CONTAINMENT BACK: NORTH KOREA, CHINA, IRAN, RUSSIA BACK IN YOUR BOX!
It is easy for political leaders to downplay strategic-military threats that do not match their own view of the world or the political narrative of the time. The national security apparatus in western democracies plays along because we rightly have civilian control of the military. President Obama's draw-down in Iraq, even though the intelligence warned otherwise, led to the unabated rise of the Islamic State, and that has now, spread like a malignant tumour around the globe. North Korea under Obama is another case in point, and now President Trump has to deal with a series of strategic-military 'hang-overs' from Obama's age of 'hope and helplessness' such as China, Iran, and most dangerously Russia. First, take the regime in North Korea. It is easy to underestimate the threat North Korea poses because of the antics of the regime. I too have fallen into the trap of making fun of its leader voted best-dressed in North Korea for several years now in a row, the hysterical haircut he sports and the rampant psychocis of the North Korean regime and people. It's easy and convenient to mock Kim Jong-un but North Korea is a serious strategic-military threat left to its own devices for too long and now these threats have to be contained. The North Koreans have the largest missile development program in a region where daggers are drawn at the best of time, a nuclear program, they routinely threaten their neighbours, and sometimes attack them. Now they need to be put back in their box and need to know that their bad acts will result in punishment. One of the first acts of the Trump Presidency was to send United States Defense Secretary, James Mattis, to Asia with visits to South Korea and Japan to deal with North Korea and China. In South Korea, Secretary Mattis announced that Theatre High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) a terminal stage, Missile Defense system would be up and running in 2017. When North Korea started to make threats about raining missiles down on its neighbours, Mattis made it clear that any military action by North Korea would be met by an "overwhelming response." China was no different, Secretary Mattis warned that the United States would defend Japan's territorial integrity and that included the disputed Japanese-held Senkaku Islands. This essentially reinforced comments made by United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, when he warned China on its territory grab in the South China Sea that the United States might restrict China from its man-made islands in disputed areas of the region, and President Trump warned that the United States might reject the 'One China Policy' and give increased support to Taiwan. Iran faced a similar warning when United States National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, warned Iran following a nuclear-capable ballistic missile test last weekend that "all options were on the table" and President Trump cautioned that Iran is "playing with fire" and that he was not as forgiving as Obama while smacking them with new sanctions. Secretary Mattis in a similar fashion labelled Iran the world's largest agent of state-sponsored terrorism. Not surprisingly, several western states have announced new military exercises in the region including the United States, United Kingdom, and France. Most interestingly the United States has announced that Yemen, in a state of civil war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, is now a key state. Very clearly, the United States is drawing a line in the sand for Iran, and pushing them back from increased influence on the Arabian peninsula. Lastly, Russia got hammered by Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, on its latest offensive in Ukraine, and told that there would be no repeal of sanctions until Russia withdraws from seized Ukrainian territory. The message from the Trump administration is unmistakable and it is the traditional United States foreign policy of containment. North Korea, China, Iran and Russia have all been given the message to get back in their collective boxes. The Mexico wall and the Travel Ban on seven Muslim countries linked to terrorism is President Trump's way of saying, "deal with your problems and clean up your act, or I will do it for you." In so doing, Trump is returning to the foreign policy positions and traditions of past Presidents of the United States where Presidents Clinton and Obama are now the outliers of containment. The message is unmistakable, the United States is not back to playing its role of 'world policeman' and 'Leader of the free world.' Of course, words and intentions have to be followed-up by concrete actions of the Trump administration but this is a step in the right direction.