Making Sense of Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy

TIME:  18:00-19:00, 1st November 2017

VENUE: Committee Room 3A, House of Lords, Houses of Parliament, London SW1A OPA

SPEAKER: Professor Michael Mastanduno, Nelson A. Rockefeller Professor of Government at Dartmouth College


Lord Risby

Well ladies and gentlemen may I welcome you to the Palace of Westminster and the first thing I want to do is warmly thank The Henry Jackson Society for arranging this I think it’s wonderful that, I know you will all agree with me, that The Henry Jackson Society does in producing absolutely superb speakers on all the subjects of interest which dominate our minds and interest our minds and once again we are very, very privileged to have just such a person here this evening. Professor Michael Mastanduno is a Nelson A. Rockefeller Professor of Government and was Dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Dartmouth College in the US. His areas of research and teaching specialisation include US policy, foreign policy, international relations and the politics of the world economy. And of course I looked him up, he has massive articles which he’s written in all sorts of magazines and journals and of course written many books on international relations.

He is going to be talking particularly about the contemporary situation of American politics and the world but you can certainly expand on that if you wish. I do think this is the most fascinating time because we do slightly have a parallel universe going on which is a President who is saying one thing with these Tweets and then others not saying enough of the same thing. But whether it is China, North Korea, the Middle East, Iran, Russia, Ukraine there are so many interesting things to talk about. It is a great pleasure to welcome you here and we most look forward to listening to what you have to say.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Thank you for the introduction can you hear me alright? Well thank you Lord Risby it’s an honour to be in this beautiful setting and also to speak before a Society that honours one of the great centrists in American politics and foreign policy when there was a centre in American politics it is a bygone error but that’s a conversation for perhaps a different day.

The title of my talk is making sense of Donald Trump’s foreign policy and I will admit that is a little bit misleading because no-one can really make sense of it including Mr Trump himself but I have a professional obligation to try so I will. What I would like to do is to step back I mean Donald Trump is very much in the moment thinking about what happened yesterday, who insulted him and how he wants to Tweet about it, but I want to step back and put him into a much broader context of American foreign policy and try to figure out to what extent he fits in this tradition of American foreign policy and where.

The particular context I want to frame this talk in has to do with what I think is an emerging great debate in American foreign policy and that is a debate over really what the United States role is in the world is going to be looking ahead. If I had to characterize it very simply it’s a debate over whether or not the United States should still pursue what we might call a hegemonic grand strategy and that simply means should the United States be the self-appointed global leader, should it see itself as the primary producer of global public goods whether they have to do with non-proliferation or humanitarian intervention or climate management, the regional stabiliser in key areas like the Middle East, East Asia, Europe. A few years back Colin Powell said that when the world dials 911, I guess here that would be 999, I hope I have that right, America answers the phone call and I think the question that is really being raised in the United States today is should the United States continue to answer the phone or should it act more as an ordinary great power and let the balance in the other parts of the world sort themselves out, pull itself back from most of its far flown military commitments.

Now I want to stress this is not the old American debate between isolationism and engagement you know should the United States retreat from the world or not, it’s really about how to engage with the world. Should it engage as a typical although much more powerful than most great power or should it continue to pursue a kind of leadership role?

Now I would say for about 70 years this question in American foreign policy has not been asked in any serious way since about 1950 when the United States Cold War strategy consolidated itself. During the Cold War the United States pursued a global strategy of engagement containing the Soviet Union rejecting George Washington’s long standing advice to avoid untangling alliances and creating seemingly permanent alliances in Europe and even in East Asia. When the Cold War ended that was an opportunity to have this debate and the United States really didn’t have it instead it doubled-down on its strategy and globalized it trying to make the whole world like the United States, following Americas economic model including former advisers and all different parts of the former Soviet Union. So that’s been the 70 year strategy.

Over the last 10 years maybe I think it is fair to say there has been a gradual reappraisal taking place in the United States about this and it is not hard to see why. If you think about two events in particular the war on terrorism being one you know September 11th 2001 energised the American hegemonic strategy but 10 years of inconclusive fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have left the United States wondering if is the game really worth the candle. The great financial crisis leading to sluggish growth both in the United States and worldwide, great inequality in the world economy have raised the question of whether or not management of the world economy and actually deep engagement in the world economy is worth it for the United States.

This debate is taking place both at the mass and the elite level right at the popular level the focus is more on economic costs and benefits but I would say even at the elite level there are conversations about that. I mean think about it every major political candidate for the Presidency in 2016 came out against free trade agreements but also there is a debate about the strategic side of it to. The offshore balancers in the American policy debate have argued more and more forcefully that it is simply not worth it for the United States to expend the kind of blood and treasure it has over the past 30 years especially with the Cold War over.

