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Early Days – the Trump Administration


The hasty high-level diplomatic visit of United States Defence Secretary Jim Mattis to Seoul has highlighted two issues in the early weeks of the Trump administration: the importance of South Korea (ROK) for foreign policy objectives and their duplicity surrounding the proposed siting of a US-led defence and security THAAD system in the country.

The issues are also inseparable from general hawkish and militaristic stance of the Trump administration and their supporters.

Early in February US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis travelled to Seoul for his first overseas diplomatic mission. It was no great surprise he chose the ROK. The southern half of the peninsula has remained a strategic centre for 'US interests' for over half a century. Its significance and importance has steadily risen on US agendas in recent times: the ROK has been chosen to host 'an advanced US missile defence system' the Theatre High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD). (1)

It was therefore to be expected the Mattis visit to the ROK was to discuss 'with the South Koreans a timetable for deploying' the 'advanced US missile defence system'. (2)

The THAAD forms part of a much wider US-led regional and global defence and security system. In the Asia-Pacific region it is linked into provision established by the recent implementation of the Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) planned during earlier Bush administrations. The US is linked into the regional in a triangular form with Australia and Japan being strategic regional hubs for 'US interests' with other countries subsequently linked into the hubs. The general aim of the GTDS is to reassert US hegemonic positions assessed as being threatened by China.

The recent period has been marked by the US reopening numerous bases and military facilities across the Asia-Pacific region. Their presence has not been particularly difficult to observe: 28,500 troops permanently based in the ROK are linked to a further 50,000 in Japan, numerous US-led and coordinated military exercises take place on the regular basis. (3) The annual Cobra Gold military exercises, ostensibly joint manoeuvres between the US and Thailand, 'now involve more than twenty countries'. (4)  

A central component of the US-led militarism is their X-band system: an 'early warning radar' used for regional monitoring and surveillance. (5) Sited in various locations the system has provided the US with the ability to assess the emergence of China as a major world power.  

The proposed THAAD system is a further addition to the already existing defence and security provision. Its proposed siting in the ROK has, however, been highly controversial. Most ROK residents do not want the system in place, they are well-aware of the implications. President Park has also been impeached on corruption charges, rendering the ROK a politically volatile US ally. 

There have been huge protests and demonstrations led by the political opposition together with trade unions and other progressive organisations mobilising hundreds of thousands of people. The whole of Seoul has been brought to a standstill on more than one occasion by millions of protesters. Those involved are 'deeply critical of the close strategic relationship South Korea has with Washington and its allies, including Australia'. (6) The US are clearly worried their position in the ROK is possibly becoming untenable; diplomatic options, to maintain existing positions, are limited. Influence, nevertheless, has been brought to bear.

A recent carefully-worded media release from Seoul noted 'the caretaker South Korean government has said it supports THAAD deployment, but the decision is in doubt because of approaching elections'. (7)  Those concerned are well aware 'the country's next leader will be from one of the left-of-centre opposition parties leading the charge against her'. (8) 

The lameduck ruling administration in Seoul would therefore appear more likely to serve 'US interests' even though it is highly unpopular: it is easier for the US to manipulate, and for good reason. The proposed siting date of THAAD falls within the set period of presidential office, due to expire at the end of the year.  

The present government in Seoul and their US advisors clearly do not want to allow the political opposition to make the proposed THAAD deployment an election issue. If they do so, they are likely to not only lose but also be implicated in publicising the highly sensitive nature of the system and the duplicity of the US position. 

Official media releases about the THAAD system tend to concentrate upon the northern DPRK as a major adversary and threat posed to the ROK. The US have consistently ignored or denied allegations the system is also intended to target both China and the Russian Federation. In fact, the recent media release about the Mattis visit to Seoul stated 'THAAD should be a worry to no nation other than North Korea'. (9)  

The information, however, runs counter to previous media releases which appear to originate from better placed and informed sources. Duplicity would appear to have already become a standard method of operation for the Trump administration.

An earlier official media release from the US Congressional Research Service during the Obama administrations declared they were 'laying the foundations for a regionwide missile defence system that would combine US ballistic missile defences with those of regional powers, particularly Japan, South Korea and Australia'. (10)

The statement was likewise supported with further incriminating information which included 'the focus of our rhetoric is North Korea', but, 'the reality is that we're also looking longer term at the elephant in the room, which is China'. (11) The fact most countries across the region possess effective diplomacy and extensive trading relations with China has been conveniently overlooked by the US. They continually seek to dislodge Chinese influence across the region through wave after wave of militarism. 

