John Bolton Tapped for NSA: What Does It Mean for US-Russia Relations?
Peter KORZUN | 26.03.2018 | WORLD / Americas

John Bolton Tapped for NSA: What Does It Mean for US-Russia Relations?

John Bolton, a Yale-educated lawyer known as a foreign policy hawk, has been appointed National Security Adviser (NSA), in a major reshuffle of President Trump’s administration. He officially takes office on April 9. No Senate confirmation is required. Welcome back, Mr. Straight Talker!

Mr. Bolton has a long history of government service, including in the positions of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and ambassador to the UN, the organization he once described as “no such thing” and wants to be defunded. John Bolton scorns international institutions and does not believe that engaging much with the world is in keeping with US interests.

This soon-to-be NSA is an experienced lawyer and “think tanker,” as well as a foreign-policy pundit who has written a multitude of books and articles. He’s a deft and ready speaker whose gift of gab can win over an audience at any time. The National Security Advisor-designate even considered entering the presidential races in 2012 and 2016.

In his frequent television commentaries, Mr. Bolton has always advocated tough approaches and never missed an opportunity to support using force rather than wasting time on fruitless diplomacy. For instance, he has advocated for a military option to solve the problem with North Korea and for boosting cooperation with Taiwan in order to irk China. He takes a very hard line on Iran. "To stop Iran's bomb, bomb Iran," sums up his position.

Mr. Bolton believes the JCPOA was a blunder. He wants the US to push Iran out of Syria and topple President Assad’s Tehran-friendly government. With his appointment, the chances of the US certifying the Iran nuclear deal appear to be somewhere between zero and zilch. Mr. Bolton has always been pro-Israel and backed the idea of a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran to knock out the facilities there related to its nuclear program.

The late Jesse Helms, a well-known hawk, once claimed Mr. Bolton would be the right man “to stand with at Armageddon.”

The newest appointee has championed the idea of raising tariffs to unleash trade wars.

With these two very hawkish Republicans — John Bolton and Mike Pompeo — Donald Trump will be under strong pressure to adopt a get-tough approach to all major issues. Gina Haspel, another hawk, will have frequent access to Donald Trump in her role as the newly appointed CIA director. The spirit of Barry Goldwater lives on.

John Bolton has always been critical of Moscow and it is almost unanimously believed that his appointment does not augur well for US-Russia relations.

In response to President Putin’s speech in which he unveiled the existence of his new super weapons, Bolton emphasized the need for “a strategic response.” He has called on NATO to offer a strong reaction to what is known as the Scripal case, expressing his conviction that the POTUS was considering such a response. The latest choice for National Security Advisor endorses the idea of providing Ukraine with lethal weapons and wants the West to take a much tougher stance on Russia. John Bolton will certainly advocate for expediting Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic alliance, as well as granting those nations the status of Major Non–NATO ally of the US.

He strongly criticized President Obama’s “reset policy.” Yet despite all that, he never launched personal attacks against Vladimir Putin. He always seemed to genuinely enjoy his visits to Russia, including press conferences and visits to think tanks. Despite his tough talk, he has always been amicable and ready to communicate. He has a long list of personal acquaintances, including many in senior government positions and academia. John Bolton worked with Sergey Kiriyenko, Russia’s First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration, back when the latter headed Russia’s State Commission on Chemical Disarmament.

Mr. Bolton is an experienced negotiator on strategic arms-control issues. John Bolton was a strong advocate of the US withdrawal from the 1972 BM Treaty. He took part in the talks over the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) that was in effect until the New START went into force. John Bolton sees the New START as a unilateral disarmament agreement that is at odds with US interests. President Trump has also decried that treaty.

Being a hawk does not make him a hopeless prospect. He views the interests of his nation in his own way, but he wants America to lead, not perish in a war it can’t win. His experience in strategic arms talks is invaluable. Mr. Bolton has a good understanding of security-related issues.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was a Russia hawk, a tough guy no one could make a deal with. Remember his “joke” about dropping bombs on the USSR in five minutes? Or his “Evil Empire” speech? During his second term, the landmark INF Treaty was signed and the friendly environment of the US-USSR summits were proof that bilateral relationship had clearly evolved beyond its Cold War roots.

The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev believes that "He has already entered history as a man who was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Cold War." President Reagan ended the Cold War and made it possible to ease the nuclear tensions in the 1990s.

Agreements will remain elusive on many issues and negotiations on some key matters may even break down, but dialog on arms control will probably continue because it meets vital US interests and Mr. Bolton knows that well.

In the end, the decisions are made by the president, and while advisers may have influence, they only advise. President Trump has many people around him to help him see issues from different viewpoints.

Tags: NSA  Bolton