John Bolton and How to Start a War With North Korea

With the appointment of John Bolton, an avowed warhawk and man who has never fought in any war, now being appointed as the new National Security Advisor to Donald Trump, a look at one of his writings while he served as a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute gives us a good idea of how he will approach North Korea and its moves to become a nuclear state. 

Let’s start by looking at the duties of the National Security Advisor.  According to a paper by Stephen Hadley, a former National Security Advisor under George H. W. Bush, the province of the National Security Advisor are as follows:

1. Staffing and supporting the President in playing the President’s constitutional role in national security and foreign policy.

2. Advocating and advancing Presidential initiatives within Executive Branch.

3. Injecting a sense of urgency into the interagency process.

4. Coordinating those important or consequential initiatives and policies that require the concerted effort of multiple departments and agencies to achieve a Presidential objective.

5. Injecting a sense of strategy into the interagency process.

6. Explaining the President’s policies to the public.

National Security Advisors are not supposed to insert themselves between the President and the principal cabinet secretaries and heads of federal agencies.  They are also not to undermine their national security colleagues with the President or advance themselves with the President at their expense.  The President is to be put at the centre of the decision making process, in other words “The Decider”.

With that background, let’s take a closer look at John Bolton and what we can expect from him.  In his February 28, 2018 musings, “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First” which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, George W. Bush’s former Ambassador to the United Nations (August 2005 to December 2006) waxes poetically on his views of how the Trump Administration should handle Kim Jong-un’s flagrant disregard for all things American.  In this brief analysis, he looks at the timing of pre-emptive attacks from the perspective of the test of “necessity” as historically formulated by Daniel Webster.  In 1837, British forces from Canada invaded American territory to seize and destroy the steamboat Caroline which had been used by American sympathizers to transport weapons into Ontario (Upper Canada), then a British colony.  Webster asserted that Britain failed to show that “the necessity of self-defence was instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation and that the British force, even supposing the necessity of the moment authorized them to enter the territories of the United States at all, did nothing unreasonable or excessive; since the act, justified by the necessity of self-defense, must be limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it. and, as such, regarded this as an intrusion into America’s territorial waters.  The Caroline test has two requirements, necessity and proportionality as follows:

1.) The use of force must be necessary because the threat is imminent and thus pursuing peaceful alternatives is not an option (necessity);

2.) The response must be proportionate to the threat (proportionality)

With this logic, Mr. Bolton states the following:

Pre-emption opponents argue that action is not justified because Pyongyang does not constitute an “imminent threat.” They are wrong. The threat is imminent, and the case against pre-emption rests on the misinterpretation of a standard that derives from prenuclear, pre-ballistic-missile times. Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation….

Would an American strike today against North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program violate Webster’s necessity test? Clearly not. Necessity in the nuclear and ballistic-missile age is simply different than in the age of steam. What was once remote is now, as a practical matter, near; what was previously time-consuming to deliver can now arrive in minutes; and the level of destructiveness of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is infinitely greater than that of the steamship Caroline’s weapons cargo….

Although the Caroline criteria are often cited in pre-emption debates, they are merely customary international law, which is interpreted and modified in light of changing state practice. In contemporary times, Israel has already twice struck nuclear-weapons programs in hostile states: destroying the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad in 1981 and a Syrian reactor being built by North Koreans in 2007.

This is how we should think today about the threat of nuclear warheads delivered by ballistic missiles. In 1837 Britain unleashed pre-emptive “fire and fury” against a wooden steamboat. It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current “necessity” posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.” (my bold)

This is not the only time that Mr. Bolton has weighed in on North Korea.  Here are some of his comments from a February 12, 2018 piece in “The Hill” entitled “North Korea Wins, America Loses, with our Olympic Appeasement“:

Appeasing authoritarianism comes in many forms. All of them are ugly. Some are obvious and extremely dangerous, and some are subtle, indicating a mindset portending future danger because of a propensity to ignore reality. Opening the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, prominent American media outlets displayed the latter appeasement mentality in full measure, becoming stenographers for North Korea’s propaganda machine. Reflecting boundless gullibility, representatives of our free press stepped up to carry Pyongyang’s message.

Virtually North Korea’s entire purpose for participating in these Winter Games was to generate just such reactions. Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship is seeking propaganda advantage of South Korean President Moon Jae In’s “sunshine policy” to make inroads into global public opinion, to split Seoul from Washington and Tokyo in dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, and to distract America and the international community from the imminence of North Korea’s ability to target any spot in the world with nuclear weapons.

