By John Sitilides
Donald Trump assumes the presidency of the United States amid an era of global disorder unseen in decades. New challenges to former American preeminence in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim are boldly ventured by Russia, Iran and China with near impunity.
The state of affairs necessitates new American leadership that can restore balance and shape a new equilibrium in key regions of the world. A successful national security agenda will require crafting geopolitical strategy to effectively resolve potential global risk disruptions in power relations, technology and global commerce.
In the Pacific Rim, China’s sovereign disputes transcend the South China Sea, aiming also at Japan’s Senkaku Islands. In the event of escalating tensions, the U.S. Pacific Command could be dispatched as a de-conflicting force. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, the most powerful Pacific navy, would otherwise need to blunt Chinese moves alone within the most important commercial waterway in the world, through which $5 trillion in commerce and energy supplies ship annually.
President-elect Trump stated that North Korea will not be permitted to launch intercontinental ballistic missile tests that would speed Pyongyang’s development of a direct nuclear threat against the continental United States. One option is a test missile shoot down, if regional allies such as Japan, South Korea or Taiwan were threatened. Japan might eventually develop its own nuclear weapons — the gravest threat that China could possibly face — to convince Beijing that North Korean regime or behavior change is an absolute Chinese security imperative.
Tensions are flaring again over Kashmir between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan. The world’s largest democracy, India is a potential U.S. partner in a vast oceanic expanse astride major shipping lanes. New Delhi’s independent foreign policy includes close commercial relations with Russia and Iran, and a strategic naval bulwark against Chinese power. Pakistan is integral to Beijing’s colossal infrastructure network to European, Indian Ocean and African ports. Its nuclear arsenal could be overtaken by radical Islamists, the major reason U.S. forces remain engaged in neighboring Afghanistan. Balancing relations with both India and Pakistan is a constant White House priority.
In Europe, Russia occupies Ukraine, stations powerful missiles in Kaliningrad, threatens NATO allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and asserts the right to protect ethnic kin in neighboring countries. Vladimir Putin might see cause to expand and reinforce peacekeeping forces in Moldova’s breakaway Trans-Dniester region, near the eastern border of NATO ally Romania. Our European allies will require firm U.S. reassurances to withstand multiple stresses from Russia, aiming to collapse the Western military bloc.
Europe’s migration crises will be compounded by population explosions in Africa, where growing economies are unable to keep pace with demographic upheavals. The continent’s population could double within 30 years, and many of its one billion additional citizens will flee the corruption, destitution and terrorism (33,000 Africans killed since 2012) bedeviling their societies, for hope and opportunity in a socio-politically fragmenting Europe.
The EU’s Schengen framework for free movement of citizens is being exploited by the terrorist diaspora from Syria and Iraq. As determined Islamist terrorists strike more potently at facilities and citizens, the grand ambition of a united Europe will be severely tested. European societies will need to decide whether to defend their political cultures and historical foundations, or face their unraveling from within.
The U.S. is transferring its military presence from a NATO air base in Portugal’s Azores Islands to the United Kingdom. Portugal’s pressing economic needs have enticed Chinese officials seeking a commercial port in the mid-Atlantic, which China could eventually convert for military use and deny the U.S. maximum naval and air navigational freedom in the North Atlantic.
In the Middle East, the strategic isolation of Iran begins with its active containment, especially when engaged in military adventures violating international law and treaty obligations. Iranian responses may play out in the proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in escalated attacks on the Saudi regime, and the potential activation of Iranian sleeper cells in Europe and the U.S., depending on the credibility of American deterrence.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has been in declining health. One potential successor, Ibrahim Raisi, has established a reputation as one of the most ruthless enforcers of Iran’s radical Shia theocracy. The Iranian streets may erupt with a second “Green Revolution,” the first one having been stamped out by the mullahs in 2009 while Washington remained focused on achieving a nuclear agreement.
Syrian Kurds, the most effective fighting force against Islamic State, continue to press for political autonomy and eventual independence amid civil war. NATO ally Turkey, sharing a 600-mile border with Syria and Iraq, must decide its role in the military offensive against Islamic State. Ankara is instead focused on denying Kurds an autonomous state, fearing it will soon tear at Turkish sovereignty. A Turkish invasion of the Kurdish Rojava region in Syria will deliver a critical decision point to the White House on its top national security priority: the destruction of Islamic State.
The global risks Mr. Trump inherits are generating sheer disorder in the world’s most important regions. The task before the new president to craft a geopolitical strategy is great, and there is no option but for resolute American leadership to defend and advance the national interest where it endures under greatest challenge.
• John Sitilides, principal at Trilogy Advisors LLC in Washington, specializes in global risk analysis and federal regulatory affairs.