So that’s the context that’s the debate. So enter Donald Trump very unexpected and unconventional President, where does Donald Trump sort of stand in this debate. Well I think one thing is very obvious – if you think about this leader in terms of his instincts, his rhetoric, his world view he falls I think quite squarely on the second side of this debate on the side of America stepping back and becoming an ordinary great power. And this is very startling in the United States because for 70 years Presidents always, always instinctively promoted America’s global leadership role in one way or another. Trump never talks about the liberal international order, he never talks about America’s responsibilities in it or the international community if he believes there is such a thing. This of course has not been lost on Americas friends you know the Canadian foreign minister in June gave a speech where she essentially said that our closest friend and ally now seems to question its leadership role and the very order it created after the war and that puts into sharp focus the choices we face ahead.

A group of German individuals have just come out with a manifesto through the German Marshall Fund that says among other things for the first time in the post-war era Germany needs an America strategy, a strategy for dealing with the United States. And of course America’s competitors haven’t missed this. Xi Jinping went to Davos and said don’t worry China will be the champion of the liberal world economy right and he should get a yellow card for acting but Trump has given him that particular opening.

Trump of course is not fazed by this he is a nationalist I think it is fair to say that most American Presidents are nationalists but they are simultaneously internationalists that’s what’s different about Trump he sees not a complimentary between nationalism and internationalism but a choice but a substitute stance. When he announced America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord he said that he was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh not the people of Paris. Well sure fair enough but past American Presidents have felt that they could represent the interests of the people of Pittsburgh by engaging with the people of Paris and with others but not Trump.

In the post-war era American alliances are sarcosine. Trump can take them or leave them – NATOs obsolete, the Japanese and South Koreans they’re rich enough to defend themselves why are will still defending them, ok even a more benign version of this of course is burden sharing. Trump doesn’t really seem to believe in relationships he believes in deals, alliances are about relationships that are mutual gain give or take, he sees foreign policy in terms of zero sum deals when somebody wins and somebody loses.

If you had to sum it up this world view you could think of it this way. In 1988 Madeline Albright, Secretary of State, said the United States was the worlds indispensable nation and I think the international reaction to that was very predictable – another arrogant American Statesman about its role in the world but a reassuring one. Arrogant yes but it is good to know that after the Cold War you still see yourself playing that role.   Trump doesn’t see the United States as an indispensable nation he sees it as an aggrieved nation, a nation which has been taken advantage of, that’s been weakened by its interactions around the world. That is a very, very different position for the United States to perceive itself.

Now where does this world view come from? Well a lot of liberal internationalists would say out of nowhere. Trump is an aberration he’s a one off he just doesn’t fit in the tradition at all. Well if the tradition is the post war liberalisation tradition then they may be right but let’s be honest about it there are other American traditions and American political flaw didn’t begin in 1950 or 45. Trump fits within a long standing American tradition which I think people generally like to call Jacksonian after Americas sixth President Andrew Jackson. Although he might not self-consciously articulate this his world views and his instincts line up very much with Jacksonian thinking.

Jacksonians are populists, this is a billionaire one who speaks on behalf of you know the forgotten people in the United States. Their anti-elitists, anti-government, he talks about draining the swamp in Washington ok and their very tribal. There is something about this frontier mentality that came out of the United States, an us versus them kind of mentality and Trump very strongly has that – Americas borders need to be protected from people who are invading and intruding on us and even within the United States this is interesting to, sub-tribes right an explicit champion of the white working class. So this is again Jacksonian in conception thinking about the world not as a broader community or a diverse community but in terms of in and out, those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside.

Jacksonian foreign policy is about economic nationalism, a suspicion of trade someone is taking advantage of us in its modern variant is about defence of sovereignty, others trying to take your sovereignty you got some Jacksonians on the other side of the Atlantic as well and of course it is a ferocity in war fighting. Jacksonians believe don’t tread on me leave us alone but if you provoke then we will fight with a ferocity so you surrender unconditionally. It is a very kind of Jacksonian way of thinking.

Now this hasn’t gone completely away in the post-war era in fact it’s very strong in American domestic society it pops up from time to time in American leadership and foreign policy mostly Republicans used to be Democrats but after the war Republicans took on this mantle. You can see it in Richard Nixon’s economic nationalism – we have to screw our allies before they screw us and close the gold window. You see it in Ronald Reagan’s populism – simple man speaking simply over the heads of the government directly to the people. You see it in George W Bush’s forces are against us be a part of our tribe or not. I think the way the American liberal establishment thinks about this is sort of like the crazy uncle in the basement – part of the family but we don’t really want him coming upstairs very often because they embarrass us. In front of other people the crazy uncle is not only upstairs he is running the household now is the way to think about it.

