Donald Trump: Making of a World View

DATE: 15 February 2017, 13.00-14.00

VENUE: Millbank Tower

SPEAKERS: Prof Brendan Simms

CHAIR: Dr Alan Mendoza, Executive Director, Henry Jackson Society

Alan Mendoza: Right, hello Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to see such a big crowd here – it does seem that every time we talk about Donald Trump it does draw an audience – perhaps understandably given the focus on the world today. But I’m particularly delighted to welcome back our own HJS President, Professor Brendan Simms, to speak in a capacity he has written on, not in an HJS capacity but on a topic that I think is very important. You’ll see outside this book: ‘Donald Trump: The Making of a World View’ and Brendan and fellow author Charlie Laderman have spent some time examining the basis for how Donald Trump’s world view has formed. I think you will come to the conclusion that some of the things you are hearing from him today are not random but have been thought through, I don’t know how carefully, but for a period of time, which might shed some light on what his Presidency might do.

Of course, Brendan is, we are delighted he is associated with us, he is a professor, at Cambridge University, at European International Relations there, and he has written many many books, I can’t tell you how many because he seems to write a new book every half a year. ‘Unfinest hour’, ‘three victories and defeat’, ‘Europe: the struggle for Supremacy’ are just three examples of that. So, Brendan, I’m going to pass over to you, I am sure you will give us a very interesting overview, thank you for joining us.

Brendan Simms: Thank you very much indeed Alan, for that introduction. Can you all hear me? I have been asked to shout into this microphone for recording purposes. Two things to begin with, one is: I haven’t given this talk before so I don’t know exactly how long it will last, but I don’t expect it to detain you for longer on my side than for about twenty minutes, and then I hope we will have plenty of time for discussion. The second thing is, that although, as Alan says, I am the President and co-founder of the Henry Jackson society, this is a personal view – I am not speaking today as the Henry Jackson Society. And this book, as Alana said, was co-written with Charlie Ledermann, and so any time I say ‘I’, inadvertently, I mean ‘we,’ just to make that clear.

So why did we write this book so quickly, as it was our view that it had to be done quickly if it was to be done at all. The reason is that we were unhappy with the prevailing view that Donald Trump was a mere cipher, with no coherent foreign policy sounds – this was a view we had heard a lot during the campaign, that he was a mere buffoon and his ideas did not need to be taken seriously. As anybody will tell you, when they read this book, we profoundly disagree with those ideas, and in some ways our alarm comes from the fact that we think his ideas are sincerely held and to a certain extent thought through. And that to us is very much part of the problem. We also rejected the idea that once elected, quote, ‘we don’t know what Donald Trump stands for or what to expect in Foreign policy.’ So we decided to look at the record of what Trump had said over the years.

So, many of you will be aware of the famous remark that most people in the elites took Trump literally but not seriously, and others took him seriously but not literally, but what we do in the book is we take him both seriously and literally, because that is the way I think he ought to be taken. So to be clear, we are not claiming that Donald Trump is a profound thinker of foreign affairs, he doesn’t have articles or memorandums on the topic, and although he has written a very large number of books, although we argue these books are not a particularly great guide to his method of thinking, they don’t necessarily represent the quintessential Trump in any respect and certainly not in foreign policy. Although, quite a lot of what is in the books is consistent with what we have found from other sources. And he has left behind a considerable trail of interviews, often quite long ones, and chat show appearances, where you get the undiluted, genuine Trump coming across. I’ll always see that as repetitive, its often crude to be sure, but it is in our view consistent and coherent.

So what he has been saying about Trade and alliances, he has been saying for more than thirty years. There are some new themes in the past two decades – terror and migration – have come into the picture, but essentially everything you hear on trade or alliances that he has been saying for the last few years he has been saying for almost the last forty.

So, rather than going into our more obvious findings, which is his views on trade and alliances, today, let me share with you some surprises about what we found. The first is, to reiterate, the first surprise was that Trump’s foreign policy interest goes back more than thirty years. His first documented remark was in 1980, when he first expressed himself with regard to foreign policy, and he was in fact vocal throughout the 1980s, on foreign policy matters. They formed a key part of what was then already an explicit desire to take on the presidency, sometimes denied, but always manifest, widely discussed at the time. That was a central part of his critique of U.S. power and why one should have Donald Trump as President.

