Home Contact Us  

Iran - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5268, 13 April 2017
Trump Vs Obama: US Policy Towards Adversarial States
Kimberley Anne Nazareth
Researcher, Nuclear Security Programme (NSP), IPCS

During the Obama presidency, US policy towards Syria, Iran and North Korea rested on a ‘carrot and stick’ approach with greater emphasis on the carrots. The Trump administration, while following a similar approach, appears to be willing to use more sticks. The recent air strikes on Syria’s Al Shayrat airbase sanctioned by President Trump in response to the chemical attacks by the Assad regime, have demonstrated a clear shift in strategy since the Obama administration. There are also indications of the possibility of US military strikes against North Korea; for instance the deployment of the Carl Vinson carrier, and against Iran in future. The question is: to what extent, and in what forms, will the Trump administration bring with it continuity or change in its dealings with adversarial states, in this case, Syria, Iran and North Korea?

Obama seemed hesitant of military intervention in Syria. US strategy hinged on a couple of factors, which included the objective of avoiding another Libya, the unorganised anti-Assad rebels, and Russian involvement, to name a few. In spite of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in2013, which crossed Obama's ‘redline’, the then US administration refrained from using force. Obama’s policy towards Syria has been considered a failure as Assad is still in power, the civil war continues, and the peace process has become redundant.

On the other hand, the Trump administration seems more decisive in terms of policy. Trump’s rhetoric in comparison to the past has undergone a shift, from avoiding involvement to getting involved. US policy for the moment seems more in tune with action than inaction. This was evident with the recent US strike. The Trump administration responded decisively by ordering 59 Tomahawk missile strikes on the Syrian airfield. The administration has also signalled further action against Syria but has been unclear on the nature of potential action. Having said this, current US policy towards Syria has its own set of problems. Notwithstanding the obstacles, the larger question is, how far is Trump willing to go and what lengths is he willing to cross in his policy towards Syria?

Obama’s policy towards Iran hinged on ‘engagement’, but more accurately it separated the nuclear deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from the Iranian ballistic missile programme. That is, the Obama administration found it prudent to impose sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme while simultaneously lifting sanctions when it came to the JCPOA.

This policy has so far been continued by the current administration. Trump has carried forward the sanctions imposed by Obama on the ballistic missiles programme, which were authorised by UN Resolutions  2231.  In fact, the Trump administration has also imposed sanctions as per the lists drawn up by the previous administration. This strategy makes it clear that both the US and Iran indirectly agree that all the issues that fall outside the JCPOA are fair game. Thus, in considering US policy towards Iran, there seems to be greater continuity.

North Korea
Obama’s carrot and stick policy to rein in the North Korean nuclear as well as ballistic missile programmes was unsuccessful. His policy of ‘strategic patience’, which was successful with Iran was unsuccessful in the case of North Korea.

During the US election campaign, candidate Trump dabbled with the idea of a ‘face-to-face’ meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Recently, there have been back and forth provocations between the two, from the testing of ballistic missiles by North Korea, to the US deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, which provoked Pyongyang’s ‘nuclear threat’, in turn propelling the US to put the military option on the table. More recently, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its escorts were diverted to the Korean Peninsula. These appear to be stronger measures against North Korea, and are signs of decisive action by the US to assure its regional allies. Irrespective of campaign rhetoric, the Trump administration seems more willing to not only maintain the status quo but enforce it with greater vigour, thus strengthening the idea of ‘support any friend.’ Although the current US strategy seems to be more decisive than before, is it is a wise choice in terms of future implications?

A comparison of Obama's approach and the Trump administration's still evolving policy towards adversarial states reveals marked changes in US strategy towards Syria and North Korea. Trump seems willing to use more sticks in his strategy towards adversaries. However, in the case of Iran, there seems to be greater continuity in US policy, which could be to avoid getting in the way of the JCPOA.

The down side to this strategy could be in terms of a regional fallout. Given the mounting regional challenges, the question is whether Trump’s strong actions towards Syria and North Korea are a good idea for all the stakeholders involved. The Trump administration will have to tread ahead with caution and carefully evaluate the marked difference in the behaviour of all three countries and the interests of the other stakeholders involved.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
The Iran Deal Under a Trump Presidency

Contextualising Iran: The Nixon and Obama Doctrines

NSS in Retrospect: Why not Iran and North Korea?

Examining Iranís Ballistic Missile Test

Has the Rise and Growth of the Islamic State Benefitted Iran?

US, China and Iran: A Balancing Act

Rebalancing: A Complex Triangle

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January  February  March  April  May  June  July  August  September  October  November  December
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.