‘If you want peace, prepare for war’: John Bolton sets out strategy as Trump’s new national security adviser

Donald Trump’s new national security adviser has said America should “prepare for war” to secure peace amid signs a more hardline US foreign policy is emerging. 

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, made the comment just hours after being appointed to the role via a tweet from Mr Trump. 

"The surest way to avoid conflict is to have a strong military capability,” Mr Bolton told Sky News.  

“As the ancient Romans used to say: Si vis pacem, para bellum – if you want peace, prepare for war."

Mr Bolton will replace HR McMaster, the retiring general, on April 9 to become Mr Trump’s third national security adviser in 14 months. 

The 69-year-old, who served in the UN under George W Bush, is known for his hawkish foreign policy views and no-nonsense approach to diplomacy. 

John Bolton, left, and HR McMasterCredit:
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts, Jonathan Ernst

He has said a pre-emptive strike against North Korea would be legitimate and played down the chance of talks being successful. Mr Bolton is also a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and has suggested “regime change” should be America’s goal. 

Those stances broadly align with the president’s views, but there are difference too. Mr Bolton backs punitive sanctions on Russia and believes the Iraq War was justified, unlike Mr Trump. 

His appointment split Washington as Democrats painted Mr Bolton as a warmonger and Republicans pointed to his years of foreign policy experience. 

Christopher Murphy, the Democrat senator for Connecticut, said: “The person who will be first in first out of the Oval Office on national security matters passionately believes the U.S. should launch pre-emptive war against both Iran and North Korea with no authorisation from Congress. My God.”

But Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, said: “Selecting John Bolton as national security adviser is good news for America’s allies and bad news for America’s enemies."

John Bolton | In his own words

Mr Trump’s decision to oust HR McMaster came after weeks of growing tensions and amid reports the pair had a troubled personal relationship as well as policy differences. 

The Washington Post reported that the president found Mr McMaster’s delivery style in briefings grating and would tell him he understood an issue just “to make him stop talking”.

Mr Trump initially considered Mr Bolton for a role in his administration before inauguration but was convinced otherwise – partly, it is said, because of Mr Bolton’s handlebar mustache. 

However over recent weeks Mr Trump’s frustration with his national security team and Mr Bolton’s Fox News regular appearances eventually saw a change of heart. 

Mr Bolton’s appointment to UN ambassador in 2005 was rejected by the Senate – one ex-official dubbed him a “kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" – but pushed through by Mr Bush. 

The pair later fell out, with Mr Bush dismissing Mr Bolton as not “credible” after the latter attacked the then-president’s “total intellectual collapse” in 2008. 

Mr Bolton’s stint at the UN, which lasted a little more than a year, saw repeated clashes with foreign diplomats and a reluctance to give ground in negotiations. 

He once said of the UN’s 38-floor headquarters in New York: “If it lost 10 stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

Mr Bolton, who studied law at Yale University, also offered a hint of his outlook in his memoir’s title: “Surrender Is Not an Option”. 

The Republican hardliner also has links to senior Conservatives in Britain. He has visited the party’s annual conference and knows Liam Fox, the International Development Secretary. 

Luke Coffey, the foreign policy director for the right-leaning think tank Heritage, told The Telegraph the appointment could benefit the UK. 

“I think it will be very positive for Britain, especially at this time of Brexit,” said Mr Coffey, who was once an adviser to Mr Fox. 

“Mr Bolton has expressed his concerns about the European Union. He is very Eurosceptic and a supporter of Brexit.”

John Bolton speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2017 Credit:
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Mr Bolton’s recent comments on policy, not least North Korea and Iran, have at times been even more hardline than Mr Trump’s views. 

Earlier this year he said “our goal should be regime change in Iran” and wrote a piece outlining how a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would be “perfectly legitimate”.

Speaking after his appointment, Mr Bolton told Sky News: “Despite the view of many people at the end of the Cold War that we’d come to the end of history, unfortunately we haven’t.

"It’s important for the US to protect its civilian population, protect its alliances [and] protect its economy.”

Robert Kelly, professor of political science at South Korea’s Busan University, said the hiring of Mr Bolton made it look like the president is assembling a “war cabinet”.

He said that "people are genuinely nervous” about an upcoming meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Kim. 

Mr Kelly added: "Trump is going to walk in in nine weeks with a staff that is all up in the air right now and that means he’s going to have to put a lot of it together on the fly.

"That means that the possibility to go wrong is much higher than during a normal summit." 

Mr Bolton reportedly promised "he wouldn’t start any wars” if Mr Trump appointed him as national security adviser and would go along with the White House’s diplomatic effort towards Pyongyang. 

But experts said they doubted Mr Bolton would ever fully give up on the idea of toppling the North Korean regime.  

“Bolton said he would set aside his own views and implement Trump’s policy. But count me sceptical. Bolton has long pushed for regime change in North Korea and I doubt he will refrain from promoting a policy that leads to North Korea’s demise,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

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