The main targets of his critique in the 1980s were the allies of the United States; the Saudis, Japan, the Germans and NATO. And I want to begin by reading out to you an extract from a letter that he published in the New York Times and various other outlets in 1987. He says: ‘To the American people, for decades Japan has been taking advantage of the American people. The saga continues unabated as we defend the Persian Gulf, an area of only marginal significance to the United States for its oil supplies, but one on which Japan and others are almost totally dependent. Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests? Saudi Arabia, a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States, last week refused to allow us access to use their mind sweeper to police the Gulf. The world is laughing at America’s politicians as we protect ships we don’t own, carrying oil we don’t need, destined for allies who won’t help.’ And then towards the end he says, quote: ‘Make Japan, make Saudi Arabia and others pay for the protection we extend as allies. Let’s help our farmers, our sick, our homeless, by taking from some of the greatest profit machines ever created. Machines created and nurtured by us. Tax these wealthy nations, not America.’

So right at the outset you can see the connection between not merely the critique of allies, but also the connection between the critique of the allies and the U.S. domestic crisis. The U.S. is poor at home because foreign policy is poor. Let me give you another example: again, in a 1987 interview with Larry King: ‘I don’t want to single out Japan, I don’t want to single out Saudi Araba, but they are taking tremendous advantage.’ And then he says: ‘including NATO. If you look at the payments that we are making to NATO, they are totally disproportionate to everybody else’s.’ And so on, and he links that to American domestic decline. So my point it that his critique of NATO is not something that has simply popped up over the last eighteen months; it is something he has been saying since the 1980s.

So that’s in terms of the big picture. What about such initiatives such as the seizure of Iraqi oil, or the oil of the Middle East. Again, a topic that seemed to come out of nowhere during the campaign rhetoric. But not at all. If you look at the record, here’s an example from 1980 in fact, his very first statement, he says: ‘one should really take one Iran and teach them a lesson. If one had done that I think right now we would be an oil rich nation.’ So they should have taken the oil from Iran. And if that’s not explicit enough, another example is him eight years later, in May 1988. He says: ‘I’d be harsh on Iran – they have been beating us psychologically, making us look like a bunch of fools. One bullet shot at one of our men or ships and I’d do a number on Kark Island. I’d go in and take it.’ And so on. And again this theme crops up in the aftermath of the Iraq war, that one should seize the oil off the Middle or East of Iraq, and it’s in the context that the United States are doing all these things but getting no reward. Not an act of arson or theft, it is within Trump’s concept of what U.S. foreign policy should be like.

So that as a surprise to find that theme going back so many decades. But the nub really is between trade and defence. And the emphasis is really the attack on allies rather than worrying about the United States’ enemies. And this theme is elaborated time and time again – I won’t read out all the examples it will take too much time – but essentially it is the same theme all the way through, and then simply in recent years, the place of Japan is taken by mainland China, and there’s a bit of an update with terrorism and migration as issues. But they are basically the same themes.

There is also an unexpected Trump: Mr Trump believes and has said many extreme things I believe, but there is also a kinder and a gentler Trump, if you like, saying things that you might not expect Trump to say or believe, but that he quite clearly does, and this may have a bearing on his later policy. For example, nuclear weapons. We have heard a great deal in recent times about his emphasis on US nuclear rearmament, his emphasis on dealing with Iran, and North Korea, but he is also worries, and this is what many people don’t realise, is that he is worried about nuclear weapons in general. He has expressed concern for nuclear disarmament, for example in 1984 he says, that he offers his services essentially, to the U.S. government, during the IMF negotiations, offers his services as a negotiator for the U.S. government, and someone says, you don’t know anything about nuclear weapons, and he says, quote: ‘it would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is about missiles.’

But the point here is you can argue with his notion of being an autodidact, and I would, but just in taking on missiles,  in 1990 a few years later he says, and I quote again: ‘I have always thought about the issue of nuclear war – it is a very important issue in my thought process. It is the ultimate, the ultimate catastrophe. The biggest problem this world has, and no one is focusing on the nuts and bolts of it. Too many countries have nuclear weapons, nobody knows where they are all pointed’ and so on. And he goes to talk about the destructiveness of nuclear weapons.

And then again, 2004 when it was really not a big issue he comes back to this and talks about his late uncle, who was an MIT scientist, Dr. John Trump, and says: ‘he was a brilliant scientist and he would tell me weapons are getting so powerful today that humanity is in tremendous trouble.’ He goes on to elaborate on that. SO I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of Donald Trump taking on the issue of nuclear disarmament in an unexpected way.

