over time, the U.S.-Sino relationship could be
an even more difficult relationship for the U.S. Many in
America, especially in the business community, believe that
our relations with China over the next several decades are
going to be peaceful, benign, largely based on economics.
They look at China's rapid economic growth over the past
twenty years and extrapolate that out into the future, as
China's economy soon overtaking the U.S., but basically
China having what the Chinese themselves call a peaceful
rise and playing a constructive role in international

That is one possible and desirable, but not an inevitable,
scenario. To think that it is inevitable is delusory. Let's
take a somewhat longer timeframe if we're going to
extrapolate from Chinese history. Instead of twenty years,
let's take the past century. As my colleague Jim Lilly at
AEI, our former ambassador to China, says, it's been a tough
century for the Chinese. They had the fall of the last
imperial dynasty, the first establishment of the Republic of
China, the first collapse of the ROC, the warlord period,
the return of authoritarian rule, the Japanese invasion and
occupation, the civil war between the communists and the
nationalists, the defeat of the Japanese, the second
establishment of the ROC, the second fall of the ROC, the
retreat of the nationalists to Taiwan, the institution of
the People's Republic of China, then in the 1950s the Great
Leap Forward, the single worst economic decision in history,
which killed 30 million people, followed in the 1960s by the
great proletarian Cultural Revolution, during which more
Chinese culture was destroyed in a single period of time
than in all of China's history; then Tiananmen Square in
1989, then twenty years of economic growth.

If you take that century and extrapolate it, you have the
prospect of another century of radical discontinuities in
internal Chinese affairs and its role in the external world.
That is not a very comforting scenario, and it's wildly
different in its potential from the so-called peaceful rise.
When we consider that the major political force inside
China's still-ruling communist party is the PLA, this ought
to give us pause before we conclude too quickly that China's
role in international affairs will be benign. China is
rapidly increasing its conventional military capabilities,
enhancing its blue-water navy and submarine forces,
potentially challenging American predominance in the western
Pacific for the first time since 1945. It's expanding its
strategic nuclear forces and its ballistic missile forces,
all of which do not lead inevitably to the conclusion that
it will be belligerent, but which certainly gives them a
stronger capability.

An American president's decisions are not going to be
central in determining China's future course, but how to
handle China and the widely varying prospects that it has as
options before it need the highest level of presidential
attention. Whether and to what extent we'll see that unfold
over the next couple of years is very hard to know.

Other comparable kinds of questions arise on how to deal
with India, with the paradox of an evolving democratic
society with nuclear weapons locked in a six-decade long
struggle with Pakistan on the Indian subcontinent, also a
nuclear power, where they have fought three wars since
independence and where there's every prospect if another war
breaks out that it could go nuclear fairly quickly. There's
how to deal with our friends in the European Union, who have
felt for so many years that their continued political
integration will create an alternative pole in the world to
the U.S., where we can see today that this effort at
political integration has in fact left us with an EU that's
less than the sum of its part, that takes so long to reach
consensus on its policies that ultimately it acts more
ineffectively in international affairs than when its nations
act on their own, and which faces its own demographic
crisis. So far from Europe being a rising alternative pole
to the U.S., I think the real issue over the next decades
will be the relative decline of influence of Europe in the
world as a whole, which will be very different for us and
for them as well.

Then there are the more immediate issues that will press on
President Obama when he takes the oath of office. Certainly
a couple of years ago, if you had projected ahead talking
about foreign policy the week after the election, most
people would have predicted that we would be talking almost
exclusively about Iraq. It's funny how a successful strategy
can drive success of the front pages of the newspapers, but
in fact the success of the surge strategy in reducing
violence in Iraq, working for greater political cohesion
within the Iraqi system, is now very much up in the air as
American forces withdraw as we know that they will if
President-elect Obama fulfills his campaign pledges. This
raises the critical question whether the levels of trust
with Sunnis and Kurds that our military has been able to
establish can be transferred to the Shiite-dominated
government in Baghdad. If this withdrawal is not carried out
very carefully and prudently, and not in a hasty or
disorganized fashion, those relationships of trust could
fail and we could see in Iraq a return to the kind of
instability we saw in the years immediately after the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Not only would that have extraordinarily negative
consequences for the people of Iraq, but it would almost
invariably mean a large increase in the influence of Iran, a
large increase both inside Iraq and in the region as a
whole. The consequences of mistakes in Iraq now have the
possibility of extending throughout the Middle East as a
whole, with extraordinary consequences for our friends in
the region-not just Israel, although that is of central
importance, but for the Arab states as well. Over the past
twenty years, Iran has been the world's largest financier of
international terrorism, and has been pursuing in a
clandestine fashion a deliverable nuclear weapons

The combination of nuclear capabilities and its level of
support for terrorism would give Iran a disproportionate
influence throughout the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East
as a whole. Although we've seen this remarkable decline in
the price of oil, just imagine what direction the price of
oil will go in if Iran is able to increase its influence to
that extent.

That brings us to the question of dealing with Iran's
nuclear weapons program. Here we will have I think as close
as you can get in international affairs to a laboratory
experiment. President-elect Obama said in the campaign that
he would sit down with the leaders of Iran and other rogue
states without preconditions to negotiate with them about
their nuclear weapons programs. I believe that if he carries
through on that, we will see in very graphic terms what the
consequences of real naivete in international affairs can

This is going to be perhaps the central difference in the
Obama presidency between his approach and President Bush's.
The fact is that negotiation with Iran is not a new idea.
The Europeans-the British, French, and Germans, or the EU3--
have been negotiating with Iran for 5-1/2 years. Everyone,
and specifically the Iranian leadership, has known that the
Europeans were negotiating as our surrogates. The Iranians
knew from the outset of these negotiations that if they gave
up their pursuit of nuclear weapons, they would have a
different relationship not just with the Europeans, but with
the U.S.

