Iran, North Korea, Russia, China … The US president Donald trump vdoes not hesitate to use nuclear as a lever of political communication. A risky strategy that should not obscure a rise in tension.
“I have always thought a lot about the issue of nuclear war (…) This is the ultimate disaster, extreme, the world has no greater challenge to face (…) I believe it There is nothing more stupid than to believe that it will never happen just because everyone knows that nuclear weapons have an immense power of destruction and we will therefore be careful not to use them. ” are not those of an antinuclear militant, but were uttered in Playboy in 1990 by Donald Trump.
The excerpt of this interview, highlighted by the philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy in The war that can not take place, is all the more surprising as the American president handles the nuclear tool with much less caution than these words certainly ancient, would let him foretell. On four fronts at least, worry point. In addition to the two crises of North Korea and Iran, there are two disputes directly related to Russia and indirectly to China: the US withdrawal from the Middle-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and doubts about the extension of the New Start Treaty for strategic arms reduction, which expires in 2021. These four nuclear points outline the contours of a particularly unstable world. But what about Donald Trump’s responsibility? Would he implement a particularly risky nuclear doctrine?
- For Trump, the nuclear, an instrument of com ‘
“The main danger with Trump is precisely that he has no strategy, says Antoine Bondaz, a researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS). With North Korea, he considers nuclear power as an instrument of political communication. We also see it with Iran: its main objective is not to fight against proliferation, but to put pressure and impose sanctions. In both cases, he first addresses his electorate to convince him that he is the strongest. It would be for reasons of domestic politics that Donald Trump would favor the method of “maximum pressure”, first against North Korea in 2017 (before a dramatic turnaround) and today against Iran.
But for what results in foreign policy? Certainly, Trump and Kim do not insult anymore. Pyongyang has suspended its nuclear and ballistic tests, which is not new in North Korean history. “Trump got nothing significant. North Korea continues to increase its arsenal. It is necessary to maintain a dialogue, but with what result? “Wonders Antoine Bondaz, skeptical about the promise of” denuclearization of the Korean peninsula “outlined in May 2018 at the first summit in Singapore. Shared by a majority of experts, this pessimism, reinforced by the failure of the summit in Hanoi a year later, stems from a simple observation: it is precisely the fact of owning the bomb that allowed Kim Jong-un to speak to Donald Trump as an equal and no longer to be the first outlaw on the planet. Then, what interest would it be to denuclearize?
If the Iranians decided to apply this lesson, they could vigorously revive their nuclear program before embarking on any further negotiations with Washington. In terms of proliferation, the concomitance of disordered rapprochement with North Korea and the maximum pressure on Iran could thus lead to a worsening of the situation in these two theaters. Already, reacting to the exit of the United States from the 2015 nuclear agreement (JCPOA in English) and the inability of other signatories to bypass until now the reinstatement of US sanctions, Iran has announced that it has suspended the application of certain points of the agreement, notably by exceeding the authorized rate of enrichment of uranium.
“For the moment, we are in a gray zone. The Iranians have known which lines do not cross but push today these limits, while taking care to avoid complete isolation, “notes Corentin Brustlein, a researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), who believes that the cases Iranian and North Korean are “very different”. “We do not suddenly acquire nuclear weapons, it takes time and it is visible. In the case of Iran, this would allow the international community to react or even to initiate military action. Even before getting the bomb, North Korea had, it, very strong retaliation against Japan and especially South Korea.
- Trump, only responsible?
In North Korea and Iran, the Trump method seems to be in action. “A unilateral and personal diplomacy, shaped by political communication”, summarizes Antoine Bondaz. “On North Korea, it is obviously not very subtle, but that does not mean that profits are zero,” tempers Corentin Brustlein who notes however that the Trump administration is guilty of having killed the Iran agreement: “It was one of the few successes of recent years. We will pay this gesture for a long time.
But Iran and North Korea are not the only issues of nuclear concern. In the summer of 2018, Washington decided to withdraw from the INF treaty, accusing the Russians of violating its terms. This text signed by the United States and the USSR in 1987 to end the crisis of “euromissiles” prohibits all land-based missiles with a range of between 500 and 5500 km, whether or not nuclear. “Washington is aiming as much for Moscow because it does not respect the treaty as Beijing because it is not part of it,” said Antoine Bondaz. The Chinese are developing a major ballistic missile program that could threaten US forces in Southeast Asia.
- Continuity of American politics?
Unlike North Korea, where he goes it alone, Donald Trump is far from being the only person responsible for the nuclear tensions with Russia and China. “Regarding the INF Treaty, the Americans have reported their suspicion officially from 2014, before his election. There is today a consensus within the White House to consider that the geopolitical situation is not the same as in the 1990s and that we must act now as long as the United States is still in a position of force, “explains Antoine Bondaz, who states:” There is a structural deterioration of relations between the United States and China that is not due to Trump. Already in 2001, George W. Bush already identified Beijing as the “peer competitor” of the United States.
“The United States, Russia and China have not waited for Trump to enter a logic of competition, but Trump assumes more than Obama, which also explains the acceleration,” abounds Corentin Brustlein, quoting current questions around the New Start agreement signed in 2011 by Obama and Medvedev for a period of ten years. The text is the keystone of arms control as it sets a ceiling for the number of strategic heads and vectors required by the two former Cold War giants. With its end approaching, Washington and Moscow are expected to negotiate its extension pending a new deal, but the context is even more gloomy than some of the US President’s entourage (like his National Security Advisor, John Bolton) wish the death of this agreement. “Obama would certainly have opted for the five-year maximum extension of the text. Trump could extend it for much shorter periods so as to exert maximum pressure on Russia, but also, he hopes, on China to participate in the discussions. Do not expect too much, “explains Corentin Brustlein. “This is the Trump method, but some will consider that it is part of the continuity of US policy, the United States was already released in 2002 the Treaty Anti-Ballistic Missile,” adds Antoine Bondaz. This first withdrawal of one of the great texts of the Cold War had triggered the anger of Moscow and Beijing, seeing with a bad eye the installation of a US missile shield in Eastern Europe and South Korea .
In the end, with Donald Trump, issues that have been gaining momentum since the end of the Cold War are exacerbated and disordered. In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton pleaded in Moscow or Beijing the development of his missile defense shield, he promised the two nuclear powers that he was not turned towards them (which would have weakened the nuclear deterrent), but against Rogue proliferating states. The targeted countries were already Iran and North Korea. Since then, with the American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya on the one hand, and with the rise of a new superpower on the other, China, the situation has deteriorated as a result.