I also found a concern with the victims of U.S. power, again unexpected, particularly what he has been saying in the last eighteen months, but there were many victims around the time of the Iraq war, and he spoke extensively about this. I’ll just give you one example that he has repeated on many occasions. This is from 2004, he said: ‘What was the purpose of this whole thing. Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed, and what about the people coming back with no arms and legs, not to mention the other side – all those Iraqi kids who have been blown to pieces. And it turns out all the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing.’

And then when it comes to humanitarian intervention, you might expect Donald Trump to be an out and out critic, completely rejecting any notion of humanitarian intervention, as nation building, as something the United States seems to be doing as a self-declared realist and so on. Actually that’s not the case. When it comes to Libya in 2011, his initial response was, and I quote him saying, that: ‘I can’t believe what our country is doing. Gadhafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. And we are sitting round when we have soldiers all-round the Middle East, that we are not bringing in’ and then he goes on to say: ‘one should intervene and the Libyans should pay for it with oil.’ So there is some connection between the two there, between the two Trumps. When the intervention then becomes more complicated it creates a vacuum into which Al-Qaeda and other groups move, and the narrative then becomes one we are more familiar with, that the interventions were disasters and that is the position Trump endorses. So his position on humanitarian intervention is by no means as critical as one might expect.

Then there’s the surprise about the U.S reputation in the world. Given his general robustness about the way his own behaviour is being perceived, it might surprise you to know that in 203, when of course much of the world was at loggerheads with the United States he is saying things like, and this is verbatim: ‘we’re certainly going to have to work on our public relations because there are a lot of countries right now who aren’t too fond of us.’ And then again the following year he says, in 2004: ‘I think this is not a very popular country right now.’ And then, when Barack Obama comes in, a man who, of course, Trump has slated in more recent years, he appears to give Barack Obama fair wind on the grounds that Barack Obama might be able to improve the international image of the United States. He is asked about Barack Obama and he says: ‘Well I really like him. I think that he is working very hard, he is trying to rebuild our reputation throughout the world. We have lost our good reputation in the world,’ and then there follows a critique of the Bush administration.

So again, I think those are unexpected aspects of Trump. I think the greatest absence, the most unexpected thing is a great absence, in the 1980s, of any kind of concern whatsoever, with the Soviet Union, or indeed, until his recent enchantment with President Putin, any kind of interest in Russia. So after nearly ten years of the second cold warin the 1980s, his main focus was on a critique of America’s allies rather than its principle enemy, the Soviet Union. And bear in mind that all this was at a time when there was a standard cold war critique, which I shared as a student) of Soviet global advances. For example you had the NATO-Warsaw Pact balance, you had El Salvador, Angola, many many areas of East-West conflict. Donald Trump is not interested in any of that in the 1980s. So in that sense he is not at all a standard Raegan figure.

And I think the greatest concern for today, and my greatest anxiety as a European is that there are really deep roots to his suspicion of NATO, his lack of anxiety about Russian power, and I think that left to his own devices, he would abandon the defence of the West. Those, I think, are very much justified, and very much rooted in his thoughts over time.

So what does all this mean, why does it matter? Well, first of all I would say: don’t be surprised. For example, in 1990 Trump says he would like to throw a tax on every Mercedes Benz rolling into his country, as part of his critique of places like Germany, who are being defended and then taking it for free, and taking advantage of trade. In 1987 he tells Larry King that NATO was taking tremendous advantage of the United States and that their payments to NATO were totally disproportionate to everyone else’s. Yet, just after taking office in 2017 this year, Trump dismisses NATO again as ‘obsolete,’ and threatens to impose tariffs on foreign cars, especially German ones – I seem to remember BMW being singled out. The German Foreign Minister, said that the President’s remarks had caused, quote, ‘astonishment and agitation.’ To which I would say – agitation, fine. But astonishment? Really? How could you be astonished after everything he has been saying? The fact that people were surprised is in itself surprising.

And then I would say, as far as Trump is concerned, don’t rely on constraints, correctives or conversions. So a lot of talk in the last few months has been about balance within his team, about him abandoning his campaign rhetoric and so on, this may happen but in the end he is the man who matters, who makes the final decision. So what is going on in his mind is decisive.

