Donald Trump has only been President for eight days and yet he has managed to ignite fears across the world that his policies and his attitude and philosophy could easily provoke a world war. His hostile tone towards China has sparked the country’s People’s Liberation Army, via their website, to publish an article in which the views of a senior military adviser within the Central Military Commission had said that the potential of war between China and the US was becoming a “practical reality.” The Central Military Commission has overall authority over China’s military forces. The senior official wrote:
“A war ‘within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality.”
The official also called for deployments in the South and East China Seas and for a missile defence system to guard the Korean peninsula.
President Trump has consistently held a hardline view of China, threatening trade wars and accusing the country of “currency manipulation.” More worryingly, he has also abandoned the long-standing One-China policy in American administrations which placates China’s disputed claims over Taiwan. Trump has angered Beijing by publicly engaging with the Taiwanese President Tasi Ing-wen. Although many in the West don’t accept Taiwan is part of China, Western politicians have tacitly respected China’s adamant belief that it is. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has gone further and called for naval blockades of new artificially created islands developed by China in the South China Seas, which could be interpreted as an act of war by China. Reports this week suggest that China has moved long range missiles to within striking distance of the United States, close to its north east border in Heilongjiang province. Pictures of the missiles have been leaked on social media, possibly as a warning to President Trump.
Meanwhile, a former British General, Sir Richard Barrons – who was the commander of UK’s Joint Forces Command – has suggested that Trump’s confrontational style, based on his experience in business, may provoke a war. The former General said he feared the President would do something “mad” and his win-or-lose mentality was “psychologically normal” in a businessman, but “deeply dangerous” in a world leader. He spoke further on his fears to the Association of European Journalists:
“In my tiny and unpleasant exposure to the commercial world, it seems to me you go into a negotiation … and you know you can walk away. But in geopolitics there’s no walking away,
“If Mr Trump is confronted – given the nature of his approach to his life so far – he may respond in a way that is psychologically normal for him but deeply dangerous for the rest of us.”
He too was concerned that war could begin the South China Sea. He described the Chinese military as “ambitious” but “very inexperienced.” He imagined the scenario of a Chinese commander locking onto a US aircraft with its fire-control radar, which would be perceived as an offensive act. He continued:
“What if that American commander isn’t so confident that he just chins it off, if he launches his missile in response, which under self-defence he’s entitled to do? And sinks a Chinese ship? Where does that take us?
“Wars generally start for really bad reasons and the red mist descends and you lose control … I think the risk of that is evident.”
General Barrons was more optimistic about people around Donald Trump. He said that he knew General James Mattis (Secretary of Defence), General John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security) and General Michael Flynn (National Security Adviser):
“Particularly John Kelly and Jim Mattis are first-rate military warriors who understand how to operate at a strategic level. They understand the interface between the military, politics and policy and are steeped in hard campaigning,
“What they are not is politicians in any way and they’ve gone into political jobs … if their jobs come down to using their judgement and experience that they have, they’ll provide superb advice.
“But if they’re dragged into a political way of doing business, this will be uncharted waters.”
Away from the threat of war with China, there is continuing concern over the threat of war with the “old enemy” – Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev (above), the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse, fears that “it looks the world is preparing for war.” The elder statesman, who is now 85, has urged Presidents Putin and Trump to strongly denounce nuclear war in the face of the “militarisation of politics and the new arms race.” Mr Gorbachev’s role in the ending of the Cold War along with President Regan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are well documented, and the man who was responsible for glasnost spoke to Time magazine this week:
“The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss,
“But no problem is more urgent today than the militarisation of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority.
“The current situation is too dangerous.”
He also expressed concern that troops and armour are being deployed closer together in Europe, that the weapons deployed by NATO and Russia are now at “point-blank” range of one another. He also spoke of how it takes just one mistake, of how a “single salvo” can have a devastating effect on an entire continent, and that this is more likely as:
“Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defence doctrines more dangerous,
“Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.”
Mr Gorbachev urged Putin and Trump to initiate a nuclear summit, such as the one between him and President Regan in Geneva in November 1985 which concluded that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. He continued:
“I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility,”
Sources and Further Reading:
- China military official says war with US under Donald Trump ‘becoming practical reality’ | The Independent (London)
- Donald Trump’s attitude to negotiation could provoke a war, says former British military chief | The Independent (London)
- Mikhail Gorbachev says ‘it looks like the world is preparing for war’ | The Independent (London)
- Nuclear war is no longer the stuff of dystopian novellas – it’s a very real and immediate threat | The Independent (London)