Former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton advises Distinguished Lecture attendees: “It’s not strength that is provocative, it’s weakness”

Ambassador John Bolton, Distinguished Lecture Series speaker. Bolton was the U.S. National Security Advisor, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador John Bolton, Distinguished Lecture Series speaker. Bolton was the U.S. National Security Advisor, 2018-2019, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, 2005-2006.
Michael Mercier | UAH

This spring, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) hosted former United States Ambassador John Bolton who took attendees on a compelling journey through several decades of U.S. foreign policy, summing up his viewpoint on international conflicts stating, “It’s not strength that is provocative, it’s weakness.” The talk was held on the UAH campus, a part of the University of Alabama System, through the UAH Distinguished Lecture Series.

Bolton served as national security adviser to President Donald Trump from 2018-2019 and previously served as interim U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005–2006. He began his federal service in the administration of Ronald Reagan and later worked under George H.W. Bush as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, as well as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs for George W. Bush.

“The Cold War ended in1991,” Bolton began. “We drew a lot of incorrect conclusions, like we had come to the end of history, and there would be a great peace dividend. Defense budgets were cut dramatically. We got an unexpected wakeup call on 911.”

The former ambassador rapidly shifted focus to current international concerns. “How do we protect our way of life? The four leading nation states that are threats to us are China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. These countries are working much more in coordination than they were five or six years ago. A new axis has formed between China and Russia, and this time Russia is the junior partner. Russia is using weapons from North Korea, drones from Iran. Our response to this is inadequate so far. Preserving and protecting our economy and freedom can’t rely on waiting for war to come to us.”

Addressing the conflict in Ukraine, Bolton advocated continuing to maintain and grow powerful alliances to counter threats. “This is a long-term plan Putin is engaged in. If we stop aiding Ukraine and call for a cease-fire, he will regroup and then go in again. Since World War II, whatever order we have rests on the power of the United States and its alliance systems. If we don’t protect our interests internationally, no one is going to do it for us. I believe in the Reagan idea of peace through strength. Defending Europe is not an act of charity, it is in our self-interest to do so.”

The former ambassador, however, depicted China as America’s greatest challenge. “In the mid-1980s Deng Xiaoping moved away from Marxist principals to more market principals. We thought China would be a responsible stakeholder. That has been proven to be 180-degrees wrong. They have engaged in an enormous military buildup, they are one of the leading proponents of cyber warfare and are pushing our shrinking Navy away from the western pacific. They are stealing our technology so they don’t have to develop their own. They have what they call ‘civil-military fusion,’ which ought to make our blood run cold. Their intention is to get control of 5G and take all the data they can suck away to Beijing to analyze.”

Taiwan, the ambassador went on to note, is “deathly afraid they are going to be China’s first target. I don’t think they will invade. It’s a big challenge. There are 100 miles of open sea, and they don’t want to reduce Taiwan to ash. It’s too important. I think it’s more likely they will put up a blockade and see if we will break it. China has said they have annexed the South China Sea. Japan has committed to doubling the percentage of their GDP that they allocate to defense, which would make them the third largest military in the world. That’s how worried they are.”

Bolton concluded by opining that America doesn’t pay enough attention to its adversaries. “I just returned from Korea, and people there talk about the instability of the United States. America is a naïve, trusting people, and we expect people around the world are too, and they are not. They are totally cynical. China is deterrable – we need to start a massive increase in defense spending. We have to give China the clear impression that if they misstep, they will pay a very dear price. But we’ve always faced up to the challenges before us, and we will do it again.”


Kristina Hendrix

Julie Jansen