The Yorkshire Post. Published 6:13 Thursday 10 November 2016
GIVEN that Donald Trump has little experience in foreign policy and has few advisors in this area, trying to separate out some of his bombastic statements during the campaign from likely policy stances is tricky. Even so, there are some clues, leading quickly to the conclusion that if the Republican-dominated Congress agrees with him, there will be substantial changes.
On Russia, Trump admires Putin and his dominant leadership style, appears willing to make allowances for Russian moves in Crimea and Ukraine and believes that a relationship can be forged which will help resolve the US/Russia antagonism over Syria. Putin will relish this, not least in ensuring that Russia has a long-term role in the Middle East but more generally that it is taken more seriously as a major world power.
On a related issue, Trump is highly dubious about the role of Nato and especially the cost to the United States. He would prefer Nato to ease up on confronting Russia and put far more emphasis on tackling terrorism. He argues that if European states do not increase defence spending and bear more of the cost of Nato during his first term, then the US should consider withdrawing. He is also deeply critical of the EU, especially its failure to tackle terrorism, and this includes European attitudes to gun control which he sees as reducing the ability of individual Europeans to protect themselves.
While sympathetic to Putin and Russia, Trump is much harsher on China and intends to strengthen the US military presence in the region. He will want to renegotiate trade agreements and take action against currency manipulation, hacking and intellectual property theft. He sees China as the main threat to US power whereas Russia is a potential ally.
In apparent contradiction to this, he wants China to pressurise North Korea on the nuclear issue while allowing the US to hold direct talks with Pyongyang. His attitude to North Korea also seems mixed since he has talked about withdrawing US troops from South Korea while considering the value of Japan and South Korea having nuclear weapons.
Where his outlook gets really forceful is on Middle East policy. While initially ambivalent on his approach to Israel, he has come to regard it as the most significant ally in the region and there is talk of his wanting to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move of great political significance and to be thoroughly welcomed by the Netanyahu government while strenuously opposed by the Palestinians. He deeply distrusts the Iranian nuclear deal and wants to renegotiate it while imposing far harsher sanctions as a means of forcing Iranian concessions on this and other issues.
Interestingly he now regards George W Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 as a major mistake, whatever he thought at the time. That may be thought to imply that the US should now have nothing to do with Iraq but he is, at the same time, highly antagonistic to Daesh – the so-called Islamic State. He has talked of the need for 30,000 US troops to be deployed to defeat IS but is not specific as to when this might happen. He believes that torture is acceptable when dealing with terrorists. Interestingly he sees Russia as having a stabilising role in Syria, even to the extent of appearing willing to let the Assad regime survive.
On immigration, Trump remains adamant that a 1,000-mile wall will be built along the Mexican border, up to 11 million “illegals” will be deported and the border protection forces will be tripled in size. While the border is directed at Latino control, he is even more forceful on Muslims. His original blanket ban on Muslim entries may have been moderated but it still means a ban on those from “terror states and terror nations”, both undefined terms, and what he terms “extreme vetting” of Muslims from elsewhere.
Much of his foreign policy stance is predicated on the need to make the United States an oasis of well-defended stability but his wider stance on international security is difficult to comprehend. On the one hand he intends substantially to increase military spending but on the other he is cautious about oversees adventures, excepting IS and China. Presumably the assumption is that no-one will be foolish enough to threaten US interests in the face of a much stronger US military and a Trump White House.
Perhaps most significant of all in relation to long-term impacts is his denial that climate change is a problem and his desire to increase the use of coal and oil. He would even like to withdraw from the Paris climate deal. That will cause great dismay among many governments while some may hide behind this stance to limit their own commitments. Since violent climate disruption is now one of the greatest threats to world security, two Trump presidential terms of office involving sustained climate change denial could be little short of catastrophic.
Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University. His new book, “Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins”, is published by I. B. Tauris.