Is Trump's Administration Anxious to Unleash U.S. Military Might? International Security Scholar Shares His Thoughts

Is Trump's Administration Anxious to Unleash U.S. Military Might? International Security Scholar Shares His Thoughts

May 25, 20182 min read

In his letter to Kim Jong Un and related statements, President Trump made not-so-veiled threats regarding U.S. military capabilities. Thus, many are asking: Is the Trump Administration, staffed with former military officers in prominent cabinet positions, chomping at the bit to unleash America’s military might?

International security scholar Peter Campbell, Ph.D., is watching the situation.

“Trump's cancellation gives both sides opportunity to claim that they pursued all diplomatic means. The conflict now enters a more dangerous phase because an opportunity to step back from the brink has been lost and diplomatic efforts have been somewhat discredited,” he said. “Trump’s comments regarding superior U.S. nuclear capability might be interpreted as a precursor to escalation, although the letter's tone was much less inflammatory than his earlier rhetoric.”

Campbell said history – and, ironically, Trump’s staff of former U.S. military leaders in key positions – sides with those who prefer diplomacy over force.

“The prominent role of former military officers has caused some to worry that the Administration is anxious to go to battle. This idea is problematic because it does not take into account that U.S. military leaders have often been more hesitant than their civilian superiors to use force,” he said.

“As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote of his Cold War experiences under Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush: ‘In more than 20 years of attending meetings in the Situation Room, my experience was that the biggest doves in Washington wear uniforms.’ This makes sense because military officers often have an intimate understanding of how the decision to use force leads to major uncertainty and is plagued with often insurmountable friction and the fog of war. Gates observed: ‘Our military leaders have seen too many half-baked ideas for the use of military force advanced in the Situation Room by hairy-chested civilians who have never seen combat or fired a gun in anger.’ Thus, the fact that Trump has former military officers in his inner circle should decrease, rather than increase, fears of an ill-conceived use of military force to resolve this crisis. Secretary of Defense James Mattis made explicit mention of the key role diplomats are playing in the unfolding crisis. Numerous commentators have pointed out the immense influence that Mattis has in the current administration. This should calm rather than incite fears of a military solution."


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  • Peter Campbell, Ph.D.
    Peter Campbell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Political Science

    Professor Campbell studies international security, civil-military relations, international relations and policy relevance

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