Warning, this is not a drill. Now that Donald Trump is going to be the 45th president of the United States of America, leaders all around the world are asking how a Trump presidency will affect their national interests. US allies in particular are alarmed by his campaign rhetoric and uncertain about his commitment to global agreements on trade (TPP), security (NATO), humanitarian (refugees) and environmental (climate change) issues. Unfortunately Trump’s political inexperience, personal unpredictability and blatant dishonesty make any predictions about Trumpian foreign policy about as useful as 2016 election exit polls. Nobody, probably including Donald Trump himself, really knows what he will do in foreign affairs. The fear is that Trump could steer the world into chaos or war but the hope is that he will be reined in by Congress and the bureaucracy of the office.
So what DO we know? Firstly, the people around Trump could indicate whether he plans to implement a hawkish conservative or radical isolationist foreign policy. So far Trump’s cheer squad is a mixed bag of both establishment cronies and loyal deplorables. The question is, how many of each will be in positions of power and influence? Secondly, Trump is likely to approach issues and relationships with a business mind, meaning that alliances could be transactional rather than based on mutual values. Those who pay for the pleasure of US security can feel secure but those who take it for granted may get the cold shoulder. This is both a good and bad policy for Trump to follow – obviously alliances are two-way streets and any withdrawal of support or benefits would likely be mutual. But it could also force some allies in Europe and Asia to beef up their security, diversify their trade and become more independent from the US, which gets to step back from its draining role as global policeman and instead become a guard for hire.
Trump is proud of his unpredictability, believing it gives him an edge in the art of the deal by keeping the other side guessing. But that kind of strategy is not sustainable with allies and damages America’s credibility. There are three things Trump should do to reassure allies ASAP: state that defending allies is not conditional based on their monetary contributions to groups like NATO; show that he is willing to continue or compromise on key trade agreements with allies or at least back away from his more controversial campaign ideas; and talk more about shared (read: democratic or humanitarian) values when describing bilateral relationships. Trump wants to demand more from America’s allies, but he also needs to make sure he doesn’t alienate them... sooo maybe he should practice building bridges instead of walls.
Feel that alliances could mean the difference between life and death? Movie for your precious mood: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring