WHAT will American foreign policy look like under President Trump? The question takes on particular importance in light of Mr Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, and David Friedman as ambassador to Israel.
Mr Tillerson’s nomination raises potential conflicts of interest about his leadership of a corporation with distinct interests in Russian oil supplies, but who will also be (if confirmed by the Senate) charged with pursuing America’s national interests with regard to Russia.
Mr Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience, has hawkish views that differ greatly from present US policy and mainstream opinion. He rejects the idea of a two-state solution, and makes the highly provocative suggestion of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mr Trump appears to have little interest in the art of diplomacy.
Other than building a wall along the US-Mexico border and accusing China of unfair trade practices, his foreign policy views remain largely unknown. Since the presidency is his first elected office, there is little to no record of past policy positions to use a guide.
For these reasons his cabinet advisers will be key to anticipating what shape his foreign policy will take. Several members of the foreign policy team have caused concerns to be raised, notably Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA Director and retired General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor. Mr Pompeo and Mr Flynn hold controversial and strongly hawkish views on US foreign relations.
Mr Flynn has repeated said that Islamic terrorism poses an “existential threat” to America and that the Muslim faith itself is the problem, describing it as a political ideology, rather than a religion.
Mr Flynn also believes that the US should work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamist militants and stop worrying about his suppression of critics at home, his annexation of Crimea or the Russian military’s indiscriminate bombing of Syrian cities. Mr Pompeo favours repealing post-Snowden surveillance reforms and increasing the ability of the National Security Agency to collect information at home and abroad. He is also strongly against the Iran nuclear deal, which prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
How might these individuals (and appointments to come) shape the Trump administration’s foreign policy? Mr Trump may pose a challenge not only to specific policies but also to the very foundations of the liberal international order built after the Second World War. This is the web of organizations, institutions, and treaties that helps to make everyday global political and economic affairs fairly stable.
The US has long enjoyed extreme advantages by being at the centre of, or highly influential in, the global web of international institutions such as the UN, Nato, the EU and the World Trade Organisation). The US benefits by having the dollar as the major global currency and in a symbolic way in terms of the influence it wields within these institutions.
However, the US is also facing a decline in resources after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the great recession. It has begun to realise that it will need to accommodate new and rising powers in the coming years.
The concern many scholars of international relations have is that, rather than states such as Russia and China posing problems for the global order, the new administration might become a problem for the institutional arrangements that have served global stability so well over the past 60 years.
Mr Trump’s world views are consistently antithetical to this global order: he sees foreign relations through a short-term, business-deal lens that places little value on institutions such as Nato. He thinks US allies should pay for the entire cost of US military presence in their countries.
He opposes the trading agreements that have been in operation for decades. He supports protectionism. He supports authoritarianism, particularly in Russia.
In this sense, we should be worried less about a wall which will, in all likelihood, never materialise and much more about Mr Trump’s disregard for much of the global order and the relative peace that it brings.
Dr Solomon is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Glasgow.