Alright so that’s kind of the rhetoric and the world view but what about Trumps policy ok? Here is where I think the story gets a little more interesting because even though where only 10 months in this has got to be preliminary, there seems to be to me quite a disparity between that rhetoric and what is actually being carried out by the Trump administration in foreign policy. In some ways Trump doesn’t talk the talk of American leadership but he is sort of still walking the walk. Let me just describe that briefly by looking at those three key regions that are the anchors of American grand strategy – the Middle East, East Asia and of course here in Western and Central Europe.

Look at the Middle East for example, much more continuity than change – war on terrorism the United States is still deeply committed, Trump made that clear from the beginning he was going to fight ISIS, he had secret plan and all that. But think about what he did in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan after 16 years instead of saying where just fighting the terrorists where not trying to stabilise Afghanistan he decided to stay in and increase the US commitment. The argument he made and was convinced by is fascinating because it is the same argument that the United States has used since September 11th 2001, it’s a sanctuary argument. The argument is basically you need to stabilise Afghanistan so it doesn’t become a future haven for terrorism. Well this is an argument for pretty much perpetual intervention in the region because terrorists move around a lot and there is a lot of instability in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf, in South West Asia, in the Northern part of Africa, in the East horn of Africa there are plenty of places for terrorists to find an unstable home. The United States have just discovered that Americans are very active in Niger and places like that, Americans being killed there. So Trump has essentially bought into the logic of this is what the United States has to do post 9/11 in order to stabilise the region and protect American security.

Similar arguments about Iran. Trumps been very critical of Obama on Iran – the agreement was a mistake, Obama was too close to Iran. Trumps strategy is to try to contain Iran by creating an alliance of Sunni States right his first State visit very curiously was to Saudi Arabia again not sort of within keeping of what American Presidents normally do. But the strategy he’s adopting fits very well in the thirty year span of how the United States has thought about the Persian Gulf and in particular relations with Iran and Iraq. Look at it this way Ronald Raegan looked at this two countries and said Iran’s a bigger threat than Iraq so we will side with Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war. The first George Bush came along and said my goodness we miscalculated Iraq is the real threat we are gonna take them down and he did in the first Persian Gulf War. Clinton came along and said well we still have to contain Iraq but we also have to contain Iran we need, Anthony Lakes famous phrase ‘dual containment.’ The second George Bush came along and said we have to get rid of Saddam Hussain Iraq’s the real threat and they did. Barak Obama came in and said well now Iran is really strong but where trying to get ourselves out of here so maybe we need an inaudible with Iran. Now Donald Trump’s come in and said no an agreement with Iran is wrong we still need to play this game but we now have to contain Iran. In many ways business as usual.

Look at East Asia. When Trump came in his strategy towards China was going to be very unconventional – I am going to speak directly to Taiwan, what’s this one China policy we don’t need that, on day 1 we will name China a currency manipulator, really turn on the screws economically. Well look what’s happened over time. His foreign policy towards China is very much a standard Republican or even mainstream foreign policy – negotiating economically, recognising the importance of intersection but trying to get the Chinese to do more, denying them hegemony in East Asia. Trump if anything has increased Americas patrols in the South China Sea. Respecting the one China policy and trying to get their help diplomatically on North Korea.

Then look at North Korea. If there was ever an opportunity for the United States to act more like an ordinary great power it would be in the case of North Korea. North Korea is a nuclear power that’s not a question anymore it has been 20 and 60 nuclear weapons. It’s developing missile launch capabilities. One strategy would be deterrence – it’s a hostile state if it ever uses those weapons it would be destroyed that’s America’s deterrence strategy. But American leaders Trump included think of North Korea differently, it’s not a hostile state to be deterred it’s a problem to be solved. We can’t accept that it is a nuclear power, we need to find a way to roll that back with sanctions or diplomacy or even with threats of warfare. That in keeping with the United States strategy towards North Korea since 1994 under the Clinton administration.

And finally look here in Europe. The Trump administration has managed through its rhetoric to alienate most of America’s allies notwithstanding comments about NATO being obsolete, the strategy has really been to strengthen and bolster NATO especially once it became clear to Trump that the relationship with Russia he was hoping for wasn’t going to materialise. So especially in the Baltics and Poland you’re seeing more of an American commitment right troop rotations, prepositioning equipment, we’ll spend more if you spend more. United States in the 1990s made a really big commitment in its security expanding NATO and taking on all kinds of other security responsibilities that it didn’t have during the Cold War. Trump hasn’t rolled those back he’s reaffirmed them.

