What Does John Bolton’s Departure as US National Security Advisor Mean for China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran?

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

John Bolton, who was just fired as the US National Security Advisor presents a somewhat unique figure in US foreign policy establishment circles in that he is against almost everyone globally and one of the very few “America First” proponents. In fact, he’d described himself as an “Americanist” much before President Donald Trump popularized the America First slogan.

While Bolton was Ambassador to the UN, he considered his mandate to be getting the US to do as little as possible with the body. Bolton has been scornful of traditional US military allies and was extraordinarily hostile to rivals and enemies.

But with his departure, will we see a new reckoning in US foreign policy? More specifically, what would the implications be for countries with which he has had serious disagreements?

The biggest impact will immediately be felt with regards to the US position on North Korea and Iran as Bolton was vehemently against accommodating either state. It’s early to say exactly what this means for Trump’s foreign policy until he appoints a replacement – but it at least signals that he was uncomfortable with the extent of Bolton’s hawkishness; Trump is known to be opposed to US intervention abroad.

In the cases of Russia and China, the impact will be more subtle, and developments can be expected to take time. However, it can be viewed as a signal that the Trump administration wants to move in a more conciliatory direction, especially with Russia. The issues with Russia, more so than China, concern the US national security sphere, so that is where the biggest potential impact will be. For China, it is more difficult to predict the impact of Bolton’s ouster as a lot of the ongoing tensions have been commandeered by economic agencies, advisers, and bureaucrats within the US government. I still personally think things will get a bit worse with China before they get better, and that China has probably already won the trade war, by shifting supply chains from the US to countries, such as Russia and those within the Asian sphere of influence. I touched upon this in the article Is it Now Russian and Chinese State Policy to Push US Exports Out of China? 

For many though, John Bolton’s positions were just too extreme, sometimes bordering on paranoid, even for Trump. There will be sighs of relief at his departure across Asia. But whether this news signals a change in the overall Trump strategy towards trade issues remains to be seen.

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