Pete Hoekstra is a former congressman who served as chair of the House Committee on Intelligence from 2004-2007 and now serves as an informal adviser to Donald Trump’s transition team. He recently sat down with Sankei Shimbun to discuss the president-elect’s foreign policy plans, including his policy toward Japan
Q: How does the next administration view the U.S.-Japan relationship?
A: Your Prime Minister [Shinzo Abe] was the first foreign leader that had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Trump and that sends a clear and powerful message that Mr. Trump would value the relationship with Japan.
Q: What about the security alliance between the United States and Japan? Would the next administration make it stronger? How do you value the importance of the alliance?
A: It is clear that Mr. Trump believes that there are some issues in this part of the world, whether is it with North Korea, whether it is with China, and he recognizes that to deal with these challenges here in Asia, he will want to have a very strong and close relationship with Japan. If we are going to have an impact, the United States and Japan will have to work together.
Q: In order to strengthen the relationship, what kinds of things [will the administration] expect from Japan? Do you expect Japan to increase its defense spending or expect the Japanese government to pay more money for the U.S. troops stationed here?
A: I think that’s lower on the list. I think the real value of the relationship is in the United States and Japan and others developing a strategy. This relationship is first not about money. I don’t believe that is where Mr. Trump will start. Mr. Trump will start in terms of saying, and the saying is pretty much the same with the cabinet picks, “I want to pick the people who share my philosophy, that I can trust, that I can work with.”
So the first part of the relationship is to build the relationship between the Trump administration and the Japanese where we trust each other and then develop the strategy to move forward. Your Prime Minister said that it is time to look at a new strategy, and a new strategy to deal with North Korea because we have a new reality. This is no longer about a strategy to stop North Korea from getting a nuclear weapon—it has a nuclear weapon. And so it is all about developing a strategy to move forward to deal with the issues whether it’s China, North Korea, trade, building of islands in the South China Sea. We need the partnership to develop the strategy.
Then you will start moving: “okay, what does that mean, what does the U.S. need to do, what does that mean that we will expect from the Japanese.” The accountability. What are the expectations. This is where you get into issues of cost and burden sharing and those types of things. That is not where the relationship will start.
On North Korea
Q: Speaking of North Korea, how do you advise Mr. Trump to contain the threat from the North Korean nuclear arsenal? What do you predict will be the administration’s next steps to take?
A: The first step that needs to be taken is [strategy], because Mr. Trump says we need a new strategy, Japan says we need a strategy, I have talked with the South Koreans, and they believe that they need a new strategy.
The first step is rather than saying we will do these things, he’s indicated that we are going to talk about it, how they manipulate currency, we will talk about trade issues. But for the bigger strategy, it really will require South Korea, Japan, and the United States to partner, to have that discussion before we announce what we will do. That’s what partners do. They talk to each other.
Q: Does that discussion include the possibility that South Korea or Japan may acquire nuclear weapons, as Mr. Trump suggested during the campaign?
A: I think Mr. Trump spoke clearly on many of these issues. It’s that what we’ve done in the past has not worked very effectively. And he’s willing to perhaps discuss those things, but he has not made the decision. So he didn’t say that he is going to specifically discuss nuclear weapons, I think what he has said is, let’s make sure we are making a new strategy. We talk a lot about options, some of which will be discounted very quickly, some of which require extensive discussions because there are many ramifications. None of these issues are easy. And I don’t think you’ll see Mr. Trump rush into anything or come in with answers.
I believe it will be a full partnership talking about what we want to do. I think Mr. Trump believes that [our] relationships haven’t been dynamic enough. He’s talked about NATO—what’s the problem with NATO? It’s not structured for dealing with the threat of terrorism. The problem with NATO is that America picks up too much of the cost and other countries don’t. And those are the issues that he has talked about, and what he does is he is sending a signal that says, these are the things that we need to talk about, these are the things that we need to discuss.
As you know, he is a businessman. And businessmen always want to construct agreements after there’s been a dialogue. And a good business relationship is one that’s good for both partners. So what he wants is a relationship that is good for Japan and a relationship that is good for the United States and that’s good for the region.
Q: Yesterday, Mr. Trump said that he would like to rebuild the alliance. Is this what he was talking about?
A: I think he believes—and I come out of the business world—and what he is looking at is that some of these relationships are not as vibrant, energetic as they should be.
On China and Taiwan
Q: And some of Trump’s diplomacy is already on the move, for example with Taiwan and China. That was very a very interesting move to approach Taiwan this way. Is this some kind of signal that America is ready to reassess the relationship with China, Taiwan, and the “One China Policy”?