Ok so we have this gap between rhetoric between words and deeds between rhetoric and action and you know one question is how do we account for it, how do we explain it and I don’t think there is any obvious answer to this but I want to throw out a few which we might pick up more on in the discussion.

One might just be Presidential style. You know Donald Trump is a lot of bluster, I grew up in New York I know the personality type, lot of talk, talk, talk, talk all the time. Not a lot of vocabulary but a lot of talk. Teddy Roosevelt said speak softly and carry a big stick, Donald Trump says speak loudly but just speak loudly right that’s his thing. So for some there is really a lot of hot air don’t look at what he says, look at what he does.

Second possibility this is about domestic politics. Trump is a very unusual President, what Presidents in the United States do is run for office by appealing to their base then tap into the middle once elected in order to govern and then be re-elected. Trumps not doing that, he’s not worried about increasing the coalition he is worried about just protecting the narrow base. He’s done that using foreign policy as a political instrument. He’s paid a high price diplomatically but that seems less important to him than providing the kind of red meat which his base needs whether it is pulling out of the Paris accords or making statements about disastrous trade agreements or disastrous agreements with Iran or whatever. So some people will look at domestic politics and find the answer there.

For some this is about palace politics right, just below Trump maybe the real fight is going on between the Bannon wing and the so-called Generals, the responsible Generals if you believe that, Mathias and McMaster. The rhetoric is being driven by Bannon and his people, the policy is being driven by Mathias and McMaster that is another explanation. Bannon’s now gone which would lead people to think that maybe the rhetoric is going to line up more conventionally with the policy but then again no-one can control Trump. Kelly here is very interesting the chief of staff because Kelly is a Jacksonian. He’s a General and a lot of times people say he is part of that responsible adult crowd but he is also a Jacksonian so that makes the politics interesting here.

Fourth possibility what Barak Obama effectively called ‘the blob’ the foreign policy establishment. You know it’s a big machine and Presidents who want to change foreign policy in some fundamental way have to get the government to work with them, it’s very hard to do. Nixon was very good at that, Nixon had a plan and Nixon had Kissinger and they centralised foreign policy, ran it out of the white house and made it happen. Well Trumps no Nixon and he doesn’t have a Kissinger. He has a dis-organised and dysfunctional government, he hasn’t even filled a lot of the political posts of the assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretary level. So the default is the permanent government is running things more than people might expect.

A final possible explanation to think about is the realities of the international system. One thing to talk about what you are going to do when you sit in that office things look very different. Trump being a kind of blank slate has actually conceded that in some remarkably interesting ways. His first approach on North Korea was to say China’s going to solve the problem. Then he said he met with Xi Jinping and he explained the history of Chinese/North Korea relations and my goodness this is complicated. It was like who knew, right. He did the same thing in some ways with Afghanistan he said his instinct on Afghanistan was to pull out but after talking to the Generals and others he was convinced in this one instance maybe he shouldn’t follow his instinct. So there may be a kind of learning dynamic going on having to deal with the realities of international relations.

The bottom line here is we don’t know and we don’t know on two levels. I don’t know if there is a gap between performance and rhetoric is going to continue and it’s not clear what’s driving it so this is more of a wait and see but I think it’s important to see it now and to look ahead and know what we are looking for in terms of whether it is going to persist.

Okay one last point and that has to do with the importance of rhetoric. So, so far I have talked about the difference between words and deeds and how they don’t really match up. I don’t want to leave the impression that deeds matter and words don’t because words matter a lot. Let me just close by talking a little bit about three ways the rhetoric of the Trump administration has been, whatever your politics are, damaging to American foreign policy.

It first has to do with diplomacy which is an important instrument of statecraft and diplomacy’s about words. The West and the United States have some very important diplomatic advantages in the world. All that liberal internationalism, democracy and free markets and human rights and the rights of the individual that’s a weapon in foreign policy. It’s a weapon if your Russia or China or Iran or North Korea. Especially Russia and China that have populations that might find those kind of things appealing. Trump in some ways has conceded that advantage unnecessarily by talking about moral equivalents – they do bad things, we do bad things to. Be praising dictators like Putin he’s giving the impression that the United States system doesn’t really matter all that much. I think that is a gift he has given both to Putin and to an increasingly authoritarian China.

