trump deep state
© WhoWhatWhy / Gage Skidmore / Flickr / US Government
Siden sin udnævnelse til at være USA's assisterende udenrigsminister for europæiske og euroasiatiske anliggender har Aaron Wess Mitchell for det meste holdt sig væk fra rampelyset, men hans geopolitiske synspunkter har allerede haft en dybtgående indflydelse på USA's udenrigspolitik, som illustreret af Trump administrationens nyligt offentliggjorte Nationale Sikkerhedsstrategi og beslutning om at give avancerede våben til Ukraine.

En uge før den amerikanske præsident Donald Trump afslørede sin 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS), gav hans nationale sikkerhedsrådgiver, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, et forhåndsindblik i strategien ved en sammenkomst afholdt i Washington af den britiske tænketank Policy Exchange.

McMaster afslørede, at Trump administrationen ser Rusland og Kina som "revisionistiske magter" der "underminerer den internationale orden og stabilitet" og "ignorerer deres naboers suveræne rettigheder og lovens magt [Eng: rule of law]."

"Geopolitikken er tilbage og tilbage med stor styrke, efter den ferie vi tog fra historien i tiden efter den kolde krig," understregede McMaster.[1]


He tried to reassure U.S. allies that President Trump doesn't stand for a "new isolationism," as some critics have suggested.[2]

McMaster once again referred favorably to the work of Aaron Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel,[3] two scholar-practitioners who argue that America's allies "have been the 'glue' of the U.S.-led global order."[4]

Mitchell and Grygiel both joined the State Department in 2017 after Trump chose Mitchell as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

Prior to joining the State Department, the duo worked at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a leading transatlantic think tank co-founded by Mitchell.

During their time at CEPA, they tried to draw attention to a "coherent geostrategic pattern"[5] that poses a growing challenge to American global power.

Mitchell and Grygiel first wrote about this pattern in 2010, claiming that U.S. allies in East-Central Europe, the Middle East and East Asia were faced with "a sudden surge in revisionist rhetoric and behavior by Russia, Iran and China respectively."[6]

They began arguing that these revisionist powers try to rearrange the global security order by using a strategy of "probing" - that is, "a combination of assertive diplomacy and small but bold military actions to test the outer reaches of American power and in particular the resilience of frontier allies."[7]


Comment: Translation: Russia, China and Iran have the temerity to stand up to US hegemony and engage with its neighbors in a diplomatic way.


America's frontier allies share a number of characteristics: "All are small or mid-sized states occupying strategic faultlines; most are democracies; all sit in proximity to larger, potentially revisionist power centers; all look to the United States as security provider of last resort."[8]


Comment: Translation: All of America's "frontier allies" are really just US imperial puppet states who are used as staging ground countries by the US to destabilize "power centers" like Russia, Iran and China.


Mitchell and Grygiel analyzed this pattern in a series of opinion pieces and CEPA analytical briefs as well as the 2016 book The Unquiet Frontier: Rising Rivals, Vulnerable Allies, and the Crisis of American Power, which has received endorsements from the likes of Anne Applebaum, Zbigniew Brzezinski and H.R. McMaster.[9]

In a March 2016 Wall Street Journal review of The Unquiet Frontier, McMaster lauded Mitchell and Grygiel for painting "a stark and compelling picture of the emerging geopolitical landscape."


Comment: It sure is interesting how US Deep State actors view a multipolar world as "stark". They are terrified of having to actually deal with another global power who would stand up to the American bully.


"They remind us that, in the post-Cold War era, geopolitics matters," McMaster wrote.[10]

The three-star general used a similar phrase while offering a preview of Trump's 2017 National Security Strategy - a document that labels Russia and China as "revisionist powers" seeking "to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests."[11]

Their modus operandi is described as follows:
"They employ sophisticated political, economic, and military campaigns that combine discrete actions. They are patient and content to accrue strategic gains over time-making it harder for the United States and our allies to respond. Such actions are calculated to achieve maximum effect without provoking a direct military response from the United States. And as these incremental gains are realized, over time, a new status quo emerges."[12]
This description closely resembles the strategy of probing that Mitchell and Grygiel are describing.


Comment: The above is pretty much describing what Putin has been doing in Russia to a T. Clearly his brilliant geopolitical strategizing is causing some serious angst amongst the Deep State actors.


In The Unquiet Frontier, Mitchell and Grygiel define probing as "a low-intensity and low-risk test aimed at gauging the opposing state's power and will to maintain security and influence over a region."

"It is a set of actions that studiously avoids a direct military confrontation with the leading power by targeting the outer limits of its commitments and interests," they further explain.[13]

The purpose of probing by revisionist powers "is both to assess the hegemon's willingness and ability to defend the status quo and to accomplish gradual territorial or reputational gains at the expense of the leading power if possible."[14]

Mitchell and Grygiel accuse Russia, China and Iran of using this strategy to challenge the U.S.-led global order.


Comment: What's so wrong with what they are doing? It's about time the US stopped being the global world leader. Maybe that would mean fewer dead innocent civilians in countries who the US decides to illegally invade and destroy.


