“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
-US President Donald Trump
This statement was declared by the new American President Donald Trump in his inaugural speech on January 20, 2017. Trump became famous even before his appointment as president, for his number of controversial statements on Islamic fundamentalism, immigration policy, China and Russia. At the end, Trump took office with an agenda that marks a radical break with the past.
Although it is too early to predict the prospects on Trump’s new foreign policy, can make an effort to examine his foreign policy in regard to the developing world. Apparently, it is understandable that the arrival of a nationalist leader might be a radical break for the US after having a number of liberal-centred presidents.
The ‘America First’ ideology of Trump reflects the new concept of ‘Responsible Nationalism’ in politics and international relations. Charles W. Eliot stated that Responsible Nationalism is “when countries are expected to pursue their citizens’ economic welfare as a primary objective but where their ability to harm the interests of citizens elsewhere is circumscribed.” (Summers, 2016)
He further stressed that international agreements would be judged not by how much is harmonized or by how many barriers are torn down but whether citizens are empowered. When analysing Trump’s statements, it is crystal clear that Trump has ethics of responsible nationalism with his America First ideology.
In his inaugural speech, he stated, “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” This manifests, the urge of Trump to make the American people empowered.
Trump’s argument on international trade agreements and the country’s competitiveness gave an impression to the world that he will go for a radical change with reference to trade. He was very open about his future trade relations with China. Once he emphasized that he will promise to get tough with China and withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is still not finalized. Basically, Trump is of the opinion that the US 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.
He also stressed, “NAFTA has been a total disaster for the US and has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs” and he further stated that he would not hesitate to launch a trade war, especially against China to change this current situation.
During his election campaign, Trump pledged to build tariff barriers in order to protect the American economic and trade interests. Therefore, it is justifiable to predict that the world will be able to see a more aggressive policy for trade protectionism under Trump’s administration such as many tariffs, trade sanctions and policies. Apparently, this situation definitely affects the developing world, especially those who are conducting trade relations with the US and China.
Impenetrable physical wall
The actions of Trump regarding immigration and security policies caused many verbal confrontations in the past few weeks. Trump’s promise to build an ‘impenetrable physical wall’ across the US southern border commenced in his first week in office. On the other hand, Trump’s administration has pledged to pursue a temporary ban on migration from regions; he assumes exporters of terrorism are migrating. These decisions of Trump are definitely going to create huge havoc especially within North South dialogues.
If Trump tries to put trade or political sanctions on selected countries, it is expected that the rest of the world is also will have to be biased at least in some aspects in order to have good relations with Trump. This situation might badly affect the developing world and its future. For countries like Sri Lanka, it is essential to have well balanced relations with everyone. Therefore, this situation might be unhealthy to the current world order.
President Trump is a realist, believing power to be the only law of international relations. That he proved from his ideology over Russia and China to improve relations from a position of strength. He further emphasized that he would expand America’s military spending and strengthening of the military within the coming years. From this perspective, Trump gave the impression that he would not hesitate to use military power when there is no alternative.
Trump’s views on the United Nations (UN) were another controversial issue. The UN is the world’s largest mechanism to promote international cooperation with nearly 193 member states. Whatever weaknesses the UN has, still three-fourths of the world accept it as the only mechanism to encourage diplomacy and peace between states. But Trump has criticized and questioned the UN’s existence most of the time.
Once he stated, “It is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” He added, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20.” These statements gave an impression that the new environment is uncertain and wary. The developing world will have to follow this situation at the UN carefully since, those are the countries that will be mostly affected by the immediate changes.
On the other hand, Trump has appointed a new ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. This appointment and its nature will decide the future of the developing world in the coming years. In this regard, the importance of the new appointment and the way she is going to handle the UN will
Trump’s nepotism policy
As the last point, the nepotism policy of Trump also can be counted as his new prospect. Trump’s eldest daughter and her husband Jared Kushner, 36-year-old Jewish, is currently playing a major role in the White House politics. He was the only family member, among the small group of advisers who accompanied Trump on his first visit to the White House. Although Kushner has no administrative or political experience, his devotion to his father-in-law was praised by Trump several times because of his loyalty. Prof. Swaran Singh in his latest paper article in Indian New Express has stated, “The New York Times has already crowned Ivanka as the most influential first daughter since Alice Roosevelt Longworth and with Kushner, the two are set to become the most powerful couple in Washington circles.”
Currently Kushner acts as a Senior White House Advisor together with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Kushner’s appointment was questioned on the basis of a 1967 anti-nepotism law in the US. But, the US Department of Justice issued an opinion stating “the President may appoint relatives to his immediate staff of advisors.” on January 20, 2017 and Kushner was sworn in on January 22, 2017.
He was among the senior advisors of Trump’s presidential campaign too and it was reported that he played a major role in developing Trump’s digital media strategy. When considering the recent appointments of the White House, it is reported Kushner had persuaded Trump to fire his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and later advised to pick Reince Preibus as the White House chief of staff.
Although, Chris Christie was being considered for the role of Trump’s running mate Kushner disapproved it and made sure Mike Pence was picked. Chris later took charge of Trump’s transition team but Kushner again ensured his exit. Recently, Trump has named Reed Cordish, Kushner’s friend, as assistant to the president for intra-governmental and technology initiatives. (Prof. Swaran Singh, 2017)
It is very interesting to note the way Trump changes the current laws and proceedings according to his personal interest while being a nationalist. Recently, Trump has put Kushner in charge of brokering peace in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as well as making deals with foreign countries. It is clear that most of the prospects and policies of Trump are closely connected to his personal interests, beliefs and relations when observing the current scenario at the White House.
However, the world has more time to reach conclusions rather than giving assumptions regarding Trump’s foreign policy. Trump himself needs more time and experience to think about a new security policy and foreign policy for the USA. Therefore, there is hope that the world will see more interesting twists and turns in politics in the coming years.
(Vibusha K. Madanayake [B.A. (Hons.) International Relations, University of Colombo] is a Research Assistant at the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL). This article does not reflect the stance of the INSSSL or Government of