Secondly think about the problems of inadvertent conflict. International relations is a noisy environment, statesmen are always trying to figure out how you separate the noise from the signal. What are the real vital interests, what are the red lines, what will they really fight for to defend? That’s always the issue especially in East Asia today. Well Trump has increased the noise level significantly and in such a way that creates greater and greater uncertainty in international relations. This I think is dangerous, it’s dangerous not simply because states don’t know what he might do but states might conclude that he’s just a bluffer, that he’s all bluster. When he says ‘North Korea will not have missiles’ and people see that North Korea has missiles and North Korea will face fire and fury and it doesn’t face fire and fury because the reality is there is no good military option there. If that happens the conclusions some states may draw incorrectly is that they can step over lines that the United States isn’t going to defend and those are the kind of things you worry about not advert war but inadvertent war and international relations.

The finally there is crisis management. This is the one I think we need to worry most about in the current North Korean context. More than one observer has said the North Korean crisis is like the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion. Well greater Cuban missile crisis was about diplomacy and it was about each side giving the other a face saving way to retreat from the situation. Well Trump and his partner in crime Mr rocket man over there, this is exactly what they’re doing. Hurling insults back and forth, escalating the rhetoric which makes it hard for each of them to back down in the face of their domestic audiences. That’s a great risk and in some ways the greatest short-term risk that we face.

Alright 30 minutes that’s about where we should end and I look forward to questions and discussions.

Lord Risby

Well thank you very much and that really way just fascinating and I thought your insights were quite exceptional so I am sure there are many, many questions. So if you could just indicate perhaps who you are then we can proceed so this gentleman here.

Question 1

I am Dan Young I would like to draw a parallel between inaudible you said language and crisis management I would argue that if Trump creates the risk that he has inaudible… has limped and has underestimated by Khrushchev the documents that Kushner thought he was going to win and therefore Khrushchev went to Cuba therefore the crisis run itself. It seems almost inadequate to have that continuity emphasising continuity, the continuity of as the leader of America you can make mistakes in many, many different ways inaudible…

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Yeah I think that’s a great point and I would agree with it to a point, I would agree to it to the bay of pigs which is where Kennedy and experienced President made a mistake listened to people in retrospect he said I listened to people too closely and yes and I was humiliated by Khrushchev in that first meeting when Khrushchev said he would annihilate the United States. Kennedy I think had a learning capacity and by the Cuban missile crisis realised ok I can’t overshoot now I actually have to figure out a way to be both firm and accommodating and the naval blockade was a good way to do it. Whether Trump has that capacity at this point remains to be seen.

One point I make though which is one really interesting difference between the two. In the Cuban missile crisis Kennedy realised that the President has such power over his own advisors in a crises that advisors might take their cue from the President thinking that’s what the President wants and the discussion will tip that way. He purposely absented himself from the first several meetings of that executive committee so that people could discuss all the options themselves without him tipping his hand. There is a real contrast here to Trump. Trump is looking for serious advisors there was that bizarre scene in June on television where every advisor in the cabinet room had to say something about how great it was to be in the administration it was very strange kind of dynamic but to me it said something about when you get into a crisis are you going to have people telling you what you need to hear or telling you what you want to hear? So that to me is a very interesting potential historical contrast.

I think there’s a great article if I can be professional for a second, a great article to be written on the Cuban missile crisis and the North Korea thing based on those internal dynamics I haven’t seen that done yet. Thanks.

Lord Risby

Yes please

Question 2

Thank you very much indeed for sharing your insights with us. My name is Andrew Lowe, compared with previous administrations it seems that unlike for example Putin, the situation with Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have a grand strategy to maintain US predominance or leadership. It seems that Trump displays some symptoms of withdrawal from certain responsibilities and unless it can be quantified in terms of money or cash or any relevance. It seems to translate into weakening because the leadership of the rest of the world expects, if this is the case my question to you is that what would it mean to the world order are we facing a safer world are we facing a more uncertain world when our powers are exerting their influence, you know where do we go from here?

Professor Michael Mastanduno

That’s a great question. I think it depends on where in the world we are. I think one consequence if I were a smaller state in East Asia I’d be calculating now whether my hedging strategy can still be sustained. You know it’s great to trade with China and have security from America as an insurance policy, can I still play it that way or do I have to use the political science term bandwagon more with the Chinese. I also think America’s role in East Asia has actually been a stabilising role, I believe that. I believe given the historical animosities between the Chinese and the Japanese in particular but also involving the Koreans that the United States has been in affect a reassurance strategy for all parties, even though the Chinese wouldn’t necessarily admit it being a lid on Japan, keeping China contained but doing it in a way which creates special partnerships.

In the Middle East I think the United States frankly is making something of a mess, maybe we all have its true historically, fair point. So it’s not clear to me what happens if the United States doesn’t exert leadership in that part of the world because leadership has already led to greater instability.

