On Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said of North Korea that the current U.S. “focus is on diplomacy to solve this problem that is presented by the DPRK. We must, however…be prepared for the worst, should diplomacy fail.” Not surprisingly, most recent commentary and analysis on the current North Korea crisis has focused on the prospects of either a near-term conflict or a diplomatic way out. That focus is understandable, but fixates on the two least likely outcomes. Rather than preparing for diplomatic or warfighting scenarios with a nuclear-armed North Korea, the United States should be preparing for a sustained period of deterrence, coercive diplomacy, and rollback. This is the best approach to achieve the international community’s long-stated goal of the eventual peaceful denuclearization and reunification of the Korean Peninsula at an acceptable cost.
The recent story of Australian defense policy is straightforward. Faced with an increasingly adverse strategic outlook, Australia has been bolstering its defenses since the turn of the century. In the past 15 years defense spending has increased by 75% in real terms, defense personnel numbers are up by 18%, and military modernization is underway across the board. At the same me, Australia has demonstrated its alliance credentials through stalwart support of US‐led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. As a result, there is little doubt that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) is now more capable and more inter‐operable with the US, and the Australia‐US alliance is stronger than at any time since at least the Vietnam conflict.
But the strategic environment has continued to deteriorate on multiple fronts. Most alarming has been China’s annexation and militarization of contested territory in the South China Sea. It is hardly surprising then, that Australia unveiled plans last year to further expand and modernize its own defense force. Just about every aspect of the ADF is slated for expansion and/or enhancement over the next two decades, but the centerpiece is a US$50 billion naval construction program. In addition to new classes of anti‐submarine frigates and offshore patrol vessels, 12 new French‐designed submarines — much larger than any extant conventional submarines — will replace the six existing boats. To pay for this large‐scale program, the government has promised to increase defense spending to 2.1% of the GDP by 2020.
The Regional Security Outlook 2017, prepared by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) and available at www.cscap.org, conveys an unmistakable sense of despondency. The Outlook includes a cluster of assessments by regional analysts of the security picture across the region as a whole and two smaller clusters focusing on what CSCAP deems the most acute challenges to stability and order in the region – North Korea’s nuclear weapon program and the dispute in the South China Sea.
The RSO 2017 contends that both principal actors – the US and China – believe themselves to be too wise and wily to stumble into a replay of the Sparta-Athens drama of 2,500 years ago but now stand exposed as capable of exactly that. Geopolitical contest, so stoutly denied over a number of years, intensified markedly, and was at last more openly acknowledged. We can, and should, take some reassurance from the fact that the tilt in the balance of power and influence in Asia is likely to be neither quick nor decisive. Although the drift of the US-China relationship toward difficulty and coolness inescapably heightens the risk of inadvertent incidents, neither side has any interest in conflict.
As the Trump juggernaut rolled across the US on election day, turning the political map red, anxious foreign leaders began to contemplate a new world order of a kind few had envisaged.
Could it be that Donald Trump, the quintessential change agent, would administer the last rites to Pax Americana, the US-led rules-based Western order that had prevailed since 1945, thereby achieving what China, Russia and legions of anti-American jihadists had failed to bring about?
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen believes Donald Trump’s shock win signals the end of Pax Americana. Many others agree, among them former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, who sees the failure of Barack Obama’s signature Trans-Pacific Partnership as ‘symbolic of the dismantling of the post-World War II order in which the US had sought a global leadership role’.
It is very tempting for political leaders to react to Donald Trump’s victory with anger or disdain. Leaders who express such sentiments can be sure to be applauded. And we have seen plenty of such statements over the past few days.
But to alienate the next US President is unwise, as it will harm European interests. Instead, Europe must try to influence Trump’s policies and his decision-making by engaging with him. And it must start to work on a plan B.
Geopolitically, Europe is far from being strong or independent enough to survive a more or less hostile Trump presidency without major damage. It needs an active and engaged US to keep NATO alive and kicking, to help manage relations with Russia and to deal with growing instability in the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, Europe has a major interest in being involved in US-Chinese relations, as peace in East Asia is vital for the European economy.