A: You have to be very careful on reading too much into any one activity. He took a phone call from Taiwan and don’t take a phone call and make it this.
He took a phone call from a government that we have a lot of economic ties with, we have military ties with it, and by law, we have commitments to Taiwan and I think he is just saying “If I want to talk to the President of Taiwan, guess what, I will talk to the President of Taiwan. If the President of Taiwan wants to call and congratulate me and have a discussion, I will take that call.”
He even followed that up with “The Chinese don’t call me when they want to manipulate currency, they don’t call me and ask when they want to build an island, they don’t call and don’t help us contain North Korea. So if I want to take a phone call from Taiwan, I will take a phone call from Taiwan.”
It does not say it’s a whole new policy or anything like that. It just says, if I want to take a phone call from Taiwan, I will take a phone call from Taiwan.
Q: It’s as simple as that?
A: It’s as simple as that.
But it also sends a signal too, because there are multiple people watching what he is doing. It sends a signal to China that says “Yes we’re concerned about some of the things that you’ve been involved in,” and it also sends the signal to the people that elected Mr. Trump, many of whom have been hurt by our trade policies, by what China has done. Donald Trump is going to fight for fair trade agreements which we believe will lead to more American workers being employed.
Q: What is the position of the incoming administration on the Senkaku Islands? Past administrations said that they were protected under the U.S.-Japan security agreement.
A: I don’t know and I am not sure that the Trump administration has gotten down to that level of detail, but I am sure that they will embrace and endorse our security agreements with Japan.
On defeating the Islamic State
Q: Mr. Trump is sending a very strong message that we have to take out terrorists and defeat ISIS. What’s his plan? On one hand, Mr. Trump is sending signals of nonintervention in Middle Eastern affairs, but on the other hand, he’s trying to strengthen American armed force.
A: You have a couple of things. The situation of terrorism was pretty well under control. In 2001-2, on a global basis, there were roughly 2,500 people per year who were killed as a result of terrorist activities. In 2008-9, that number was about 3,300. In 2015-16, that number is approaching 30,000 people killed.
President Obama gave a speech that talked about how successful we’ve been [against terrorism]. The numbers don’t demonstrate that. So we have to regain a tremendous amount of ground that was lost in the last eight years. In 2009, Libya was a secure state. [Former Libyan President Muammar] Qaddafi was fighting terrorists with the United States. Northern Africa was stable. Our European friends and Mr. Obama decided that Qaddafi had to go. And today, Libya is a failed state.
In 2009 and 2010, President Obama pulled the rest of our troops out of Iraq. Iraq is a failed state. It doesn’t control a large portion of its territory. The President said that [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad needed to go. Today, Syria is a failed state.
So the new president has a tremendous challenge to go into a region that in 2009 was relatively stable. And now the United States and others have to develop a strategy to bring stability back to Libya, Syria, and Iraq. It’s going to be very hard to do it. There is going to be a military component. But what’s happening in these countries is, you have Iraqis killing Iraqis, Syrians killing Syrians, Libyans killing Libyans, and will take a long time to overcome.
So the first thing you need to do is, you need to defeat ISIS. And in many of these places you can do it with groups and organizations in the area. The Obama administration sided with the Shia government in Baghdad, many of us believed if we had fully equipped the Kurds and some of the Sunni tribes, we could have defeated ISIS a long time ago.
Syria will be very difficult to put back together. It is so fragmented. And you have Iran, Russia, the United States, other Arab countries all playing a role there. And what the United States would do is nonintervention but I think we will work with governments in the region to make the military investments and political investments to try to bring security to both Syria and Libya.
Q: What will be President Trump’s main foreign policy priorities?
A: Defeating ISIS is one of the major things we need to do, because ISIS right now is spreading into Africa, to Asia, into Europe, and potentially into the United States. So we need to confront and ultimately defeat them. But containing ISIS is his #1 priority.
I think there is the issue with Russia. But I think, in the Middle East, we will work with Russia under certain arrangements to try to contain and defeat terrorism. You will not solve Syria without talking to the Russians.
And the third priority is here in Asia. Concerns on North Korea, we know they have a nuclear weapon, ballistic capability, and they will miniaturize it, and within the next few years they may have a nuclear missile that will be able to hit the United States. Mr. Trump recognizes the issue that will be dealt with.
As a businessman, he wants action. He wants to solve these problems. He has a tremendous amount of energy. Congressmen leave Washington [on the weekends and on recess] but Donald Trump will keep working. He has probably been more active than any president-elected before being sworn in. We need to do a lot of different things. He will expect to get that done out of his administration.
Yoshinari Kurose is a Senior Staff Writer for Sankei Shimbun