Tag Archives: Consequences

The resignation of James Mattis: The first minister to stand up to President Trump and the last connection to his allies leaves the administration

by Franziska Spindler, participant in the FAC at the BEF 2018

International cooperation with the U.S. has become significantly more complicated in times of the Trump administration. Frequent changes within the cabinet1 forced the international diplomatic actors to constantly readjust their strategies relating to the U.S. This made it hard to assess their reactions and to carry on consistent negotiations. Within the NATO – an international organization valued by most of its members but viewed with distain by President Trump – collaboration has always been of utmost importance. This cooperation seemed secure with James Mattis as the American Secretary of Defense and the international community was granted an ally and competent strategist. He views international alliances as the core reason for the strength of the United States2.

Yet on December 20, 2018, James Mattis decided to resign in protest by releasing a public letter addressed to President Trump in which he explains his decision with the missing alignment of his and the President’s views3. The consequences of his resignation for both the U.S. Security Policies and the NATO members are yet to be bided.

Before James Mattis became the Secretary of Defense under President Donald Trump, he built a distinguished career in the U.S. Military and the NATO forces. As Defense Secretary, he became well known and respected by his colleagues and allies within the NATO for his tendency to ignore the President’s skeptical views regarding the alliance and his ability to foster stable cooperation between the member states and (European) allies. Even though he failed to stop President Trump from withdrawing from the nuclear treaty with Iran, he did manage to support the NATO’s determined stance against Russia regarding the conflict in Ukraine and he influenced the air strikes against Syria in a way that didn’t provoke Russia, which could have further fueled the ongoing conflict 4. In reaction to earlier comments like “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet”5, the press gave James Mattis the nickname “Mad Dog Mattis” which was used until the end of his tenure by President Trump despite Mattis’ efforts to prevent it6. Regarding his work ethics, Mattis acted to the contrary of this nickname – his constant efforts to shape the U.S. defense policy in a moderate and ally-friendly way stabilized the transatlantic collaboration.

After President Trump’s announcement to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria, James Mattis resigned by releasing a public letter addressed to the President in which he clearly took a stand on the importance of international alliances for the strength of the United States, saying that “one core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships”7. He clarified that the differing views of him and President Trump regarding the value of those alliances caused him to resign from his position.

While Russia welcomed the resignation of Mattis claiming that he supported (Anti-Russian) policies of the Democratic Party despite being a Republican 8, European leaders stood united in their reaction to Mattis’ resignation: many of them declared their dismay with his decision. Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister described James Mattis as “the remaining strong bond across the Atlantic in the Trump administration” and Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the German Bundestag, even went so far as to call him “the last voice of reason” of the Trump administration9. Beyond that, the resignation also sparked reactions in Australia, China and Japan. Peter Jennings, executive officer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and former government defense strategist, reported that him and other government officials were left asking “which adult is left in the room?”10. Japanese officials on the other hand don’t see their relationship to the U.S. endangered and Chinese officials even assess the resignation of the China-skeptical Secretary of Defense a chance to improve their relationship with the Trump administration11.

In order to guarantee a smooth transition and to maintain the office’s work efficiency, James Mattis had planned for his resignation to take effect on February 28, 2019. On December 23, 2018, President Trump surprisingly announced that Mattis’ successor, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, was going to stand in from January 1, 2019 on but the search for a final successor continues. According to senior administration officials, the negative news coverage following Mattis’ clear words caused the President to remove him from office two months early. Some even suppose that President Trump along some of his advisers suspect Mattis to be involved in a campaign to display the President negatively12.

It remains yet to be bided what the actual consequences of the resignation/removal of James Mattis will be for the U.S., the NATO members and the international power structure. A huge influence on future power switches will be Mattis’ final successor, whose views and policies will most likely be way more compliant with those of President Trump. America’s allies will probably have to brace themselves for a Secretary of Defense who follows his President’s ways of disregarding the rules of alliances and diplomacy, and find a way to defend the values and use of organizations like the NATO regardless of President Trump’s skepticism.

Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.



1 Keith, T. (2018). ‘Trump Cabinet Turnover Sets Record Going Back 100 Years’. National Public Radio. [online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/2018/03/19/594164065/trump-cabinet-turnover-sets-record-going-back-100-years [30 December 2018].

2 CNN (2018). ‘Read: James Mattis’ Resignation Letter’. CNN. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/20/politics/james-mattis-resignation-letter-doc/index.html [30 December 2018].

3 Ibid.

4 Ross, A. (2018). ‘Schlag in die europäische Magengrube‘ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. [German, online] Available at: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/kommentar-zum-ruecktritt-von-james-mattis-15953456.html?premium&_ga=2.104675206.747781084.1545905473-1079424275.1511530205 [30 December 2018].

5 Tatum, S. (2018). ‘Mattis: ‘Mad Dog‘ Was A Nickname Given By The Press’. CNN. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/12/politics/james-mattis-mad-dog-nickname/index.html [3 January 2019].

6 Ross, A. (2018). ‘Schlag in die europäische Magengrube‘ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. [German, online] Available at: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/kommentar-zum-ruecktritt-von-james-mattis-15953456.html?premium&_ga=2.104675206.747781084.1545905473-1079424275.1511530205 [30 December 2018].

7 CNN (2018). ‘Read: James Mattis’ Resignation Letter’. CNN. [online] Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/20/politics/james-mattis-resignation-letter-doc/index.html [30 December 2018].

8 Maza, C. (2018). ‘Russia Welcomes Mattis Resignation, Says He Shared Democrats’ Policies, But Europe’s Leaders Panic’. Newsweek. [online] Available at: https://www.newsweek.com/james-mattis-resignation-russia-europe-nato-1268259 [30 December 2018].

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Perlez, J. and Mullany, G. (2018). ‘Mattis Resignation and Afghan News Alarm U.S. Allies’. The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/world/asia/mattis-resign-afghanistan-withdrawal-trump.html [30 December 2018].

12 Rucker, P., Lamothe, D. and Dawsey, J. (2018). ‘Trump Forces Mattis Out Two Months Early, Names Shanahan Acting Defense Secretary’. The Washington Post. [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-forces-mattis-out-two-months-early-names-shanahan-acting-defense-secretary/2018/12/23/b78a0478-06d2-11e9-a3f0-71c95106d96a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.91c32d3f02f2 [30 December 2018].

Brazilian Elections 2018: What does it mean for the EU?

By Joao Lucas Hilgert, Adviser to the board of the Munich European Forum

Part 3 of 3

If you have been paying attention to western media coverage of the Brazilian elections, you would probably think that Brazil, along with Britain, the US and the Philippines, has gone off the right-wing cliff and is about to crash and burn. President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s previous statements have made him somewhat infamous in this context. His opinions on the failure of democracy and his praise of the Brazilian dictatorship were controversial to say the least. His comments on homosexuals, women and people of color have offended many, and rightfully so. Which lead to the surprise of many, when upon winning the election Bolsonaro called for national unity of a country made up of “many opinions, colors and orientations”. He repeatedly referred positively to the constitution and vowed to uphold democratic principles. He didn’t speak of threats and fears, but of hope and prosperity. His whole victory speech was underlined by one concept: Liberty. As he himself put it: “Freedom is a fundamental principle. Freedom to come and go, to walk on the streets everywhere in this country. Freedom to innovate. Political and religious freedom. Freedom to inform and to hold an opinion. Freedom to make choices and be respected for them.” Exactly the opposite of what would have been expected of a populist, fascist, right-wing strongman.


Is it too early to tell what he will make of the executive office? Yes, definitely.

Is it too early to say if he will indeed become the threat to democracy that so many fear? Undoubtedly.

One could argue that his older remarks should not be taken at face-value and that we should shift our focus to his more recent and more moderate rhetoric. His comment that he was in favor of torture, for an instance, took place nearly twenty years ago. In the last few months he has made more affable comments towards homosexuals, women and racial minorities. However, not all of his remarks were made that far in the past. In 2016 he proclaimed that the mistake of the military dictatorship was that they tortured instead of killing. Furthermore, one could in turn argue that his recent, seemingly more moderate stance is simply electoral pandering, or just a way to calm down his detractors, especially if taken into account that there was an almost successful attempt on his life in September. Though he will not appear publicly as often now that the election is over, there are definitely concerns that such an attack could happen again before he’s sworn into office.


What has been more constant throughout the election has been his liberal economic stance. He has run on a decentralized, small government platform, with particular focus on open trade policies. And this is where the consequences for the EU lie. If his more authoritative views are implemented, he will definitely be seen as an enemy to European values such as democracy. However, what has escaped the focus of most European commentators during this election is the fact that a less isolationist Brazil is extremely beneficial to the European Union and particularly those EU members that heavily rely on exports, such as Germany. According to the German-Brazilian chamber of commerce 10% of Brazil’s industrial gross domestic product is created by German companies alone, and São Paulo, Brazil’s largest and richest city, has the largest amount of German companies of any city in the World (excluding obviously Germany itself). Brazil alone is the EU’s 11th largest trading partner, according to the European Commission, and considering Brazil is the World’s 9th largest economy, there is still room to grow when it comes to trade.

In the last 15 years, Brazil has shifted its foreign policy towards the so-called South-South axis. This means that Brazil gave preferential treatment to the Southern Hemisphere in terms of bilateral agreements and trade relations. The net result of these policies is simply bad. Perhaps the best example of this trend is the government-owned National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). It financed many projects across countries in Latin America and Africa. However, many of those were handed to countries lead by left-wing governments with an arguably negligible trade balance with Brazil, raising the suspicion of an ideological bias in the selection process for possible prospects. Many of these countries now find themselves in tough economic situations and are unable to pay back these loans. Venezuela for an instance still owes Brazil €787 million. The fact that they almost defaulted on their payment of US$ 274 million earlier this year does not exude reassurance that they will be able to repay that debt any time soon. And Venezuela is not alone. Mozambique owes € 375 million and has forfeited a payment of US$ 22 million. The third and largest creditor on that list is Angola. While their situation is less dire, the fact that they owe a total of € 1 billion to Brazil as well as € 19.6 billion to China and Russia raises concerns that they will not be able to pay these loans back in the future. Since the BNDES is a publicly owned bank, these outstanding loans have to be covered by the Brazilian Treasury, i.e. the Brazilian taxpayer. Most of those loans were used to finance big infrastructure projects, something that Brazil desperately needs itself. And, as mentioned previously, that money was given to countries that bring much less to the table than one would expect. Brazilian exports to these three countries combined totaled € 1.7 billion, a full € 4.3 billion less than Germany alone and € 29.4 billion less than the EU as a whole.


It’s no surprise that in his victory speech Bolsonaro vowed to “free Brazil and Itamaraty (Brazil’s foreign ministry) from ideologically based international relations” and “seek bilateral relations with countries that can aggregate economic and technological value to Brazilian products.” He didn’t specifically name any countries (or unions thereof), but it is implied that he means the US and the EU. Furthermore, this message resonates with many Brazilians, who feel those investments would be much better spent in a country in dire need of an infrastructural overhaul and that Brazil should focus on countries that actually bring something to the table.

While the possibility of an authoritarian government in Brazil could prove to be devastating to its constitutional democracy, a Brazil “open for business” might be the best outcome for Europe.

Also check out Part 1 and 2 of our special series!


Please note that the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Munich European Forum e.V.