So I leave you with two thoughts. The first one is, Donald Trump is 70 years of age. Now you can question his judgement, his integrity and his maturity, but you cannot say that he has not been largely, and in some cases astonishingly, consistent, over the past thirty years. He has not changed his views in these decades, why should he change now?

And the second and last thing I want to leave you with is that it matters, because of what Henry Kissinger said in 1979, when he had been first National Secuirty Advisor, and then Secretary of State. He said:’ the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office.’ And so I would say this book, our book, is the only comprehensive excavation and examination of the convictions that Donald Trump formed before reaching high office. And for this reason, I urge you all to read it. Thank you for your attention. [Applause]

Alan Mendoza: Well, thank you Brendan,  that is a fascinating real look into some of the things the President has said repeatedly over many years. I am sure there are many questions, if you would like to indicate who you are and if there is an organisation if applicable, that would be very helpful. Do you want to go first.

Audience Member: [Inaudible] Did you come to any conclusions or opinions about why he has been so hard to pin down on the Soviet Union, including their expansion of power and Ukraine and so on. And secondly, from the evidence in the first part of your presentation it is clear that Trump was hopping around over the issue of Iraq, both for intervention and then against, in a sporadic fashion and likely to change dependent on circumstance. How can you then say this is an overarching view?

Brendan Simms: So I think the question why is he not interested in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, that is really critical. And I think the reason is because his main concern is, if you like, geo-economic. It’s a vision of U.S. greatness which is primarily built on trade and power in a Mercantilist zero sum game. And if that’s your view, then in the 1980s the power you are not going to be really worried about is the Soviet Union for obvious reasons of the weakness of the economic weakness of communism. But you are very much going to be concerned with the economic powers of Germany and Japan. And of course don’t forget when this is the time when Paul Kennedy is writing his remarkable ‘Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.’ And in fact it is interesting that it reached number 2 on the bestseller list in 1987. Number 1 on the list was ‘the art of the deal,’ which is Trump’s memoir. That’s the context, and I think that explains his view in the 1980s.

I think a large part of why he is unconcerned with Russia today is that Trump doesn’t rate Russia as an economic threat in the same way that he does the European Union/ mainland China. Then there’s the other bits that are to do with a kind of respect for Putin as a strongman, as a powerful figure, who acts as a match for Trump for want of a better word. But I think that’s the explanation.

And as for why he’s not concerned about the territorial question, it’s because he is pretty unconcerned with the Baltic States because he doesn’t think they are doing enough for their own defence. I mean one might respond, and I certainly would respond by saying that frontline states such as Estonia are certainly paying either their 2% or more, and I would make the point that the real difficulty with Trump’s attitude to NATO is that it is a real estate approach – you own this building, you are not paying for your services so I am going to turn off your electricity. Well the problem with that is that you can’t do that without putting everybody in the dark and turning off every body’s heating. And those that are in south facing rooms, such as the Spaniards and the Italians, they are not very worried about this. But those who are exposed to the cold chill winds who are paying for their heating also have to shiver in the cold. So he hasn’t really thought any of that through. But I think the root of it is that he doesn’t think they are paying their dues and therefore shouldn’t be defended.

Alan Mendoza: At the back, yes.

Audience Member: [inaudible] Trump says Germany is a wealthy liberal democracy, and they are not pulling their weight in European Defence. Does he have a point here?

Brendan Simms: Well I’m afraid he does have a point. I mean, with lots of things he says he has a point, particularly with regard to Germany. I think that is the case. The difficulty, I see, is that at one and the same time is critical of Germany not pulling its weight in military terms but he is also critical of the overarching political framework – i.e the EU – that holds Germany in place and contains them but also mobilises them, or could do, for the broader European good. So I fear that the way he is going about this is going to achieve the opposite of what he wants. But of course that critique is absolutely justified. And of course this is an argument that has been made for decades. Every year almost the Foreign Secretary goes to the European security conference and berates the Europeans for not doing enough. That may change, they may do something, they may not. I don’t think Donald Trump will be the one to affect this.

Audience Member: [Inaudible] … I am a Japanese Freelance Journalist. My question is about Japan.  So Donald Trump and Abe Shinzo, the Japanese Prime Minister, had a few days together playing golf and on air force one…[Inaudible] You have said Donald Trump is like a real estate agent – what will Trump charge Japan in the future?