As early as 2010, the CEPA duo began interpreting seemingly unrelated developments in East-Central Europe, East Asia and the Middle East "as part of a coherent geostrategic pattern," calling on U.S. policymakers "to grasp the deeper implications [...] for American global power."[15]

During the Obama presidency, their thesis didn't catch on in Washington.

But in February 2017, Mitchell and Grygiel gained a powerful ally in the White House when President Trump named H.R. McMaster as his new National Security Advisor.

McMaster appears to agree with Mitchell's and Grygiel's thesis that seemingly isolated Russian, Chinese and Iranian actions "actually share 'strategic characteristics' and are part of a broader geopolitical realignment that cuts against U.S. interests."[16]

After taking over as National Security Advisor, McMaster quickly extended his influence over President Trump.[17] He teamed up with like-minded military leaders in the administration who saw their roles not merely as executing Trump's directives but also as guiding the President away from "bad" decisions.[18]

Five months after McMaster's appointment, Trump decided to nominate Aaron Wess Mitchell as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs - clearly a good decision in the eyes of McMaster.[19]

In October 2017, Mitchell picked up where Victoria Nuland had left off, while his CEPA colleague Jakub Grygiel joined the State Department's policy planning staff.[20]

Thanks to U.S. President Trump, Mitchell and Grygiel now find themselves in a position to implement the strategies they have been developing to counter "revisionist probing."

"On a broad level, such a strategy would begin with the principle that alliances - their maintenance, retention, and general health - matter more than relationships with non-allies," Mitchell and Grygiel explain in The Unquiet Frontier.[21]

The authors stress that not all allies "will be of equal importance to the United States in the decades ahead" [emphasis mine]:
"The allies that matter most to the United States, from a long-term economic and geopolitical standpoint, are the ones that provide the United States with a presence in the key productive zones of the Eurasian World Island- the so-called rimlands- and, more specifically, those that occupy the dangerous outer edge of the rimlands, in close proximity to the new century's rising and revisionist power centers. The importance of these states is not measured in their physical size, power, or wealth but in the real estate that they occupy. Roughly speaking, they compose a narrow belt that runs from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea in Europe, through the Levant and Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean and up through littoral Asia to the Sea of Japan. What happens to these states in coming years will have a disproportionate impact on the shape of the twenty-first century- whether it is stable or unstable, whether the United States and other large powers go to war or remain at peace."[22]
Drawing on Nicholas Spykman's Rimland concept, Mitchell and Grygiel argue that U.S. global power hinges on the "fate of the rimlands, the degree of geopolitical pluralism they are able to retain amidst the growth of revisionist power centers, and the extent to which the United States can maintain influence there matter"[23]

"As go the rimlands, so goes U.S. global power," they emphasize.[24]

Mitchell and Grygiel claim that the "importance of securing access to and stability of these regions has been an underlying but rarely articulated principle of U.S. strategy for decades." They call this principle the "rimland imperative."[25]

In the more recent past, the rimlands were stable, allowing the United States to divert attention and resources to the greater Middle East and Central Asia. But in the decades ahead, "for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the rimlands will once again be at play geopolitically," warn Mitchell and Grygiel.

"The central goal of U.S. strategy should be to stabilize these regions by building up and maintaining clusters of states that are politically confident, economically advanced, well-armed, and aligned with U.S. interests," they argue.[26]

The operative word is "well-armed."

A few days after U.S. President Trump unveiled his 2017 National Security Strategy, news broke that the Trump administration has approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles.[27]

Despite his professed desire to work with Russia on Ukraine, Trump signed off on this momentous decision - a decision that could easily reignite the Ukraine conflict.

President Obama refused to go down that road, "reasoning such a step wouldn't decisively determine the outcome of the fighting while provoking Russia to step up its military involvement in eastern Ukraine."[28]

At first glance, Trump's decision seems baffling, but it is completely in line with Mitchell's and Grygiel's recommendations.

In order to counter Russian, Chinese and Iranian probing, Mitchell and Grygiel recommend, among other things, creating "stronger local defense capabilities among frontier allies."[29]

As the duo explains, "the nature of the threat presented by the revisionists makes frontline allies, and their ability to provide local defense, indispensable."[30]

Boosting the defense capabilities of frontier allies achieves several things. First of all, it drives up the costs of military aggression:
"the more difficult it is for the revisionist state to achieve the political objective sought by probing and limited war, the more force the aggressor will have to employ and the higher the risk of a stronger response by external forces. This defeats the very purpose of probing - low-cost, low-risk revision - from the outset. The role of local defense is to force the aggressor to escalate the level of violence, which adds both military and political costs." [31]
During his visit to "frontier ally" Ukraine in November 2017, Mitchell assured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that the United States was prepared to raise the costs of Moscow's "aggression."[32]

This line of thinking became prevalent in the Trump administration, as The Wall Street Journal noted:
"President Donald Trump's decision to provide Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine reflects the broad assessment of his national security advisers that the shipment of defensive lethal arms is needed to raise the cost to Russia of its aggression in the conflict-ridden country and provide the West with fresh leverage in negotiations over its future."[33]
Mitchell and Grygiel provide two more arguments for stronger local defense capabilities among frontier allies.

