US President Donald J. Trump presented his first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb 28, promising a “new chapter of American greatness”. Though only a small part involved foreign policy, it still demonstrated the fundamentals of Trump’s international strategy.
First, the Trump administration adheres to the principle of “burden sharing” among US allies. Since taking office, Trump has continued the US alliance policy, even strengthening the alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, as shown by Secretary of Defense Mattis’ visit to South Korea and Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the White House. However, while highlighting the importance of the alliance system, Trump also emphasized the urgency of balancing the responsibilities and obligations among the allies, especially financially. Trump made it clear that “We strongly support NATO... but our partners must meet their financial obligations.” It seems that the Trump administration has made some progress on this issue. In the speech, Trump said: “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that. In fact ...the money is pouring in.”
Second, the United States is trying to ease tension with Russia. Although former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation may bring some setbacks to the process, Trump has been eager to smooth relations with Russia, and that effort is likely to continue. He implicitly expressed this position in the speech, saying, “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.... America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these terrible, terrible wars.” In Trump’s view, without Russia’s cooperation and coordination, eradicating ISIS and stabilizing the Middle East would not be possible.
The third is to defeat ISIS, a top priority of Trump’s foreign strategy. In the speech, Trump said: “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS.... We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet. ”
The fourth is to reduce US international intervention. During the presidential campaign, Trump expressed strong dissatisfaction with the US role as the world’s policeman. When taking office, Trump published his “America First” policy on the White House website, pointing out that “we do not go abroad in search of enemies.” It can be seen that Trump hopes to solve existing troubles, while not provoking new ones. Trump said: “America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.” He emphasized that “America is better off when there is less conflict, not more”, “We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. We want peace, wherever peace can be found.” To this end, the United States should minimize its international intervention. Trump insisted that, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
Last, Trump wants to bolster defense spending. Trump emphasizes the idea of “peace through strength”, and military force is the core and fundamental power. Thus, rebuilding the military is at the top agenda for Trump. He has submitted a budget plan to the Congress, seeking to increase US military spending by $54 billion. If approved, it would be the largest hike in US defense spending since 2008 (a 10% increase) and 2007 (12%). In the speech, Trump stated the necessity of this move, saying “To keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war and – if they must – to fight and to win.”
Compared with his predecessor’s, Trump’s first congressional speech seems more pragmatic. His speech shows some consistency and continuity, an extension of his “One Hundred Day Action Plan” declared in his Gettysburg speech a few days before the presidential election. From this perspective, Trump’s international strategy may not be as uncertain as people tend to believe.