AS Donald Trump takes the charge of the office of 45th American President, there exist wide array of apprehensions among the US allies and adversaries who are eager to decipher what direction US foreign policy might take under Trump administration. In various socio-political and economic spheres, it is feared that America’s new president might upend the international order, either by disengaging from allies, realigning with rivals or withdrawing from agreements concluded by previous US administrations. By pledging US-First policy, President Trump places economic protectionism and the fight against Islamist terrorism at the very centre of US foreign policy.
Trump’s policy deliberations have not gone completely unheard as world leaders’ focus on analysing the course, waiting for the President to settle in and take the charge formally. Trump’s policies have hinted of a more cooperative and less adversarial relationship with Moscow. Meanwhile, as China has outmanoeuvred the United States in recent years, particularly with regard to trade and geoeconomic strategies, he has asked to bolster US military deployment and presence in East and South China Seas to discourage Chinese adventurism. On relations with European states, he has taken a stance never thought before, suggesting that European countries would now have to spend more on their own defence.
It is likely that Trump will spell the end of talks on an EU-US free trade treaty, which was proposed to deepen the transatlantic alliance strategically between the previous US administration and EU leaders. On multilateral defence ties, Trump has also shown his interest in building an alliance with Russia to combat the Jihadist presence in Middle East. In his recent interview, President Trump added further to the dismay of Europeans by stating NATO as outdated and obsolete for not being adaptable to modern security challenges. After Brexit, Trump believed that Britain might not be last nation to leave EU.
On issues of bilateral nature, Mr Trump has already called Iran Nuclear deal as one of the “dumbest” deals he had ever seen. He has threatened either to withdraw from the agreement, seek better terms or its complete dismantling which has a narrow scope as it cannot be annulled unilaterally. In Asia and sub-regions, Mr. Trump is seen very much interested in keeping its alliance system intact, eager to mediate the Kashmir issue between Pakistan and India, presses prime focus on elimination of insurgency and extremism but a clear policy of Afghan issue is still missing. However, as Afghanistan’s local media reports, Taliban themselves have asked Donald Trump to review Afghanistan policy. By analysing this cut short summary of policies, it could be inferred that the American President is somehow undermining the strategic value of its European allies who had been one great support system for the US in determining the world order in past. As Trump rattles the strategic worth of some alliances, Gen. James N Mattis, newly appointed Defence Secretary pledges to work closely with the State Department to strengthen U.S. alliances abroad while stating Putin as a real threat to the US, claiming his ambitions to break Northern Atlantic Alliance. The difference in statements is obvious however, it is to see which side convinces the other, given the cost and benefit analysis. Besides, Mr. Trump alone cannot raise diplomatic support for Russia but requires presence of all national stakeholders on one page.
At the same time, the US cannot afford to collide head on with odd fronts that had been brought to terms with a great deal of effort. As to beautifully sum up, Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations considers ‘it as a sign of confusion if you’re making trouble with the Chinese at the same time as you’re making trouble with US allies in Asia, and again as a sign of confusion if you’re trying to make up with Russia at the same [time] that you’re not tending to American alliances in Europe.’ There is also a need to revisit the suggested withdrawal policies from places of the US intervention as immediate extraction would probably leave countries and regions in further chaos. Moreover, he is also confronted by a wave of massive protests inside and outside the country, openly rejecting Trump either for his policy deliberations or flimsy and inappropriate acts during his presidential campaign.
Trump has definitely placed high the mantra of securing America’s greater national interest on his priority list but it involves a wider array of perspective and aspects needed to be retrospected and analysed as to formulate policies. In policy spheres, it is believed that there will be a change in policies vis-à-vis evolving global dynamics and scenarios, once Trump takes charge. For instance, it’s trivial but Trump’s viewpoint concerning Muslim presence in US and globally has changed after elections, thereby presenting a hope for a change of heart. But until something significant happens, confusion would persist.
As it seems very unclear that whether Trump is really seeking to upend the current global order or he lacks the international experience for a comprehensive approach to diplomacy, some analysts believe he is taking a strategic approach, perhaps putting other world powers on edge on purpose. Some analysts see it as benefits of being unpredictable; quoting the example of former US president Richard M. Nixon who was reported to be a proponent of the “madman theory” as he saw it as a tactical advantage in making his enemies think he was unstable.
— The writer is Assistant Research Officer, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.