Brendan Simms: Well, we are going into territory where my guess is as good as yours, or possibly not even as good. Extrapolating from what I know he has said in the past and looking to the future, I think that while it is true that on security issues he has moved closer to Japan than anyone had expected, I think he is not going to get round trying to change the economic name of the game relatively soon. So much of what he wants to do at home, domestically, in terms of bringing back manufacturing jobs and so on is dependent on doing this. So it’s my expectation that there will be a crunch point in East Asia between the Trump administration and the major trading powers of that region however well they get on, in the case of Japan, on other issues. I think in that regard it is important to realise that Trump’s concern about China, at least until very recently has been overwhelming trade. There’s no mention of the South China Sea or any of these other issues until well into the campaign – so it’s really trade he’s worried about. So I think idea that you could have a lasting rapprochement with Japan built on a common security platform against China, that may not work, but it’s a possibility. I don’t know, those are my reflections.


Audience Member: My names [Inaudible] and I work in the Foreign Office [Inaudible] Can I just take a little bit further your analysis that leads me to two questions [Inaudible] How do you link in your thoughts on his instincts and his policy positions with his evocation of “America First” and “Make America Great Again” because potentially they are slightly contradictory “America First” [Inaudible] nationalists and maybe isolationists. “Make America Great Again” [Inaudible] Reagan [Inaudible] how do those things balance or maybe they don’t?

Brendan Simms: Well I think there is a tension, which is one which you have highlighted. I don’t think it necessarily exists in his own mind. I don’t think, although he’s borrowed that term “America First” from the America First committee and that whole discourse around Lindbergh and others including, by the way, a young Gerald Ford. He’s borrowed it from that period. He actually on other occasions is quite explicitly distancing himself from it. In the book he wrote about 2000, there’s a fairly blunt critique of Patrick Buchannan and that particular viewpoint. So I don’t think he regards himself as being an isolationist in that narrow sense. I think it’s more a kind of assertive nationalism so it’s a step back from American Exceptionalism, that the American are somehow uniquely good and virtuous in the world and should lead by the strength of that. Which would be my view until quite recently, but rather his idea that in a sense it’s a zero sum game and everyone else is playing dirty and America needs to do this as well. He often says “I’m not against free trade, I’m against unfair trade” where through currency manipulation and lack of workers’ rights the trade is not in fact free. So he sees it as his job to use American power to correct that imbalance and if he does that then America will naturally become number one again.

Audience Member: My names Michael Stephen, I’m a former Member of Parliament. The newspapers all over Europe today are full of the opinion that the resignation of Michael Flynn is a major disaster for the Trump presidency. Was this a matter of substance or procedure? If it’s a matter of substance surely we’ve known for a very long time that Trump envisages an entirely new relationship with the Russians and that sanctions are going to be one of the issues that have to be discussed. If it’s a matter of procedure, did General Flynn speak to the Ambassador a bit prematurely? If so why does it matter? Or is there more to it than all this?

Brendan Simms: Well a very good question if I may say so. I agree with the implied thrust of it. This is why I try to insist upon avoiding reading of tea leaves which of course journalists have to do, but looking back more on the fundament of what he actually believes. I think you’re right. I think he does envisage a big picture reset of relations with Russia which would involve the lifting of sanctions. He’s hinted at that on many occasions and therefore this is about procedure it’s not about substance and the really big story is not that General Flynn had to go but that he was thinking about resetting the policy. Has he been replaced yet permanently? I haven’t seen, but whoever replaces him and Mr. Tillerson at state will have to implement that policy. So from the point of view of somebody who very much opposes his new agenda I’m not reassured by the departure of General Flynn.  36.42

Audience Member: [Inaudible] In the examples that you listed one underlying thread is that they are all just criticisms of people who are in power and making policy which I think as we come along [Inaudible] he sort of second guesses everyone’s decisions and that an explain why it meanders around an ideological line. Do you have any examples where he actually backed a policy positively? And therefore you could negate that counterfactual and say that this is something he believes in, that he’s backed historically and that we could actually then project forward?

Brendan Simms: It’s an extremely good question. I think you’re right that a lot of his positions are in the context of critiques. That’s not unusual. A lot of political discourse is organised in that way. I think he basically supports the Iraq war on condition. He says “it would be interesting to see if there are weapons of mass destruction.” He supports it on that basis. He supports stronger measures against Iran. Although again is that in terms of something not being done. But in the case of Iraq he did support intervention tepidly if there were weapons of mass destruction. He does, as I mentioned earlier, initially welcome Barack Obama and his policies trying to improve the US’s position in the world. Those are the examples, but you’re right his positions are articulated in the context of critique.

Audience Member: [Inaudible] Over here we tend to get worked up over things like who can speak in Westminster Hall or General Flynn. I suspect these issues in Weesatche, Texas or in the rust belt have got no traction whatsoever. Are we really focussing on the wrong things and from your readings is everything that he’s interested in really domestic? Iraq is really about will the body bags come back? Will it help? Do you think that really foreign affairs aren’t his bag? We’re really going to see him say “I’m a Berliner” in Berlin. That isn’t really where he’s going. Who he’s selling to are his constituents in the United States and if it isn’t for them he isn’t interested.

Brendan Simms: I think that’s right but that’s my anxiety. So first of all as I’ve said on the question of trade. That has profound implications for everybody else with whom he is trading. So if he wants to deliver on that he has to change the terms of trade that are not helpful for free trading regimes, but more particularly on the question of security. Unlike a lot of people who worry about the wars Trump would start. That’s usually the discourse. My anxiety is with the war Trump is not prepared to fight and therefore will not deter. It’s very interesting if you look at the campaign events you saw many placards dubbing Hillary Clinton a hawk, an extremist, somebody who would bring on world war 3. What this was alluding to was Clinton’s engagement on behalf of Ukraine and her willingness to step up to plate, as far as defence of NATO was concerned, of the east. And so these critics were seeing Trump as someone who wouldn’t do this and therefore would have better relations with Russia and would therefore avoid war. My fear is that actually that won’t avoid war it will simply embolden Mr. Putin and lead to a push back that could bring war. So Trump has in some fundamental sense destroyed deterrence and that’s why we should be worried in Europe.

Audience Member:  Hi I’m Andrea, I’m a financial advisor for Americans in London. My perception being involved a bit in the finance world. Is that he seems to be putting across to the American public that they seem to be in much worse shape than they are because the dollar is doing well, the markets are doing well, that businesses and companies are doing well. It seems that he’s trying to sell the fact to Americans that they’re doing really, really badly and they have to do all of this so he can save them and bring them out of it. Do you see that as well?

Brendan Simms: I think that maybe part of it. In fairness to him what he’s emphasised in regards to domestic weakness is that apart from the decline of manufacturers which we mentioned on several occasions and the flight of jobs. Is also the critical state of the national infrastructure. He refers again and again in his speeches to our airports being third world, our bridges are falling down, our highway system was built in the 1950s or whatever. And we need a big national infrastructure programme so he has to rhetorically run down the current infrastructure. I think he’s probably right, broadly speaking, I’m not an expert but everybody seems to agree even on the Democrat side of the House that the infrastructure is poorly. So there I think he’s pushing an open door.

Audience Member: David Conway, CIVITAS. I share with you concern about America withdrawing its protection from Europe. On the other hand, given what you’ve also said about Trump’s worries about nuclear armaments. Might it not be a price worth America paying to maintain its nuclear umbrella over NATO to prevent acquisition by the EU of its own nuclear capability which I believe since his election Germany, I think the German foreign minister said “It’s about time we get our own now because Britain is withdrawing and we’ve got Trump in the White House.”

Brendan Simms: Of course the European Union does have that capacity through the French, still. I think you already see the effect of Trump’s position. He’s really changed the security calculus in continental Europe. Now if the Germans were to do that, or any other non-nuclear state they would immediately come into conflict with the NPT regime, which in fact was originally designed to prevent the Germans from getting nuclear weapons back in the 60s. My worry here is that he has undermine effectively nuclear deterrence so in theory if the Russians attack the Baltic States and Article 5 is invoked and agreed that involves not merely conventional defence but the implied or actual use of nuclear weapons. Now in the Cold War it was just assumed that would happen and that was a huge part of the deterrence posture. That was already questionable before his election and now it seems to me pretty unlikely or what amounts to the same thing Mr. Putin will think it unlikely. An awful lot of work will have to be done by Trump to get us back in the position even before when he was elected which was not terribly satisfactory with regards to NATO. So he’s a little bit like Mr. Ratner when he talked about the value of his jewellery so he said NATO is basically hopeless, so the share price of NATO has fallen and he’s going to have to do an awful lot to get it back up to where it was before.