Intelligence collection, through western allies, is a central feature of the US-led defence and security provision. It is not difficult to monitor. The ROK and Japan have recently 'signed an intelligence-sharing pact, late last year'. (12) The planned visit of newly appointed CIA director Mike Pompeo to Canberra in early March also forms part of the same planning, with particular emphasis upon the use of military facilities at Pine Gap in central Australia which is a strategic link to US facilities on Deigo Garcia in the Indian Ocean. It is also significant Pompeo has been noted as 'a long-time supporter of expanding the government's surveillance powers'. (13)

It is, however, when observing the resurgence of far-right political positions and the diplomacy which has accompanied it that the picture becomes clearer:
Within the Trump administration one of the 'closest advisors' was Michael Flynn, appointed National Security Advisor. (14) There remains little ambiguity in the far-right nature of his political position, or the type of advice offered to the incoming president. Media statements have used terminology remarkably similar to 1950s Cold War rhetoric, referring to noted adversaries of US interests as 'political ideology akin to a malignant cancer'. (15) While the adversaries change, the terminology used to describe them has remained consistent.  

The fact Flynn lasted a mere 24 hours before being compromised and dismissed is evidence in itself of the deep-seated dysfunction within the White House. One face may have gone, but their supporters nevertheless remain in prominent decision-making positions. 

It has, however, been a recently released media statement about the Asia-Pacific region from the Hudson Institute which has provided a particularly far-reaching insight into US foreign policy and military planning. The institute, forming part of a strategic, far-right, outsourced, freelance intelligence service, issued a major statement in early February shortly after the Trump inauguration. While there was no reference to the proposed THAAD system in the ROK to avoid unfavourable publicity there was little doubt about the role of the US-led and ROK-based system in broader regional terms. 

Foreign policy toward the region was specified with the statement 'to restore US strength and prestige in the Pacific and rebuild trust and alliances, America needs to reassert its traditional presence and role in the region' with use of 'cutting-edge weapons systems that will increase America's defence advantage'. (16)    

The statement also highlighted a problem with existing regional alliances: it noted 'America's defence relationships with its Asian allies are bi-lateral, like spokes in a wheel. There is no multilateral security framework like NATO. Take away the US hub and the entire system falls apart'. (17) There is little doubt who is the puppet-master. The statement continued with a detailed specification about the role of the US with it having to 'show its friends the way forward', defining 'friends as Australia, Japan and South Korea'. (18)  

Make no mistake, the US are preparing to unleash war in the Asia-Pacific region. We should be on our guard. 

Those ROK residents who have protested across the country in recent months are heroes. Progressive people across the region should offer their support and applause. 

1.     Mattis issues sharp nuke warning to North Korea, Weekend Australian, 4-5 February 2017.

2.     Ibid.

3.     Ibid.

4.     US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012.

5.     U.S Seeks New Asia Defences, The Wall Street Journal, Friday-Sunday 24-26 August 2012.

6.     Potential crisis looms in Korea, Editorial, the Australian, 12 December 2016.

7.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 4-5 February 2017.

8.     Australian, op.cit., 12 December 2016.

9.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 4-5 February 2017.

10.   Wall Street Journal, op.cit., Friday-Sunday 24-26 August 2012.

11.   Ibid.

12.   New Defence Secretary's first trip settles nerves in Japan and South Korea, Australian, 6 February 2017.

13.   CIA chief's visit a bid to mend fences, Australian, 14 February 2017.

14.   Editorial, Stability goes out like Flynn, Australian, 16 February 2017.

15.   Donald's first casualty as security advisor falls on sword,  Australian, 15 February 2017, and   see, The Assault on the West, Ian Grieg, (London, 1968), Foreword by Sir Alec Douglas Home, as a good example of the demonisation of adversaries and western war-mongering. 

16.   Mattis takes reins as Americans face crisis of credibility in Asia, Australian, 2 February 2017.

17.   Ibid.

18.   Ibid.


Early Days – the Trump Administration
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