September 10, 2019

CNAS Responds: John Bolton Departs as National Security Advisor

By Carrie Cordero, Loren DeJonge Schulman, ​Neil Bhatiya, and Kristine Lee

On Tuesday, President Trump announced the resignation of National Security Advisor John Bolton, adding uncertainty to the administration's stance on key national security issues. Bolton's successor will inherit a slew of foreign policy challenges, ranging from tense relations with Iran, stalled negotiations with North Korea, and economic strains with Venezuela and China.

As the situation unfolds, CNAS experts examine the impact of Bolton's departure on these key issues and U.S. national security at large:

  • Carrie Cordero, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow: "Love him or hate him, John Bolton was an informed participant in national security matters. The president has now cycled through yet another national security advisor, leaving policy advice and decision-making to a smaller and smaller cadre of close advisors unwilling to speak truth to power. In less than three years, the president has forced out national security advisors, intelligence agency heads, cabinet secretaries and other senior national security leaders. This severe instability in leadership makes it more likely a true national security threat or emergency will be mishandled."
  • Loren DeJonge Schulman, Leon Panetta Senior Fellow: "Ambassador Bolton rejected or ultimately failed at all critical elements of the national security advisor role: running a fair and deliberative policy process, seeking a trusted staffing relationship with the president, managing the National Security Council staff with authority, speaking for the president on national security matters, and negotiating for the United States in a trusted fashion. Instead, Bolton pursued the job as a means to enact his personal policy agenda – and having ignored the rest of his job description – didn't find much success."
  • Neil Bhatiya, Associate Fellow for Energy, Economics, and Security: "Bolton’s departure as National Security Advisor suggests that the president was unhappy with the lack of progress on a multitude of maximum economic pressure campaigns: Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. While it’s unlikely that a new National Security Advisor will oversee a substantial shift in sanctions posture against any of these adversaries, it may open up space for modest progress on diplomacy. Pyongyang and Tehran in particular were distrustful of Bolton, and may be encouraged by a new person at the head of the National Security Council."
  • Kristine Lee, Associate Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "Bolton’s departure may renew momentum toward serious engagement between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea knows its diplomatic opening with the United States is closing, and now unimpeded by the fundamentally hostile force that it saw in Bolton, Pyongyang may decide it no longer wants to wait out the clock. The Trump administration needs to be clear, even amid engagement, that it won’t negotiate away the security of its allies – short-range missile tests should be treated as provocations, and U.S. troops on the peninsula are not a bargaining chip."

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Cole Stevens at cstevens@cnas.org.

  • Carrie Cordero

    Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow

    Carrie Cordero is the Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow and General Counsel at the Center for a New American Security. She is also an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Univer...

  • Loren DeJonge Schulman

    Deputy Director of Studies

    Loren DeJonge Schulman is the Deputy Director of Studies and the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Her research interests include nation...

  • ​Neil Bhatiya

    Associate Fellow, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

    Neil Bhatiya is the Associate Fellow for the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. His work focuses on how the United States uses ...

  • Kristine Lee

    Research Associate, Asia-Pacific Security Program

    Kristine Lee is a Research Associate for the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She specializes in U.S. national security strategy...