Where does American foreign policy go from here? For over seventy years, the United States has promoted an international order based on the principles that free trade creates prosperity, alliances uphold national security, and liberal democracy unlocks freedom. However, with last week’s stunning election of Donald Trump, this order is now under challenge, and American foreign policy stands at a turning point.
There is great uncertainty about what a Trump Administration will do. Appointments to key offices at State, Defense, and the National Security Council, and in the intelligence community may provide some hint as to what is to come. But around the world, there is deep disquiet about what the Trump presidency will bring.
The world cannot assume that the United States will uphold a free, fair, rules-based trading system. The American-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal—after years of negotiations and concessions from America’s Pacific allies—is effectively dead. Mr. Trump further promised to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. And he suggested that if his plan to repatriate American jobs is challenged by the World Trade Organization, the United States should simply withdraw its membership.
For the first time in decades, there are doubts about whether America will be a reliable guarantor of international security. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Trump raised questions over the relevance of NATO and whether the United States will be serious about defending its allies against attack. As troubling, Mr. Trump seemed to ignore the longstanding American policy of preventing nuclear proliferation by providing allies with a nuclear guarantee, suggesting that Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea might be better off getting nuclear weapons to protect themselves.
As for liberal democracy, many feared—and not a few hoped—that America’s longstanding defense and promotion of democracy and human rights might come to an end given the tone and tenor of the campaign.
The world abroad, like Americans at home, face great uncertainty about the direction of American foreign policy and global engagement in a Trump administration. As I argued in the Financial Times earlier this week, President Trump will need to reassure our allies and friends that, like all his predecessors since World War II, he understand the great benefit our country derives from its sustained engagement around the world.
This Week’s Reads show how Mr. Trump’s election has already affected the global political landscape and provide some perspective on what we can expect from American foreign policy in a Trump administration.
Alison Smale and Steven Erlanger/The New York Times
With the election of Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains Europe’s and the trans-Atlantic partnership’s last defender. Merkel, however, is under attack from all sides. Populist movements have gained success in the United Kingdom and are now rising in France under Marine Le Pen. Merkel is both the last pillar of the liberal-democratic order and a lightning rod for criticism. She congratulated Trump on his victory but laid out conditions for continued cooperation based on these common values: “democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person.”
Ruchir Sharma/The New York Times
We are entering a period of de-globalization, with anti-trade and anti-immigrant populist movements gaining traction throughout the world, writes Ruchir Sharma. History shows that this period will last: The world experienced a great period of globalization leading up to World War I, followed by a long and destructive period of de-globalization in the decades after. To predict what might lie ahead for the global order, the closest parallels are the events that happened post-Great War and post-Great Depression: high tariffs, low trade, damaged economies, restricted immigration, international retreat, and military isolationism.
Bob Woodward/The Washington Post
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office, he must first receive intelligence briefings on the United States’ deepest secrets. The briefings will cover everything from top-secret CIA programs to reviewing important intelligence orders signed by the president. Trump also will receive a briefing on how to use the “football,” the device that follows the president around and is able to initiate nuclear weapons. In 2008, the level-headed then president-elect Obama said after a briefing, “It’s good that there are bars on the windows here because if there weren’t, I might be jumping out.” It’s anyone’s guess on how Trump might react.
David Ignatius/The Washington Post
Donald Trump is unpredictable, but if he follows through on his campaign promises we can expect a significant change in US foreign policy, writes David Ignatius. Trump will move to improve relations with Russia and attempt a joint effort to defeat the Islamic State. He will push our European and Asian allies to pay more for their own defense. He will attempt to renegotiate trade pacts, particularly with China. All these “America First” actions will likely alienate our allies and drive them to make new alliances with newly assertive Russia and China, says Ignatius, undermining America’s leadership role.
Andrew Browne/The Wall Street Journal
China does not know what to expect from Donald Trump and would have preferred Hillary Clinton as president, writes Andrew Browne for The Wall Street Journal. Beijing sees a geopolitical opportunity if Trump follows through in pulling back from Asian alliances. On the other hand, if he follows through in putting massive tariffs on Chinese goods, it could lead to a global recession and hurt the Communist Party’s standing as the only thing that stands between order and chaos. One thing is for sure, Browne writes: “The world’s most consequential bilateral relationship now faces an extended period of uncertainty and tension.”
Peter S. Goodman/The New York Times
Donald Trump rode the wave of populist ferment that is sweeping Western democracies, writes Peter Goodman. Fueled by the anger of voters who feel left behind by globalization, the incoming Trump administration has promised to limit free trade and bring manufacturing jobs back to the country. This upheaval demonstrates how economic dynamics between the affluent elite and the disaffected center are beginning to take precedence over the traditional ideological division between the left and the right.
Adam Nossiter/The New York Times
The results of the US election has incited speculation that Trump’s victory could bolster populist movements across the Western world. Marine LePen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, could very well tap into the same vein of populist outrage that propelled Trump to the White House. However, there are significant barriers to her accession to power in France, including the National Front’s position on the fringe of the political landscape, as well as the united opposition of the country’s major parties.
Jackie Calmes/The New York Times
It has been little over a week since the election, but congressional leadership has announced the end of the discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal would have created a framework for economic relationships between countries across the Pacific region, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Vietnam. A key promise of Donald Trump’s campaign was the limitation of free trade, so it can be expected that similar initiatives, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, will also founder in the coming months.
Wolfgang Ischinger/The New York Times
Wolfgang Ischinger addresses President-Elect Trump and what his immediate concerns and overall strategy should be in regard to European-American relations. In order to ensure continued cooperation with Europe, Ischinger writes that the incoming Trump administration should reaffirm its commitment to NATO—and here he cites the popular support for NATO found in Council survey data—and also take steps to build a stronger transatlantic economy. These two actions would ensure the continuation of a reliable security environment and boost economic progress, bringing certainty to a world that is largely uncertain about the incoming president’s priorities.
Francis Fukuyama/Financial Times
In 1989 Francis Fukuyama declared the “end of history” with the inexorable rise of liberal democracy. Today, he is forced to revise this conclusion as the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and the spread of nationalist populism threaten liberal international institutions and norms. He writes in the Financial Times that Trump’s stated goals of revisiting traditional US alliances, renegotiating trade deals, and increasing the use of force to resolve conflict are worrying signs of what may lie ahead.