So I think I would want to think about this more by region than what it means for the whole world order. But I agree with you there is no grand strategy unless it’s one that the administration is backing in to. The argument I’ve made is unconsciously they are backing into a continuity strategy but they haven’t articulated that and they don’t have a plan for how the pieces connect to each other you are absolutely right. For Trump it seems to be an episodic series of deals not a inaudible that’s a model you’re not going to find that right but even a good nationals security advisor will sit down and say how do the pieces all fit together in this cause you have got the opposite you have got a situation where at the very same time you’re asking South Korea to work with you on the North Korean problem you’re saying by the way we are re-negotiating on a trade agreement with you as if the two aren’t connected when for everybody else in the world they are connected so I think in that sense your right.

Lord Risby

Gentleman here

Question 3

Thank you very much for your talk Vincent inaudible I am a member of the Society. I want to talk about something you opened with, inaudible architecture of international peace has existed since 1945 you said it really hasn’t been questioned by any President coming in the US since the 1950s and the institutions that you mentioned are basically 70 years old. So my question to you is a basic one, is it about time that someone questioned this architecture which is 70 years old and is what he’s asking, why do we have 33,000 troops in South Korea, what are they doing there their trip wire they can’t fight against a million troops from North Korea. Angela Merkel in the G7 said we have to take our fate into our own hands now, Germany hasn’t taken its own fate into its own hands before they just lived under inaudible… American autonomous and America is the protector so there are good aspects I think asking kind of basic questions about it and I wondered if you could maybe comment on that.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Yeah I totally agree I don’t think the debate is the problem. In fact I thought the debate should be had in 1990 but it certainly needs to be had now, the question is what kind of strategies are there is this an all or nothing is this a kind of we pull out of all the regions in the world and let the chips fall where they may or is there some kind of strategy that says look in East Asia you need to remain and this is why, there is a hegemonic threat there, there are all kinds of historical problems there. In the Middle East you got a different kind of situation maybe in Europe it’s time to play it a little bit differently, Russia is certainly not what the Soviet Union was.

So yes I actually agree that that debate should be had and needs to be had and that’s why I framed it that way because I think before Trump and whoever is President this debate is coming. Trump kind of comes into it in a way that throws the whole thing off because he basically doesn’t engage in that debate self-consciously. So yeah my simple answer to you is about time to have the debate.

Lord Risby

Gentleman on the left at the back.

Question 4

Thank you very much for your discussion. My name is David Craig formerly of the British government but currently work in British Airways. I inaudible… last year I think it was when the American Secretary of Defence was talking and his pitch went out extremely inaudible Trump because it was essentially we are paying far too much, you  are paying far too little, you guys need to step up to the plate and make your share. I guess the difference was the Americans then perhaps on a strategy of withdrawal before dumping the whole thing and disappearing.  But it seems to have even in this narrative there is continuity between what Mr Obama is saying and what Mr Trump is saying.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Yes I mean I think there is and it’s not surprising because remember the debate and the pressures underneath it didn’t just come from Trump. I mean Trump in some ways is a carrier a man of the station, he is just an extreme version of what we expected to see. I think we expected to see incrementally this debate move and more and more pressure for burden sharing. Remember the sharing debate goes back to Nixon it goes back to the 1970s and in some ways that was the last time we really had the burden sharing debate in a major way. Nixon of course basically said we raise tariffs and close the door until you spend more on NATO defence to those who failed to fill the amendment at the time. But what was different then was during the Cold War there were limits to how far the United States was going to be willing to push. There is just more discretion and more uncertainty after the Cold War because it is possible to say that would get rid of all of it. It might not be Putin but at least it is in the range of possibility without the constrains of the Cold War.

Lord Risby

The gentleman over there.

Question 5

Inaudible… cancellation of that enigma that is the current President. It was put to me in Washington last week that there may be more substance on Korea than we think in that the conclusion is that this is a land that has been kicked down the road far too long it can’t be kicked much longer and that by dealing with it, it will reverse engineer to dealing with Iran which really is much more inaudible.. however the danger is that red lines have been drawn and when they get crossed you might inaudible for severe escalation. But it does suggest there is more strategy, a joined up strategy on Korea than to most people it would appear from the outside.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

So good interesting thing to think about. I’ve spent some time thinking about that is there kind of a rationality of irrationality strategy going on here where you really get people’s attention by escalating it and the question to me is how do you deal with it right, we’ve kicked it down the road but how do you deal with it, what are the options for dealing with it are the question. It does not seem to me, well to most people that there is a good military option so if dealing with it means pressuring the Chinese there’s a strategy there. The way you get China’s attention is by getting closer and closer to that line where China has to say maybe we have to rethink our own calculation of how far we have to go to pressure the North Koreans but what a pain they are, talk about having a relative in the basement you don’t like the Chinese have that problem with the North Koreans.

The question is at the end of the day how far will the Chinese go and then where’s it leave the Trump administration if it can’t get the outcome it needs. Then they run into this problem of does it now look like we bluffed and can’t follow through or do you find yourselves forced to try to follow through in some damage limiting way. I don’t think there is one because if you look at American war play it is very clear how you fight this war and there is only one way really to fight this war and it ends with the complete destruction of North Korea. I mean there is no way around that I think the Chinese know that, the United States know that and the potential for the Chinese and the Americans to be drawn in is profound.

So there may be a strategy there and it may turn out to be a brilliant strategy if you could push other players enough without having to pull that trigger. It’s a risky one which is why people have kicked the can down the road and if the alternative is just we have to deter the state it is very hard to believe simultaneously that Kim Jong-Un is crazy enough to use nuclear weapons because he wants to protect the integrity of his regime. If he is so irrational then you are playing a whole different game but if you believe there is rationality there then you make the case that nuclear weapons are needed existentially for him to protect his regime well then deterrents would work.

This is a tough question and I think your assumptions are going to drive it, Americas assumptions have been this state is irrational and we will use nuclear weapons. Well just look back historically it was another case of a state that Americans believed in the middle of the 1960s it was so crazy that if it ever got nuclear weapons who knows what would happen. It was China. Cultural revolution what could be more threatening than that but it turned out that yeah they became a nuclear power, they learned to live with it, you learned to deter them. You may have to do this in this case even though it’s a real hold your nose strategy.

Lord Risby

Could I just add one thing however it does require a direct contact as part of the package between the two countries. I happen to chair the British Ukrainian society and it’s exactly the same thing they are not particularly interested in what the French or Germans or anybody else thinks it’s the United States and that has to be a bit of a quantum leap by the United States to do that.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

I think you are right.

Lord Risby

Please I am sure there are plenty more questions that people would like to ask. Yes would you like to go on…

Question 6

You talked about Trump and this comes back to the Cuban missile crisis of whether Trump can learn not to be too tough at the same time not to be so weak as to be taken advantage of and I wanted to get your thoughts on how his approach to the Iran deal has unfolded because he has come up with what seemed to me as kind of a middling way which is I will ask Congress to strengthen the deal but I won’t quite pull out of it. Yet at the same time in Europe this has been treated with absolute horror that you know he is unwinding this agreement and everyone had agreed to it. So to what extent can he strike that middle course without necessarily prompting either reactions from Europe or reactions from Iran which cause him problems down the line?

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Yeah it’s a very tough diplomatic problem and he boxed himself in rhetorically in domestic politics so quickly. They are ways to say look the agreements not perfect we have to live with it and by the way that’s what he is saying because the way the agreement is written the Iranians may be observing the terms of it. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s a good agreement but it may be that there observing the letter of it. He is hamstrung by that because he can’t decertify them on the grounds they have violated it so look the decertification was kind of weak made well we have to consider if the sanctions we have in place are tough enough you know that’s like number 4 the fourth bullet in decertification. But he’s paid such a high price for it.

If he hadn’t boxed himself in he might have been able to say look the real problem is Iranian adventurism, Iranian ballistic missiles, where going to bracket this deal. The deals not perfect I would like to do better with the deal but we can hold on to that but what I am really going to do is go after them in this other areas and that I think would have not raised the kind of niggles it does In Europe because after all this is a collective deal this is a P5 and German deal right you’re really not just saying we don’t like the deal you struck over here or France struck with the Chinese and the Russians. So he’s got himself into a tough situation and I don’t think he can satisfy the domestic constituency that really thinks he can overturn the deal. He doesn’t have anything better anyway I mean what’s the alternative here. He doesn’t have it.

Question 6

One thing is what I’ve heard professor is the Generals who are very influential on all this think that Trump has actually got a point. They have seen the effects of the JCPOA on their own troops in the Middle East and other places as well and they do see the deal maybe as something that is advantageous to Iran an something that does encourage or doesn’t discourage Iranian adventurism in the region which is damaging to American interests. So I have heard argumentation that actually this is a deal that may indeed move forward and that there may be some teeth behind it simply because the influential Generals actually share Trumps view on the JCPOA.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Well they can actually separate these issues. You can be tough on Iran while at the same time saying for now this is the best nuclear deal we can get you can do that right and still be tough on Iran. Bundling it all together and saying the way we be tough on Iran is to unravel the deal that we all made right and that by the way maybe a kick the can down the road but it may be the best the United States can do at that point given Iranian interests and intentions and then you could go hard in the other areas. I mean it’s not clear to me what military officials don’t believe actually there are things about this deal we like, it gives us some time right maybe some time for this regime to collapse, at the same time there are things about it we don’t like which has to do with our ability to inspect they might be able to cheat right until we have to play that game with them. But there’s still the mega issue of nuclear adventurism, ballistic missiles and all the package.