Audience Member: [Inaudible] I’m writing a Master’s thesis on US–China relations. Regarding what you said before about Trump’s [Inaudible] about Japan and China. They have remained quite the same although the issue has changed and during the campaign there were mixed signals. On the other hand he said that he love China and he likes the people and respects that, but now the situation is vice versa. So I was thinking if there is any way to deduce the possibility of war and about geo-economics and geo-policy?

Brendan Simms: The way in which he talks about individual Chinese over the last ten years or so is almost exactly the same as the language he uses to talk about individual Japanese in the 1980s and it runs something like this: “I have nothing against Chinese people/Japanese people. They buy my apartments and they can’t get enough of them. My brand is storming in China/Japan. However they only respect strength. They respect me because I am strong and they don’t respect the United States because it’s not strong so we have to make the United States strong.” So it’s a kind of circular argument from his own position. He then separates his relationship to individual Chinese or Japanese in that way. In regards to the possibility of war. My concern is, he’s said a lot about the trade dimension and he a certain rough understanding of that perhaps, but he hasn’t really thought through at all the security dimension. It hasn’t interested him until very recently and so in the book I cite many examples of where he says “We have the whip hand over China because we’ve gained all of this. If we have a trade war they lose more than us. They have our debt, but we’re not their prisoner.” At no point in any of those analyses, if we call them such. What he does not take into account is what you might call horizontal escalations. So the Chinese might not push back in trade terms, not in currency term, not in dumping the debt, but by ramping up pressure on Taiwan, on the South China Sea and so on. So that may have changed in the meantime but certainly the Trump we knew before the campaign had never really thought about any of that and so I’d be really worried about the US heading into a crisis on that basis because when the balls are coming back over the net they may not come in the way he expects them.

Audience Member: [Inaudible] Are you saying, going back to Trump’s point on fair trade recently vs free trade and with the level playing field he envisages [Inaudible] He doesn’t worry about Russia economically so if he gets all that in order he doesn’t have to worry about Russia at all [Inaudible]. How does that square with the recently restated stance in the UN from the US spokesperson saying that sanctions stay on Russia until they give back Crimea?

Brendan Simms:  Well, I’ll be interested to see how long that position lasts. So at the moment there’s been no radical change on that as we heard, but obviously Flynn was talking about it and my suspicion, but again this is getting into tea leaves, I’m not good at this. My suspicion is that he’s nursing his hand saying “What kind of deal can I achieve with Russia” and then the relationship with Ukraine will be entirely instrumental in that regard whether it’s to do with joint action in Syria, whether it’s some kind of global reconfiguring to isolate China, I don’t know. I’m fairly certain that Donald Trump certainly has no great investment in the sanctions regime to do with Ukraine. Obviously in chunks of the administration it’s different. If I’m right that’s not going to matter. He’s going to decide and the Tillerson/Mattis view will be shunted aside. If I’m wrong it won’t. I hope I’m wrong, I’d be very relieved.

Alan Mendoza: Right no further questions, I’m going to ask one further question then. You reference the Henry Kissinger quote at the end about a person’s intellectual capital before they came to office informing where they go. How though does that relate to George W Bush, who, when he came in was seen as many as being an American Firster or someone who wasn’t particularly keen or interested in the liberal interventions of the 1990’s and then became the greatest interventionist because of one event of course. Can event not turn people?

Brendan Simms: Absolutely, he famously said that the United States should become a more humble nation and he was very much removed from the Clinton and Gore position. Gore has been very much in favour of intervention in Bosnia and in Kosovo. One of the reasons why I supported him at that time. He certainly was derailed or changed course as a result of 9/11. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about him to know what his convictions other than the ones we discussed were previously. The important difference is that became self-evidently in a particular context. His father obviously had been CIA director and ambassador to China was a massive foreign policy presidency. He grew up with people like Condoleezza Rice who were always wondering in and out of various family compounds always talking about these kind of issues. So there was a massive network of advisors none of which really applies to Trump. I couldn’t be confident that he’s necessarily read a book on foreign policy from start to finish. On the other hand when he was asked by a Chinese news agency to list the intellectual influences to his China policy he allegedly reeled of the top of his head 10 books, including one by Peter Navarro, who has become a member of the trade council, including Steff Salpers book on the being consensus and so on. If that’s true he has read the books and has understood what is in them so I don’t know. But in any case he’s ploughed his own furrow which I don’t think is true of George Bush.


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