The appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser completes what some experts are calling a “war cabinet” of military hawks surrounding President Donald Trump, a move that will raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula before a repeatedly said he believes that China can be coerced into “either overthrowing the regime” or “merging the two Koreas effectively under South Korea’s control.” But that’s simply not in China’s interests, according to Adam Mount, an expert on U.S. nuclear strategy and the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists
“It is surreal and frankly irrational to imagine Beijing, with U.S. forces on their doorstep, deciding to invade DPRK, then handing it over,” Mount said.
This sentiment was echoed elsewhere in Asia on Friday. In Japan, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said he was “a bit surprised” by the appointment, but didn't anticipate any major changes in U.S. policy on North Korea.
Further afield in Russia, when asked if Bolton's appointment was a good idea, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters “that is not a question for us, it is for the U.S. administration,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday, adding that he hoped there would be more people in the White House who “can see beyond the wave of Russophobia.”
Whatever the rest of the world thinks, the significance Bolton's appointment will likely first be felt in Korea, and in particular in relation to the upcoming summits.
Bolton previously said he thinks the negotiations will be short-lived.
“I think this session between the two leaders could well be a fairly brief session where Trump says, ‘Tell me you have begun total denuclearization, because we’re not going to have protracted negotiations. You can tell me right now or we’ll start thinking of something else,’” he told Washington’s WMAL radio station earlier this month.
While Bolton may not try to derail the talks, he could use them as leverage to push for more drastic action.
"Bolton could be strategically thinking two or three steps ahead. It could be argued that [Bolton] knows the talks are not going to work," Kelly said He could then ”use a failed summit … to market a conflict or an airstrike to Trump on those grounds."
Alan Mendoza, executive director of the neo-conservative British foreign policy think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, believes that Bolton’s appointment will work in the U.S.’s favor during the talks by ensuring North Korea knows all options are still on the table.
“[The appointment] is more a message to North Korea than South Korea that the US is serious about solving this issue, and will take any and all means necessary if sanctions and negotiations fail to avert a fully armed nuclear state,” Mendoza told VICE News.
But as Mount points out, if Trump gives into Bolton’s instincts, the talks could instead lead to disaster.
“It’s hard to overstate how extremist this view is. While there are other commentators that want limited strikes, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone that openly condones invasion,” Mount said.. “It would almost certainly lead to nuclear use and the deaths of millions.”
Cover image: South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, right, shakes hands with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton during their meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, Tuesday, July 20, 2004. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)