They argue that an effective local defense buys time in the event of an attack, "increasing the likelihood that external reinforcements will arrive before the offensive has succeeded." Moreover, it permits "the revisionist probing and the resulting conflict to remain limited, an outcome that is manifestly in the interest of all parties."[34]

It remains to be seen whether the war in Donbass will remain limited after the shipment of Javelin anti-tank missiles. But one thing is for sure: Trump and his advisers are not afraid of provoking Russia.

As Mitchell and Grygiel explain in The Unquiet Frontier, the whole point of providing "defensive" lethal weapons to Ukraine is "to force the aggressor to escalate the level of violence, which adds both military and political costs."

It seems as if the Trump administration is following the strategy that Mitchell and Grygiel have laid out in their 2016 book. This is bad news - not only for the "revisionists" but for all of Eurasia.

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Analyst & Author, is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here.

[1] Margaret Talev, "Trump Adviser Calls Russia and China 'Threats' to U.S. Liberty," Bloomberg, 12 December 2017: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-12/trump-adviser-calls-russia-and-china-threats-to-u-s-liberty.

[2] Richard N. Haass, "The Isolationist Temptation," The Wall Street Journal, 5 August 2016: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-isolationist-temptation-1470411481.

[3] John Bew, "The new US National Security Strategy: implications for UK National Security Policy," Policy Exchange, 17 December 2017: https://policyexchange.org.uk/the-new-us-national-security-strategy-implications-for-uk-national-security-policy/.

[4] Jakub J. Grygiel and A. Wess Mitchell, The Unquiet Frontier (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), p. 4.

[5] A. Wess Mitchell, Jakub Grygiel and Robert Kron, Report No. 32: Hingepoint Allies. Bolstering U.S. Alliances with Exposed States in Central Europe, East Asia and the Middle East (Washington, DC: Center for European Policy Analysis, 8 October 2010), p. 13: http://cepa.org/sites/default/files/documents/CEPA%20Report%20No.%2032,%20Hingepoint%20Allies,%20October%202010.pdf.

[6] Ibid., Mitchell et al. 2010, p. 1.

[7] A. Wess Mitchell and Jakub Grygiel, "The Revisionists: Predators on the Frontier," The American Interest, 12 February 2016: https://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/02/12/predators-on-the-frontier/.

[8] Ibid., Mitchell et al. 2010, p. 1.

[9] The Unquiet Frontier - Endorsements, Princeton University Press: https://press.princeton.edu/titles/10706.html.

[10] H.R. McMaster, "Probing for Weakness," The Wall Street Journal, 23 March 2016: https://www.wsj.com/articles/probing-for-weakness-1458775212.

[11] Donald J. Trump, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, December 2017), p. 25: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.

[12] Ibid., Trump 2017, p. 28.

[13] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 43.

[14] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 9.

[15] Ibid., Mitchell et al. 2010, p. 13.

[16] Ibid., McMaster 2016.

[17] Robert Costa, Abby Phillip and Karen DeYoung, "Bannon removed from security council as McMaster asserts control," The Washington Post, 5 April 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/bannon-removed-from-security-council-as-mcmaster-asserts-control/2017/04/05/ffa8b5d2-1a3a-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.5c3864204107.

[18] Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, "Military leaders consolidate power in Trump administration," The Washington Post, 22 August 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/military-leaders-consolidate-power-in-trump-administration/2017/08/22/db4f7bee-875e-11e7-a94f-3139abce39f5_story.html?utm_term=.ab0a449b7c7f.

[19] "Trump To Nominate Chief Diplomat For European-Eurasian Affairs," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 20 July 2017: https://www.rferl.org/a/trump-nominate-chief-diplomat-european-eurasian-affairs/28629164.html.

[20] Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State: https://www.state.gov/s/p/staff/index.htm.

[21] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 163.

[22] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 163.

[23] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 163.

[24] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 164.

[25] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 164.

[26] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 164.

[27] Josh Lederman, "US agrees to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, angering Russia," Associated Press, 23 December 2017: https://apnews.com/71fd3f8ee74f488fb788accf1e7978e4/US-agrees-to-send-lethal-weapons-to-Ukraine,-angering-Russia.

[28] Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. Decision to Send Lethal Arms to Ukraine Signals Tougher Stance on Russia," The Wall Street Journal, 24 December 2017: https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-decision-to-send-lethal-arms-to-ukraine-signals-tougher-stance-on-russia-1514161057.

[29] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 179.

[30] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 179.

[31] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 179.

[32] "Mitchell assures Poroshenko about U.S. readiness to increase price for Moscow if aggression continues," Interfax-Ukraine, 15 November 2017: http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/462186.html.

[33] Ibid., Gordon 2017.

[34] Ibid., Grygiel and Mitchell 2016, p. 180.