Follow us on social


Bolton's bluster on China strategy is all hot air, as always

At least he is consistent. Biden's policy may be unclear, but the former National Security Adviser offers nothing to fill the gap.


In an opinion piece appearing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, John Bolton rightly calls attention to the need for the Biden Administration to issue a clear China strategy. This has yet to appear, despite the critical importance of America’s relationship with China. 

Thus far, U.S. policy has consisted largely of a series of broad statements by senior administration officials peppered by repeated references of an intention to compete, confront, and cooperate with Beijing where possible; some general agreements or understandings in specific areas such as climate; and most recently, a virtual summit meeting between President Biden and President Xi Jinping. While a positive step forward, the last development provided little more than some reassuring remarks and the prospect of future bilateral working groups on major policy issues.   

For all of his bluster,  Bolton provides no China strategy of his own to fill this gap. He focuses only on two (albeit very important) issues: Taiwan and strategic arms. And his policy views toward both are exactly what one might expect from a committed neoconservative wedded to U.S. military primacy and preemptive warfare: double down on deterrence toward Beijing, treating Taiwan as a de facto ally and a critical strategic location necessary for containing China within the first island chain. Moreover, he wants to counter China’s supposedly existential nuclear threat to the United States by jettisoning the U.S.-Russia nuclear deal and strengthening America’s “global nuclear umbrella.”

Mr. Bolton needs to stop regarding every security problem the U.S. faces as a nail to be whacked with an American hammer. Treating Taiwan as a strategic asset to be denied Beijing through military means, as Bolton seems to suggest we do, is the surest path to an otherwise avoidable conflict with China. Taiwan is an important democratic friend, but it is not a vital component of America’s defense. It is primarily a political problem that cannot be solved by ever greater levels of U.S. military strength and open-ended support for the Taiwan government. China is too big, too strong, and too committed, and the island is far too close to the Chinese mainland, for such a simplistic approach to work, even if financially viable (which it is not). 

The only viable U.S. strategy for managing this problem over the foreseeable future is to reinject new life into Washington’s anemic One China policy by clearly limiting its political and military ties with Taipei even as it pressures the island to do much more for its own defense, while also building the U.S. capabilities necessary to prevent a Chinese miscalculation. Few Americans will agree to send their sons and daughters to fight and die for a Taiwan that fails to do what is required to defend itself.  This is especially true if Washington is seen as provoking such a conflict by throwing away the only policy approach that has preserved the peace in Asia.

On the nuclear front, Bolton again seems to think that more weapons are always better. A renewed nuclear arms race, this time including China, will simply deplete U.S. resources desperately needed elsewhere without adding one whit to U.S. security. China’s nuclear weapons pose a direct potential threat to the United States, and its increasing nuclear arsenal indeed requires Beijing’s entrance into some level of strategic dialogue with the other nuclear powers. But this should proceed on the basis of a U.S. recognition of the reality of mutual deterrence based on mutual vulnerability, and a desire to place clear limits on those types of nuclear weapons that make such warfighting more acceptable, not on some destructive effort to eliminate all restraints.

Bolton is right to demand an actual China strategy from the Biden Administration, but we don’t need the strategy he appears to be pushing.

John Bolton (Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)
Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia
Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace

Diplomacy Watch: How close were Russia and Ukraine to a deal in 2022?


The RAND corporation’s Samuel Charap and Johns Hopkins University professor Sergey Radchenko published a detailed timeline and analysis of the talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators just after the Russian invasion in February 2022 that could have brought the war to an end just weeks after it had begun.

Much of the piece confirms or elucidates parts of the narrative that had previously been reported. In the spring of 2022, the two sides appeared relatively close to a deal, one that, according to the authors, would “have ended the war and provided Ukraine with multilateral security guarantees, paving the way to its permanent neutrality and, down the road, its membership in the EU.”

keep readingShow less
Blinken ignores State recommendation to sanction Israeli units: Report
L-R: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after their meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on Monday, January 30, 2023. DEBBIE HILL/Pool via REUTERS

Blinken ignores State recommendation to sanction Israeli units: Report


State Department leadership is ignoring a recommendation from an internal panel to stop giving weapons to several Israeli military and police units due to credible allegations of serious human rights abuses, according to a major new report from ProPublica.

The alleged violations, which occurred before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, include extrajudicial killings, sexual assault of a detainee, and leaving an elderly Palestinian man to die after handcuffing and gagging him. Secretary of State Antony Blinken received the recommendation in December but has yet to take action to prevent the units involved from receiving American weapons.

keep readingShow less
Europe's hopelessly murky, mixed messaging on restraint

Ursula von der Leyen (CDU, l), President of the European Commission, stands at the lectern in the European Parliament building. Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, sits in the background. The EU Parliament is debating the attack on Israel and preparations for the EU summit at the end of October. REUTERS

Europe's hopelessly murky, mixed messaging on restraint


The EU has condemned Iran’s April 14 drone and missile attack against Israel conducted in response to Israel’s lethal bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria on April 1. However, while the condemnation is unanimous, EU officials and individual member states have different positions on the issue.

Those differences broadly reflect the pre-existing divisions on the Middle East since the war in Gaza started last October. Even though the EU is united in its calls for restraint and de-escalation, these divisions are limiting the diplomatic role Europe could play in actually bringing those objectives closer to reality.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis