Tag Archives: defence

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.

 

References

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].

NATO and Hybrid Warfare

by Marie Gibrat, represented the UK in the NATO North Atlantic Council, at BEF 2015

“In preparation for BEF 2015, the chairs of the NATO simulation requested participants to write an essay on hybrid warfare and the position of their country. The essays were entered into our committee competition, and we are happy to present our winner!” – Marian Fritz

Clausewitz stated “Every age has its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions and its own peculiar preconceptions”.

Definition of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare can be defined as the use of a combination of conventional and irregular methods such as military operations, cyber-attacks, propaganda, and terrorist acts. It is composed of an interconnected group of state and non-states actors pursuing overlapping goals where the social and political context is complex and the state is weak.

Due to the growing proliferation of non-state actors, information technology and advanced weapons system, it has renewed.

 Photograph © Philipp Mehl 2015

Nowadays hybrid warfare involves four threats: traditional, irregular, catastrophic terrorism and disruptive which exploit technology to counteract military superiority. The environmental context in hybrid warfare is one of the chief characteristics of this type of war. Hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields: the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population and the international community.

The lack of flexibility and adaptability within conventional militaries explains difficulties to defeat hybrid threats. In order to balance the latter one need to focus on the overall environment, not simply on the enemy. Armies should have in mind an operational approach with a holistic understanding of the environment. They should think on the conflict termination with a respect to the political and social grievances instead of focusing on a purely military-security end-state.

Besides operational shock i.e. attack the coherent unity of the hybrid threat as a system and dislocation i.e. the art of rendering the enemy’s strength irrelevant should be used simultaneously.

Hybrid warfare and NATO

NATO is a military alliance that will never embrace the full spectrum of challenges embodied in hybrid warfare. The current NATO deterrence policy for hybrid warfare is based on a rapid military response. However the latter has three main limits. A quick decision from member states is difficult to reach. Hard power is not sufficient. A military response alone is not credible.

Nevertheless, facing the current Russian threat, NATO considers it a necessity to develop a set of tools in order to deter hybrid warfare. Russia has risen its military budget and has announced an ambitious military modernization. Informational war, propaganda and cyber-attacks are already taking place in Eastern Europe, especially in Baltic States. General Sir Adrian Bradshaw said that Putin could use “hybrid warfare to seize former Baltic States”.

Hence hybrid warfare constitutes a far-reaching institutional challenge for NATO. A solution would be to increase cooperation with the European Union. By intensifying consultations and by engaging in joint planning, NATO and the EU would be a solid counterweight to hybrid threats.

Moreover, NATO needs to be present during the first step of hybrid warfare and even before. Prevention represents the best possible means of countering hybrid warfare since irregular threats are far more difficult to manage once they become an over attempt at destabilization. That is why NATO encourages the Security Sector Reform. The latter aims at strengthening a state’s resilience of their security sectors, while embracing transparency and accountability.

Lastly, NATO has developed a refreshed system of warnings to identify threats such as cyber-attacks, subversion and hostile propaganda.

The UK and Hybrid warfare

Military chiefs have warned that Britain has entered a new Cold War with Russia. Russia military planes, ships and submarines have made at least 17 incursions close to the UK since the start of 2014. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the Russian aggression poses “as great a threat to Europe as the Islamic State”. Michael Fallon wants to deliver the strongest possible message to Putin and asserts the Alliance will be strong, resolute and will prevail. The Defence Secretary warned of the threat to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia posed by Russia and claimed Putin was continuing to test the UK and NATO.

Nevertheless some military chiefs said the UK could not cope in case of a Russian attack because of cuts in the UK defence budget. Moreover, dealing with these hybrid threats requires much more investment in cyber, in strategic communications and in intelligence because these are not conventional threats.

Notwithstanding the fact that the UK defence is one of the most advanced in the world, it cannot fight alone against hybrid warfare. The UK will need NATO and the USA to counterweight any hybrid threat.

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.