Three years ago we made that even more explicit then before
when we told the Iranians that if they complied with the
same conditions the Europeans had asked for, i.e. Iran would
suspend its uranium enrichment program, that the U.S. would
sit down at the table with Iran, even though they were still
on our list of state sponsors of terrorism and even though
that would violate the general commitment we have not to
negotiate with terrorism. So important did we think the
nuclear question was, we would be prepared to do that.

For this entire 5-1/2 year period, Iran has consistently
said with a few blips that it would not suspend its uranium
enrichment. They knew, because our European friends provided
every incentive they could think of, what the options were
and what they had to do to get into negotiations with the
U.S. They declined to do so. The reason for that is that
negotiation, like every other human activity, has costs as
well as benefits. If negotiations never had any cost, then
the people who would say "Why don't we sit down and talk to
the Iranians? What have we got to lose?" would be right. The
answer would be, "You don' t have anything to lose." But
because negotiations do have benefits and cost, you have to
look at both sides of the equation before you adopt the
policy. And the Iranians, over the course of more than five
years of European negotiation efforts, have gained an asset
more precious than anything else they could have, something
they couldn't have bought for love or money: they got time.
For the would-be proliferator, time is the critical asset:
time to overcome the complex scientific and technological
difficulties that stand in the way of achieving the
objective of a deliverable nuclear weapon. During all these
years of European negotiations, the Iranians solved the
problem of uranium conversion from a solid to a gas; they
solved the problem of uranium enrichment to get it up to
reactor-grade levels; and by all that we can tell, they've
come a long way to solving the problem of how to put a
nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile to make it
deliverable at long range. That's what negotiation has given

Will Iran welcome U.S. negotiations now? You bet! This is
like catnip. It will give them as much time as they need to
complete whatever they have to finish to get that
deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

There's one wrinkle in this scenario, and that is that
although I see no prospect of the Bush administration in its
remaining months in office using military force against
Iran's nuclear program, we are not the only actor. Twice
before the government of Israel has struck at nuclear
programs in nearby states that they felt threatened their
existence: first in 1991 by the destroying the Osirak
reactor outside of Baghdad, and second in September 2007 by
destroying a North Korean reactor in Syria.

I've spent much of the last eight years trying to convince
people that North Korea is an important Middle Eastern
power. That is because of its record as the world's biggest
proliferator of ballistic missile technology and now we know
as one of the principal proliferators of nuclear technology.
It is inconceivable to me that Syria and North Korea would
have been cooperating on a nuclear program such as building
a reactor without at a minimum Iranian acquiescence and
quite possibly financing. So the idea of an axis of evil is
more than a metaphor. This pattern of cooperation between
North Korea and Iran, North Korea and Syria, shows why the
North Korean program is a threat not only in northeast Asia,
which it very much is, but in the Middle East as well.

Of course, North Korea is another case where negotiation has
actually been under way for nearly six years, and where the
North Koreans have yet to show in a meaningful way any
indication that they've made a strategic decision to give up
their nuclear weapons program. So both the North Korean and
Iranian programs will be on the table for President-elect
Obama when he takes office. How he handles those issues will
be critical not only for North Korea and Iran, but for many
other states as well. This is what we mean by proliferation.
Everyone is watching-in East Asia and in the Middle East-to
see if we are able to stop Iran from getting a nuclear
weapon or roll back the existing North Korean capability. If
we fail, they will draw the appropriate conclusions, and the
number of states seeking nuclear weapons will rise. In the
Pacific, it may be that Japan would consider obtaining
nuclear weapons, and the Middle East there's a long list of
countries that would obtain nuclear weapons if Iran did,
including possibly Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

This issue that President-elect Obama addressed very
directly in his campaign and the way he is proposing to
handle it is something that could well determine the future
of American security and the security of our friends and
allies in the affected regions for years to come. This is
not to say that it's impossible negotiations could succeed.
After all, Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program
entirely after the overthrow of Saddam, when Qaddafi
incorrectly drew the conclusion that he might be next. The
way we handled Libya demonstrates that if a country is
serious about giving up its nuclear weapons program, it
could have a different relationship with the U.S. So this
will be a very important test for President-elect Obama.

Right now, the Libyan nuclear weapons program sits in
Oakridge, TN, a very appropriate place for it. There's a lot
of room right next to it for the Iranian and North Korean
nuclear weapons programs if they get serious about it, as

We'll have to see how the new president acts. There's no
lack of challenges for him and his new administration. This
will be a time of great testing for the U.S. It may not be a
time where we want that testing, we may want to deal more
with our own economic problems, look more inside ourselves,
or withdraw more from the world while we deal with these
challenging domestic issues. But that option is just not
open to us. It will be very important to see whether the
Obama administration realizes that or whether it takes a
different view. Only time will tell.

Copyright Foreign Policy Research Institute
( You may forward this essay as you
like provided that it is sent in its entirety and attributed
to FPRI. , provided that you send it in its entirety.
Contact FPRI for permission to repost it at another website.

Thanks to General Paul E. Vallely

No comments: