US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s sinister excuses for the atrocities of various dictators in the world has been one of his many alarming policy proposals and rhetoric over the course of his presidential campaign. However his aversion to long established alliances such as NATO and proposal to radically upend the post-Second World War-era have been much more worrying.
Never one to miss an opportunity to opine about America’s decline and suggest that the antidote to it lies in more focus on domestic policies, at the direct expense of foreign affairs, Trump has consistently been paving the way for foreign policy which will, whether he intends it to or not, enable autocratic polities across the world to strengthen at the expense of, mostly, democratic American allies.
At the end of the Cold War the US was not only the lone superpower the whole world, but a hyper-power in a world without any superpowers, by some estimates it was the only time in history the world was as unipolar as it was since the times of the Roman Empire.
Today while the US remains the most militarily powerful country in the world it no longer lives in a unipolar world. A resurgent and more autocratic Russia has emerged under its President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Russia has, just in the last three years, forcibly staked its claim in eastern Ukraine and has also flexed its military muscles at its former Eastern European Soviet satellite states – many of which are NATO member states.
This also comes as China is blatantly and unapologetically flouting international law (just last July it refused to recognize a ruling against it in The Hague over territorial disputes with its neighbours) and staking its claims in the South China Sea, which has worried many countries who are US allies in that region.
In other words, this is one of the worst times imaginable to espouse, as Trump does, Charles Lindbergh-esque isolationist “America First” rhetoric. His proposal also comes as the number of democratic countries in the world begins to pale in comparison to the number of autocracies and dictatorships. One estimate found that over the course of the last 15 years 27 countries which were previously democracies became autocratic states. The trend looks set to continue and will likely speed up if a President Trump has his way.
Trump’s fondness of Putin is particularly worrying. If the real estate dealer does become the 45th occupant of the Oval Office will his foreign policy really entail throwing America’s commitments to protect smaller nations like the Baltic states and Taiwan from larger and potentially aggressive countries like Russia and China?
Leaving aside reports that hackers employed by the Russians leaked sensitive material belonging the Democratic National Committee — the governing body of the United States’ Democratic Party — to potentially tilt the balance in Trump’s favour, it seems to be clear that a Trump presidency will — probably unintentionally — serve the interests of the Kremlin and other emergent authoritarian powers willing to coerce or even actively threaten their neighbours to get their way.
A more bipolar world isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However that’s not what Trump is railing against. He favours an America which will be willing to unnecessarily leave longstanding allies to the mercy of increasingly aggressive neighbours. However what Trump is advocating could make the world a far more dangerous place. A world where Eastern Europe is left vulnerable to Russian pressure, and even threats, and China’s neighbours are told they will have to deal with a hostile Beijing on their own will be a much more dangerous world.
Trump’s loose talk about how current American allies will have to rue the day when they cannot count on American support to defend themselves against potential aggressors is a worrying one. It could mean in the long-term that to deter Iran the Saudis opt to acquire their own nuclear weapons (something Trump says he is fine with since it is “going to happen anyway”). The world will be further destabilised by a Trump policy which could well mean that most countries in China’s reach will seek their own nuclear weapons; countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan who have never sparked a major nuclear arms race with China by developing their own nuclear weapons arsenals since they could count on the fact they were safely under Washington’s nuclear umbrella.
The post-Second World War order has had its many imperfections, but making a complete U-turn on it, as Trump is adamantly proposing is bound to do a lot more harm than good. If Trump was prudent when it came to lessening the reliance many of America’s allies have, he would do it in an incremental fashion, delegate more responsibilities to them when it comes to maintaining their conventional means of defense while guaranteeing to deter any aggressor who tries to threaten them with the use of non-conventional weapons.
In other words a “Trump Doctrine” should be more like a “Nixon Doctrine“. When the Nixon administration was gradually reducing the number of American soldiers in Vietnam, US President Richard Nixon outlined a strategy which saw more responsibilities delegated to America’s allies vis-a-vis defense. In no uncertain terms Nixon told America’s allies around the world that the fighting and defense of their lands in any future war against the Soviets, or Soviet supported proxies, was a task which had to be borne by them while America would guarantee their protection under the nuclear umbrella and provide economic and military assistance wherever necessary, the nation under threat in turn would have to provide the vast bulk of the manpower needed to defend themselves.
That would be a sensible policy to follow for an administration which wants to lessen America’s role in the world and involvement in the various issues around it. A rapid de-escalation and radical overhauling of this six-decade-old international status quo is simply asking for trouble, and the man who is so passionately proposing it, is not fit to be the next President of the United States.