Trump at Davos & Australian Comments on US Defense Strategy Statement

Trump at Davos

What with the likely winners of both the women’s and men’s Australian tennis being Swiss and the address by Trump at Davos, the Swiss are in the News. Once again Trump found a phrase which helped rebut the criticism of his “America First” statement by adding “but not America alone” and, with China in mind, emphasising the need for “fair” trade as well as “free” . Separately, it is reported that Trump approved  increased duties affecting about $US10bn of imports but it is not clear whether this was “justified” on a fair trade assertion. An article in The Economist, republished in yesterday’s The Australian, says that the actions were “broadly in line with the steer from the US International Trade Commission” and were weaker than sought.

There will doubtless be media criticism of his use of Davos to again attack the media itself (the boos he received when doing so are unusual at the  more official-type Davos).  But judging by the BBC report on his reception (see BBC on Trump at Davos), his decision to attend (and his meeting with May confirming that he will make a visit to the UK and will have tea with the Queen) will not have adversely affected his image.  According to the BBC report “ mention his name in the bustling foyer of the Congress Centre, and the reaction is surprisingly benign.Many attendees shrug indifferently, rather than launch into an angry rant”. Of course, because of its small size, “protesters” were not allowed in Davos but there was ample opportunity for critics at the Forum. I have seen no comments on Mother Nature’s climate decision to present attendants with what seemed on TV to be large amounts of snow!

US Policies on Defence and Iran

In earlier Commentary I have referred to policy statements by US Foreign Secretary Tillerson and US Defense Secretary Mattis and suggested that their capacity to make such statements seems to reflect Trump’s recent (unannounced) decision to extend a much greater delegation on relevant policies than Obama allowed.

An interesting development is that Tillerson has now persuaded the three European countries who signed up Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran to  identify possible problems and how they might be dealt with. On 27 January Tillerson is reported as saying that “The working groups… are looking at the scope of what to address in the Iran deal, as well as how to engage Tehran on possible fixes to those issues”. “What we have agreed to do is work with our European counterparts, the E3 most particularly, and ultimately the [European Union], to identify what areas we believe have to be addressed and a mechanism by which we can address those.” (see Tillerson on Iran Nuclear Deal).

On 20 January Defense Secretary Mattis published a new Defense Strategy indicating that  “Though we will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, the great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security,” Mattis said in his opening statements at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.The new strategy is “fit for our time,” Mattis said. “Though he identified a number of threats to the US like North Korea, Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda, the NDS was focused more on China and Russia.  “We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia are from each other. Nations that do seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models,” Mattis said.In the document itself, China and Russia are both mentioned by name in the introduction” (see Mattis Statement on US Defence Strategy Jan 2018).

The text of this important 11 page statement is in the attached. It implies that the US aims to restore a defence policy which will extend more widely and effectively in geographic terms. Of course, it is one thing to attempt an upgrading of defence policy, but quite another to find the money to effect the upgrading of equipment et al. It is reported that Trump proposes to ask Congress for an increase of 7 per cent in defence in 2019 and is likely to find that difficult to obtain (see Trump Proposes Big Increase In Defence Spending).

An important aspect of the new Defense Strategy is the emphasis on alliances. The following extract (see page 10) indicates the broadness of the approach adopted by Mattis.

“Enduring coalitions and long-term security partnerships, underpinned by our bedrock alliances and reinforced by our allies’ own webs of security relationships, remain a priority:

  • Expand Indo-Pacific alliances and partnerships. A free and open Indo-Pacific region provides prosperity and security for all. We will strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains. With key countries in the region, we will bring together bilateral and multilateral security relationships to preserve the free and open international system.
  • Fortify the Trans-Atlantic NATO Alliance. A strong and free Europe, bound by shared principles of  democracy, national sovereignty, and commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is vital to our security. The alliance will deter Russian adventurism, defeat terrorists who seek to murder innocents, and address the arc of instability building on NATO’s periphery. At the same time,  NATO must adapt to remain relevant and fit for our time—in purpose, capability, and responsive decision-making. We expect European allies to fulfill their commitments to increase defense and modernization spending to bolster the alliance in the face of our shared security concerns.
  • Form enduring coalitions in the Middle East. We will foster a stable and secure Middle East that denies safe havens for terrorists, is not dominated by any power hostile to the United States, and that contributes to stable global energy markets and secure trade routes. We will develop enduring coalitions to consolidate gains we have made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, to support the lasting defeat of terrorists as we sever their sources of strength and counterbalance Iran.
  • Sustain advantages in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. derives immense benefit from a stable, peaceful hemisphere that reduces security threats to the homeland. Supporting the U.S. interagency lead, the Department will deepen its relations with regional countries that contribute military capabilities to shared regional and global security challenges”.

Yesterday the Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Payne, acknowledged the importance of the Mattis statement made a week ago but neither she nor Turnbull appear to have made any statement. In the report below The Australian’s National Security Editor, Paul Maley, suggested  that “We look like strategic amateurs”. I would not be surprised if Payne has yet to meet Mattis. We await an announcement that out pitful defence spending will be increased from below 2 per cent of GDP to reach that size by 2021.

Leave a Reply