The New World Order
BSSB.BE youtube 17.09.2018
* Global politics and its power bases are in transition.
President Donald Trump promises a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy—less intervention around the world, more focus on America’s national interests. This isn’t a new idea, but given today’s shifting relations with Russia and China, it is one that may fundamentally remake the existing world order. Harvard University professor and Foreign Policy columnist Stephen Walt has taken issue with the foreign policy visions of both the 44th and 45th Presidents. He will be joined by Steve Edwards of the Institute of Politics for a pointed conversation about the future of global relations.
The one safe answer to all of these questions is that nobody really knows. While only time will tell, this paper seeks to take a step back from the flurry of commentaries on what President Trump may or may not do and provide some coordinates to make sense of the uncertainty. The paper sets Trump’s own stated positions in the context of the US strategic debate at the end of Obama’s two terms and reviews some of the political traditions and schools of thought that inform Trump’s vague but potentially consequential foreign policy agenda.
This exercise also provides the basis from which to draw the possible implications of this agenda for Europe and the future of the transatlantic partnership. Looking at the state of the strategic debate in the US does not imply that Trump’s foreign policy will be consistent with any particular school of thought. It is however relevant for two reasons. The first reason being, this debate brings to the fore a range of fundamental questions, which, if left unaddressed by any American administration, are likely to come back and haunt it. How to distinguish vital national interests from a whole list of important ones?
What is the threshold for the use of military force and how to apply it effectively and legitimately? How to frame complex relationships with rivals or challengers whose cooperation may be critical to deliver results on key dossiers? How relevant are alliances and partnerships to US power, security and prosperity?
The other reason is the notable (re-)emergence of a strand of realist thinking by which the US should adopt a much more restrained foreign policy posture, cutting commitments abroad and focusing on core national interests. For decades, this position has not gained much traction among the Republican and Democratic foreign policy establishment but it increasingly resonates with deep currents in American politics, as starkly demonstrated by the election of Donald Trump.
Today, some of Trump’s broad foreign policy positions appear to be in line with these realist ideas. This is not to say, however, that a realist agenda will necessarily inform Trump’s foreign policy at large. The tradition of American politics that can be seen as encompassing most of Trump’s statements on both internal and external affairs is the ‘Jacksonian’ one, which expresses strong anti-elite and nationalist sentiments. The question remains whether Trump’s foreign policy will prove consistent with the Jacksonian instincts exposed by his campaign.
As with any incoming administration, Trump’s will inherit the foreign policy record of the previous one, namely that of President Obama. Judging from the electoral campaign, Trump’s personality, views and agenda stand out as the opposite of Obama’s. What is distinctive about foreign policy, however, is that it is shaped by a combination of internal and external trends and factors, and that many of the latter fall outside the control of any individual government. Even assuming that Trump’s foreign policy will be highly transactional, opportunistic, and driven by a very different set of priorities to Obama’s, it will still have to cope with the shifting international context that Obama had to deal with. President Trump will not operate in a void, but in a world that is de facto highly interdependent and vulnerable to crises and disruptions.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: youtube