Q+A: Professor Robert Ayson interviewed by Corin Dann
Professor Robert Ayson – Trump administration taking on a limited ‘world police’ role.
Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University Robert Ayson told Q+A, ‘that the United States is going to be a bit more active in international security spots than some suggested, and not just out of pure self-interest, the President saw the photographs of those who’d suffered from the chemical weapons attack and, in a sense, made a response partly out of those humanitarian concerns.’
Professor Ayson told Q+A, that this ‘was actually a carefully calculated response. It’s the sort of thing that another president would’ve done if they’d decided to use limited force against Syria.’
When asked about the Russian response to America’s strike against Syria, Professor Ayson told Corin Dann that he doesn’t necessarily think, ‘that there’s going to be an escalation in that military sense.’
‘Russia can pretty much give up on thinking the Trump Administration would be a close partner of Russia and a major change from the Obama Administration. I think, secondly, Russia wants to show that this has not dented its support for the Assad regime, it has not dented its desire to try to run the show in terms of what happens in terms of Syria’s security. And it wants to show also that while there has been this US attack, that Russia is also able to shadow US forces and show that it can intimidate. But I don’t necessarily think that this means that Russia is then going to use force against the United States.’
Please find the full transcript attached and you can watch the interview here.
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Q + A 2017
Interviewed by Corin Dann.
CORIN Joining me now from Wellington is Robert Ayson, Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University. President Trump campaigned on an America First policy. I thought he wasn’t going to get into fights like this. What is going on?
ROBERT That’s right, Corin. I think a lot of Mr Trump’s supporters might be a bit surprised to see there’s an element there of a Trump Administration taking on a bit of a ‘world police’ role here. But it’s a limited one. But it does, I think, mean that the United States is going to be a bit more active in international security spots than some suggested, and not just out of pure self-interest. I think what happened here was that, from the reports, the President saw the photographs of those who’d suffered from the chemical weapons attack and, in a sense, made a response partly out of those humanitarian concerns.
CORIN What do you make of Russia’s response so far? They’re obviously upset about this. They’re talking about taking away that cooperation agreement around flying planes over Syria. What do you make of that response?
ROBERT I think, first of all, Corin, it basically means that Russia can pretty much give up on thinking the Trump Administration would be a close partner of Russia and a major change from the Obama Administration. I think, secondly, Russia wants to show that this has not dented its support for the Assad regime, it has not dented its desire to try to run the show in terms of what happens in terms of Syria’s security. And it wants to show also that while there has been this US attack, that Russia is also able to shadow US forces and show that it can intimidate. But I don’t necessarily think that this means that Russia is then going to use force against the United States. I don’t think necessarily that there’s going to be an escalation in that military sense.
CORIN So perhaps no World War III, heaven forbid. But it does increase the risk of a miscalculation, doesn’t it, that something could go wrong, that Trump’s unpredictability could create a conflict?
ROBERT Yes, I think something could have gone wrong, of course, with the Tomahawk cruise missile attacks, although those are usually very reliable pieces of equipment. And there is a possibility that in their interaction– I mean, the Russians have cut off communication, for example, and that means that if American aircraft fly to drop bombs on Isis, that that means that they may be more vulnerable to the air defence systems of the Syrians and the Russians. So there is a possibility. We need to remember, of course, that should the worst, worst thing happen, we’re talking about two countries that have about 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, and that’s one of the reasons I think the Americans were cautious about responding to what Russia did in Crimea. But at the same time, I don’t think we should get too alarmed. I think the Trump Administration so far has designed this as a discrete response. They may respond again if Syria uses chemical weapons again or if they think they’re about to. But I think they’re trying to say, ‘This is about our response to Syria. This is not about our response to Russia.’
CORIN So how does New Zealand play this? What do those people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do here? There doesn’t seem like there’s a clear plan from America. What are we supposed to do?
ROBERT Well, I think we’re all
waiting to see where this goes next. And I think that it is
possible that militarily this is a bit of a one-off.
Diplomatically, though, it does increase the tensions. It
increases the tensions between two of the largest powers on
the Security Council. Now, New Zealand’s not there any
more, of course, but New Zealand’s foreign policy relies
upon the great powers getting on, it relies upon strong
international machinery, and what’s not happened here is a
concerted United Nations Security Council response, and
that’s unlikely, because Russia holds the veto. So New
Zealand is going to want to, I think, keep an eye on this,
and I think what we’ve seen from the English government is
cautious support, but not the most vociferous support for
this limited action.
CORIN We’ve seen from Donald Trump and his campaign rhetoric and as President that he’s expecting his allies to do more. Now, granted, we’re not a full ally, but we are in the Five Eyes partners, we are in the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq. We were warned of this strike. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that there will be more pressure for us to at least offer moral support?
ROBERT I think, yeah. And I think New Zealand has indicated some of that already. Although, of course, the opposition parties have taken a different line. I don’t necessarily think this means more military activity for New Zealand, unless the Trump Administration decides that it wants to be dragged in more to the on-the-ground stuff. And even there, I think New Zealand might say we’re doing enough in Iraq with supporting the training and, of course, the battle for Mosul continues, where some of those troops that we’ve trained are involved. I think the other thing is Mr Trump here, this is his first crisis where he has, as Commander in Chief, used unilateral force in this particular way. And I think, in a way, this may be a turning point. Mr Trump may decide that this is a sign for him to show that the United States can lead. Now, not leading in the way that Mr Obama wanted to – across the park, as it were. But this is more, I think, a sense of maybe this is a bit of a new normal and, yeah.
CORIN But isn’t this a great risk
for the world? Because we’ve seen an incredibly erratic
70-odd days from this president, where he can barely be
trusted on anything. Yet, he’s going to see a poll boost,
no doubt, from this move. He’s been praised by Western
countries, even the New York Times editorial praised him.
He’s going to be emboldened by
ROBERT Yeah, but if you think about Mr Tillerson and Mr Mattis, I mean, these people are fairly serious, but I think, in many ways, fairly cautious operators. And I think what this action reveals is that the Steve Bannons of this world do not have Mr Trump’s ear on this. The more kind of unpredictable, lash-out type responses, this was not one of those. This was actually a carefully calculated response. It’s the sort of thing that another president would’ve done if they’d decided to use limited force against Syria. It was against the airbase where the aircraft came from. And again, as you say, miscalculations are possible, but I do think we need to wait and see are we now seeing the maturation of a government? Clearly Mr Trump is going to be unpredictable. He’s still going to be Donald Trump. But I do think that we are seeing some signs of a more moderate approach.
CORIN And do you think we saw that, perhaps, with his meeting with President Xi? Very low-key meeting in some ways, and no big, grand statements on North Korea yet. Although he has talked about possibly getting involved there.
ROBERT Yeah, I think one of the interesting things about the Xi meeting was the way it got overshadowed by this decision, and you could say that Mr Trump was also trying to show Mr Xi who’s boss. But what came out of that meeting was there were no disasters, there were no massive surprises in the China-US relationship. So that went off pretty well. And so Mr Trump’s got his Supreme Court Justice in. There are signs of something that is emerging as an administration that is finding its feet. But on things like trade, for example, New Zealand would still be unhappy with the stance that Mr Trump has taken.