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Foreign Policy

Trump’s Foreign Policy Preference and Its Implications

Jun 08 , 2016
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

According to The Associated Press, Donald J. Trump has reached 1,238 delegates, putting him beyond the 1,237 needed for the Republican nomination for president. Maybe it is the time to analyze the foreign policy of a possible Trump administration. Briefly, his international strategy can be summarized in two points: one is to “make America great again”. It is the slogan for Trump’s presidential campaign and it clearly demonstrates his policy objectives, that is, to fix the former administration’s policy defects and failures and then bring back American glory. On April 27, Trump made a speech on foreign policy, saying that “It is time to shake the rust off of America’s foreign policy”. Once he takes office, “America is going to be strong again”; the other is “America First”, which reflects Trump’s goal to take the national interest as the only policy guidance, “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else… America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” Based on these points, Trump’s administration is likely to have the following preferences in international strategy:

First, it will be more inward-looking. Trump believes internationalism will not bring more benefits for the United States, “I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down, and will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs.” In contrast, the United States should turn its focus on domestic affairs and reduce external commitments and obligations. He once again stressed in the speech that the Americans “do not go abroad in search of enemies”. To this end, Trump intends to change the alliance system built by the United States since World War II. He set up two prospects: One is to maintain the alliance, but the allies protected by the US need to provide more financial support; the other is to terminate the alliance system, and the allies should bear their own security responsibilities. Seen through the prism of history, it is actually a manifestation of isolationism, that is, to minimize the US political and security obligations in the international community.

Second, it respects the principle of power in security strategy. For the most part, Trump is a realist, believing power is the only law of international relations. For example, he stressed that the US seeks to improve relations with Russia and China from “a position of strength”. He also advocated increasing America’s military spending and strengthening military building. In fighting against ISIS, Trump might make more military arrangements, even deploying ground forces. In a sense, it is a response to the Republican supporters. According to the survey by the Pew Research Center, among GOP voters, Trump supporters (70%) and non-supporters (66%) favor the use of U.S. ground forces to fight ISIS. Trump admitted that, however, military option can be chosen after all others are of no avail, “I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative.” Once used, it should fight to win. From this perspective, Trump put emphasis on strength, but in terms of the use of military force, he is still cautious.

Third, it is likely to be more conservative on economic and trade policies. Trump shows no support for free trade. For instance, he made it clear in the speech that NAFTA “has been a total disaster for the U.S. and has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs.” He is also a staunch opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fundamentally, Trump regards the United States as the victim of free trade, which he blames for the decline of US economic competitiveness, the shrinking of middle class and the insufficient employment rate. His political arguments have resonated with voters, and thus he gained more popular support. According to the poll by Pew Research Center conducted in March and April 2016, among the Republican presidential candidates’ supporters, two-thirds of Trump supporters (67%) say free trade agreements have been bad for the country, and 60% say they have definitely or probably hurt their own finances. To reverse the situation, he suggests he would not hesitate to launch a trade war, especially against China. On May 1, he said at a campaign rally in Indiana that when it came to the US trade deficit with China, the United States can’t allow China to “rape the country”. Trump pledged to build tariff barriers in order to protect American economic and trade interests. He claimed the US should impose up to a 45% tariff on Chinese exports to the US. Based on the idea of “America first”, Trump’s administration would adopt a more aggressive policy for trade protectionism.

Fourth, promoting democracy could be more careful and moderate. It has been one of the US’ national interests to promote democracy abroad, especially in the post-Cold War era. The Clinton administration put “economy, security and democracy” as the three pillars of its international strategy; the George W. Bush administration held the view that a democracy deficit was the root cause of international terrorism. As a result, it took democracy promotion as the major part of counter-terrorism strategy; that has also been true for Obama’s administration. In the 2010 “National Security Strategy”, it explicitly pointed out that advancing overseas democracy was one of four enduring national interests of the United States. However, Trump has different ideas. In his speech on April 27, he argued that the promotion democracy in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other places should take responsibility for the US dilemmas in these regions. He said that, these troubles “all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.” It does not mean that Trump has no impulse to spread American values, but he doesn’t put it as a priority of his foreign policy agenda.

Obviously, Trump’s international strategy will have big impacts on the norms and institutions established after World War II. Thus, it will not only affect US global leadership, but also the entire international system. In the situation of the weakening global economic development, the uncertainties of international and regional security, and the increasingly serious global challenges, it is not good news for the world to face a lack of global leadership.

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