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Opinion: What can we expect from President Trump's defence policy? Working with Putin, for a start

President Trump will be confronted by a wide range of long-standing security and terror threats, writes Tom Clonan.

Tom Clonan Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

DONALD TRUMP’S ELECTION to the highest office in the United States has caused considerable worry, dismay and upset in international political and media circles.  Particular concerns have been raised about the impact of Trump’s presidency on international security.  Some commentators have suggested that he will embark on an isolationist strategy for America that could lead to instability, a worldwide recession and even the threat of war with countries such as Iran or North Korea.

So, from a security and defence perspective, what do we know about Trump’s ideas on defence and security – and what exactly will that mean for world peace and security?

When President Trump is sworn into office in January 2017 he will be confronted by a wide range of long-standing international security and terror threats.  The origins of many of these threats – but not all – originate with the pre-emptive and highly interventionist military decisions of the Bush administration which included the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As a direct and indirect consequence of US foreign policy decisions taken by the Bush administration – and subsequently by President Obama – the political and military situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and closer to home in Ukraine and Crimea have deteriorated considerably.

In a parallel development, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is believed to be close to acquiring the technology to successfully launch a nuclear warhead easily capable of reaching US allies South Korea and Japan – with the added real prospect of a ballistic missile capable of reaching the west coast of the United States.

Lessons from the Bush administration

On President Obama’s watch, relations with Russia, Iran and China have also deteriorated. Defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had proposed to continue the foreign policy imperatives of the Obama administration and to pursue a vague foreign policy strategy outlined in a very short document prepared for and published by her Democratic campaign team.

For his part, in September of this year, Trump’s defence and security team published a more detailed set of aspirations with regard to national security and defence.  Trump’s advisors include seasoned Republican Senators with experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee along with the outgoing Chair of the House Seapower Committee.

These key figures – including Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who is tipped by some to be nominated as Secretary for Defence – have formulated this defence strategy, apparently based on ‘lessons learned’ from the Bush administration’s military adventures. It is important to note that Trump himself is not the architect or author of his own defence strategy –  which is broadly consistent with revised Republican doctrine.

Peace Through Strength

To be specific, according to this policy, Trump proposes to increase spending on the US military by approximately .5% of US GDP per annum during his term of office.  This increase of $80 billion per year – to a total budget of $360 billion – is designed to increase the number of US ground forces, including Army and Marines, from 480,000 under Obama to in excess of 540,000 troops under Trump.  Trump and his advisers have argued that the US military has been eroded and degraded during the last two presidential terms and that it requires this increase in numbers to preserve its ‘capacity’ and ‘capability’ to ‘respond to rapidly evolving and newly emerging threats’.

The identity of these ‘rapidly evolving’ and ‘newly emerging’ threats are hinted at in Trump’s stated plan to build 42 new naval ships – mostly missile cruisers and submarines – to increase the strength of the US Naval fleet to over 350 vessels capable of deploying US missile defences on a global scale.  This, according to Trump’s advisors, would allow the US to counter the emerging nuclear threat posed by Iran, Pakistan and North Korea, completely independently of her current NATO allies and the requirement for siting such missiles on allied territory.

Trump also plans to increase the US Air Forces strike capability – including tactical nuclear weapons – to a total of around 1,200 combat aircraft.

Trump’s strategy here is described as ‘Peace Through Strength’, a philosophy based on the notion of a credible deterrent to nuclear attack through renewed investment in the ‘triad’ of air, sea and land-based anti-missile capabilities.  Perhaps as a consequence of these proposed developments – or perhaps for propaganda reasons – President Putin has commenced large scale drills throughout Russia for nuclear war scenarios, of a type not seen since the Cold War.

Trump’s pro-Russia stance

In relation to Russia however, Trump and his advisors have stated that the dramatic deterioration in relations between Washington and the Kremlin during Obama’s presidency has been unnecessary and regrettable.  The President-elect’s stated view is that the foreign and domestic concerns of both Russia and the United States with regard to terrorism and security are – and ought to be – shared.  In other words, that the United States should join with Russia in its attempts to destroy Islamic State and its stronghold in Raqqa and to then act together to force a transition from power of President Assad.  Trump claims to have the pragmatic negotiating skills as a ‘businessman’ to strike this deal with a ‘like-minded’ Putin.

Trump’s team also claim – not unreasonably – that US military interventions worldwide to date have failed and have made the world a more dangerous and insecure place.  Trump is said to believe that war does not make business sense and ‘destroys wealth’.  In a move that some regard as a dangerous return to American isolationism, Trump has vowed to move troops out of Europe and the Middle East and demand that America’s allies shoulder the burden of their own collective defence.

Trump’s negative comments about NATO in this regard are believed to give voice to his annoyance that only five NATO members spend 2% of their GDP on defence.  His ‘threats’ to the stability of the alliance are believed within NATO to be a negotiating device aimed at forcing reluctant European governments to spend more on defence and military hardware.

Russia, Syria and Iraq

Many of Trump’s critics have stated that he would be ‘temperamentally unsuited’ to the task of commander-in-chief of the US military.  Many have expressed fears that he might press the nuclear button if provoked.  To reassure nervous readers, the idea of a US president having this sole decision is a myth.  Such a momentous decision must be reached jointly with another designated member of cabinet such as the Secretary for Defence and can be vetoed by others if the president is deemed unfit to make such a drastic call.

In summary, Trump does propose increasing military spending and confronting Islamic State.  He is also seeking to counter the ‘emerging threat’ of a nuclear Iran, or the possible subsequent nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Asia.  It will be very interesting to see if he can achieve a rapprochement with Russia and some sort of joint effort at resolving the crisis in Syria and Iraq.  America has spoken.  We live in interesting times.

Read more from Tom:

2016 has become the year of the lone wolf attack carried out by angry young men

Invisible police and invisible politicians are the roots of Dublin’s narco terror violence

About the author:

Tom Clonan  / Security specialist and columnist, TheJournal.ie

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