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‘Fasten your seat belts’: China hawk John Bolton replaces McMaster as Trump’s national security adviser

‘We should also expect an even more confrontational approach to China – a trade war may just be the beginning of a broader geopolitical competition’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 March, 2018, 6:39am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2018, 11:28pm

HR McMaster has been replaced by hawkish former UN Ambassador John Bolton as US President Donald Trump’s third national security adviser in 14 months

Bolton, 69, has advocated using military force against North Korea, a tough line with China and closer US ties with Taiwan. He has long been a polarising figure in Washington foreign policy circles.

Bolton joins a Trump national security team that – with the planned replacement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by CIA chief Mike Pompeo – is increasingly populated by figures who share Trump’s penchant for exercising US power unilaterally.

Trump made the announcement on Twitter, posting: “I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor.

“I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.”

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As the State Department’s top arms control official under President George W Bush, Bolton was a leading advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

That invasion which was later found to have been based on bogus and exaggerated intelligence about President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism – something Trump himself has been a vocal critic of for years.

In recent years, as a conservative media commentator, Bolton has advocated hardline positions on stopping Pyongyang from getting nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States. 

“Bolton has long supported regime change in North Korea and closer ties with Taiwan. Fasten your seat belts,” said Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

He has also advocated getting rid of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a pact Trump has also heavily criticised.

The hiring of Bolton, which does not require US Senate confirmation, came despite concerns by some foreign policy analysts that he might use his position to pursue his own global views, rather than carry out Trump’s.

“Bolton has long been an advocate for pre-emptive military action against North Korea, and his appointment as National Security Adviser is a strong signal that President Trump remains open to these options,” said Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.

“We should also expect an even more confrontational approach to China – a trade war may just be the beginning of a broader geopolitical competition,” he said.

S&P 500 e-mini futures fell 0.33 per cent late following the announcement.

McMaster joined the administration a year ago after Trump fired his predecessor, Michael Flynn, for lying to the vice-president about contacts with Russia.

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An Army lieutenant general, McMaster has travelled with Trump to several countries and helped craft the president’s national security approach to North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran and other global hotspots. 

Trump and McMaster had also clashed during his tenure, which included the dismissal of several aides from the National Security Council. 

Trump publicly rebuked McMaster in February, saying in a tweet that his national security adviser had neglected to defend his 2016 victory when discussing US claims that Russia meddled in the election.

In a statement, McMaster, 55, said he would be retiring from the US Army at the same time as leaving the White House. He thanked Trump and the members of the team, who he said had “worked together to provide the president with the best options to protect and advance our national interests”.

Earlier on Thursday, Donald Trump’s lead lawyer in the defence against special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation also resigned, while Tillerson complained in a farewell speech that Washington was a “mean-spirited” city. 

Additional reporting by The Guardian