Question 7

It doesn’t help that part of the problem is the psychology of the person I mean I get the feeling that he is narcissistic, unstable, very in tune in some ways desperately trying to prove that he is better in tune than everybody with his bizarre statements inaudible… all Presidents that have ever gone before are worse than me and I wondered to what extent with things like the Iran deal as with Obamacare and everything else there is partly a desire to move out what his predecessors done. Whether there is a particularly worrying situation in relation to the North Korea situation that in some ways there is a remarkably similar psychology between the two Presidents and that could be awfully dangerous. They’ve both got the tendency to blow things up out of proportion to make very, very vile claims and it’s awfully easier to see inaudible with those problems when you think how close we were when you mentioned the Cuban missile crisis, how close we were that people like Robert Morrissey survived by luck not by good judgement you think well if we do get in a problem is there a terrible inaudible with these two personalities that something could just go wrong.

Professor Michael Mastanduno

Yes I mean without delving into psychoanalysis which I can’t do, I share your concerns about the two leaders and I share your sense of the personality type. Try to look historically at is there analogue here some people have thought about Keziah inaudible who has famously said that he was the kind of person who believed that every day should be his birthday right and Trump has a little bit of that right, it’s about me every day you know so there is that and we haven’t had to deal with that so much in the modern era certainly not at the height of American power so yeah I do I think it’s a big unknown in terms of how these things would play out.

There’s an argument in Washington that Mathieson and McMaster have this deal that one of them always has to be in Washington so you know, so they won’t both travel outside at the same time. I don’t know I mean can you really control somebody that way, I’m not sure and are they going to get tired of this eventually and say look it’s somebody else’s job I don’t know so yeah there is a big unknown here.

We think personality matters but never with this much of a range of uncertainty.

Lord Risby

I think this probably has to be the final question I’m sorry but the gentleman over there.

Question 7

Inaudible.., I teach foreign policy at the University of London and I feel very humbled. My question is the last 5-10 years there has been a lot of queries or debates about power shifting from the West to the East. Is this a President who is pushing at a longer, faster pace than we expected now I have African students who turn round to me and say we’re not interested in America anymore we don’t need it. As long as Trump is opening up these opportunities that China is filling that Russia is filling I just wonder what your view would be on that?

Professor Michael Mastanduno

I agree and I think it’s a bad thing for the West. I do because it’s not clear to me that it’s and either or but what is clear to me is that Chinese strategy in Asia is taking full advantage of America’s seeming disinterest in let’s call it governments and the rule of the game. The TPP I think to me was the best example of this, this was one of the best strategic moves the United States made in a long time to basically tell the Chinese we are going to write the rules of the world’s economy in the world’s most dynamic region and your choice is either to go along with those rules or sit outside of it. It made total sense and that combined with TTIP bracket both ends of the belt and road initiative.

Think about what they meant it meant if we consolidate the European/American trade relationship and the American/East Asian trade relationship China you can spend a trillion dollars going to a bunch of unstable places with the belt and road initiative but the core of the world economy is still this tri-lateral Western based thing. Well the United States shot itself in the foot multiple times right, Congress did it on TTP made sure he shot himself again in the foot and the Chinese have stepped in and basically said look the belt and road initiative is like the Marshall plan – it’s China what now is creating the new rules of governance. What’s the United States response to it, I don’t see one I see the United States saying you know free trade and trade relationships are things we should be sceptical of as if we can develop a growth strategy in America by turning inward I just don’t see the strategy. I see it as a political strategy but I don’t see it as an economic one.

Lord Risby

Well I would like to say this I have actually met him twice and the only thing I can tell you about him is that he does have a sense of humour and secondly he likes us and the reason why he likes us is because he had a Scottish mother who greatly admired the queen this was the basis in our conversations. So I don’t know what you can draw from that but anyway on a slightly more serious note this has been an absolute treat I think we can all agree about that. This has been a most stunning insight into all the possibilities and all of the thinking surrounding the phenomena Mr Trump and the White House and the importance still of the United States and what it does on the world stage and if I may say so myself you have done it in one of the most superbly dispassionate, fair-minded ways and on behalf of everybody here may I most genuinely thank you most warmly.


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