By agreeing to a “unified” team marching in Pyeongchang’s opening ceremonies, flying a flag showing an undivided Korean Peninsula, by forming a joint women’s ice-hockey team and by sending a large delegation of North Korean officials and “citizens” to support their athletes, Kim Jong Un played on the naïve and the gullible, of whom unfortunately there are all too many in both America and South Korea. The capstone of Kim’s propaganda campaign was the invitation to President Moon to visit Pyongyang for an inter-Korean summit. Delivered by the North’s nominal top official, Kim Yong Nam, and Kim Yo Jong, sister of the current dictator, the invitation was accepted reflexively.

Most noticeable initially about U.S. press coverage of these carefully programmed developments was the near-uniform lack of historical memory. Because the media either did not know or did not care about this history, the reporting carried the breathless excitement of something “new” that might lead to a diplomatic resolution of North Korea’s nuclear threat…

Moreover, diplomatic progress is not possible here because Pyongyang’s purpose is not to “open a dialogue” for the umpteenth time with Seoul, Washington or Tokyo, but to conceal and distract from its menacing activities. Having the media fall for the “rapprochement” line rather than seeing the concealment motivation was precisely Kim’s objective. The U.S. media fully met his expectations. And then some. Vladimir Lenin is often credited with coining the phrase “useful idiots,” but even he would not have predicted the rhapsodizing we have seen….

While the media fun was unfolding, Pyeongchang’s Olympics organizers reported that their computers may have been hacked, and they are now investigating. Maybe those cheerleaders have other skills as well. Have reporters done any investigative work to ascertain where North Korea, under so much “pressure” of economic sanctions, found resources for the Olympics? Were they subsidized by South Korea, China or others, as has so often tragically been true, thereby subsidizing the dictatorship?

When P. T. Barnum allegedly said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” he may have been understating the problem. Not that you’d know it from our establishment media.

Apparently, there’s nothing a hawk hates more than overtures of peace.

Mr. Bolton’s views are in sharp contrast to a statement given to the Senate Committee on Armed Services by General Vincent K. Brooks, Commander, United Nations Command, Republic of Korea in support of the Commadner of the United States Pacific Command in which he states:

The year came to an end with a 73-day hiatus from North Korean provocations, interrupted by the 29 November (Korea date – and 28 November in Washington) ballistic missile launch that achieved the highest apogee and longest flight time yet. In the time since that event to the submission of this report, we have experienced another hiatus from provocations. This is worthy of note, given the rapid pace of testing that characterized 2017.

The steady application of focused international pressure may be having an effect, given the recent signs of rapprochement between North and South Korea. Both sides cooperated at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea and have pursued cultural exchanges in conjunction with athletic engagements. In addition, they agreed to conduct military engagement around the re-established border hotline and explore other senior official meetings in order to improve relationships between the countries and ease tensions on the Korea Peninsula. We continue to observe and closely coordinate with our ROK partners during these recent developments. The ROK government believes that dialogue must be added to pressure in order to move toward denuclearization. My frequent encounters with the senior leadership of the ROK government make this clear. South Korea will respond to North Korea’s sending an Envoy and a representative to the ROK during the Pyeongchang Olympics, while conveying a unified Alliance demand for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.” (my bold)

At least someone in the higher eschelons of the U.S. military is hopeful that the proposed high level talks between North Korea and the United States in combination with the imposition of sanctions can avoid a costly and long-term war.

Apparently, John Bolton has never seen a war that he doesn’t like, except perhaps for the Vietnam War which he managed to avoid by enlisting in the Maryland Army National Guard to escape the draft.  According to Military.com, he wrote this about the war in Southeast Asia in his Yale 25th reunion book:

I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy.  I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.

At least he has an absence from fighting in Vietnam in common with his new boss.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner in May 2015, he had this to say about the decision to declare war on Iraq based on Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction:

I still think the decision to overthrow Saddam was correct. I think decisions made after that decision were wrong, although I think the worst decision made after that was the 2011 decision to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces.  The people who say, oh things would have been much better if you didn’t overthrow Saddam miss the point that today’s Middle East does not flow totally and unchangeably from the decision to overthrow Saddam alone….And that’s the other fallacy of those who say it was clearly a mistake, because you can’t assume if he had stayed in power, sweetness and light would prevail in the Middle East today.  I am convinced he would have gone back to the search for nuclear weapons.  He had kept 3,000 scientists and technicians together, he called them his nuclear Mujahadeen. They’re the ones with the intellectual capability to rebuild the program.” (my bold)

One thing is certain, John Bolton appears to be only too willing to sacrifice America’s sons and daughters to promote his version of “worldwide peace and security“, particularly when it comes to North Korea.  We can be assured, however, that he won’t be anywhere near the front lines of any conflict that he may recommend to the President of the United States. 

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