At 2:49 in the morning today, the New York Times announced that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had won the general election to become the 45th president of the United States.
The following is what we know about the Trump administration’s prospective foreign policy agenda. This article relies primarily on vetted information from prominent media outlets; however, some information (such as the president-elect’s thoughts on African nations) is only available through his social media posts.
We ascribe the Trump campaign’s foreign policy proposals to the president-elect himself though there has been disagreement over who in the administration will take the lead on such policy matters. Donald Trump’s son, for example, reportedly said that his father plans to have Vice President-elect Mike Pence be “in charge of domestic and foreign policy.” Trump has since denied that claim, but has refused to elaborate on what exactly his and Pence’s respective roles will be.
Trump’s foreign policy philosophy is not easy to break down, not least because of its seemingly contradictory elements. Over the past year he has made statements endorsing both interventionism (see Vox’s compilation of his oil seizure proposals) and isolationism (note his frequent invocation of the WWII-era slogan, “America First”)
One of his more articulate pronouncements came during a speech at The National Interest and concerned America’s relationship with NATO allies. He stated that NATO members must be willing to contribute a mandatory 2% of GDP in defense spending in order to qualify for military aid from the US. “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense,” he said. “And, if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”
Also on the war front, Trump has made frequent headlines with his plans to destroy ISIL. He has yet to deliver details on his strategy to dismantle the terrorist group, insisting that keeping this information secret from ISIL members–and the public– is vital to the success of his plan. He has, however, spoke of stopping the terrorist group without deploying more American troops to the Middle East.
Trump’s foreign policy ideas have drawn sharp criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans. The dearth of specifics with respect to Trump’s China policy in particular has drawn confusion from international media. While there has been widespread trepidation about the prospect of Trump handling America’s nuclear codes in the event of a conflict, the president-elect has been quoted saying that the US, “has a lot of obsolete weapons,” implying support for reducing the country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
As for cyber defense, Trump has spoken, sometimes erratically, about his plans to increase America’s cybersecurity. No clear plan has yet been released, but he has reiterated his resolve to fend off foreign cybersecurity threats.
Trump’s opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) predated his run for office, and his position has not changed.
Finally, Trump has proposed filing a lawsuit to end birthright citizenship for the children of foreign nationals born on US soil.
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For the reader’s convenience, we summarize Trump’s remaining foreign policy pronouncements by geographic region.
THE UNITED KINGDOM: Trump expressed support for the UK’s referendum vote to exit the European Union (aka “Brexit”), going so far as to compare his own campaign to that of the pro-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP. Presumably his support for Brexit will continue, even while some English citizens have attempted to ban him from the country. Trump’s presidency could mean the US faces a strained relationship with the UK, especially as the UK attempts to renegotiate its trade accords.
GERMANY: According to Time, although Trump expressed support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to running for president, he has since rescinded his support. His recent criticisms have focused on Germany’s struggle to integrate hundreds of thousands of refugees, which led him to say Merkel was “ruining” the country.
Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia
RUSSIA: Trump’s friendly views toward the former Eurasian superpower and its leader Vladimir Putin are well-documented. In particular, he has been quoted numerous times as admiring Putin’s decisive leadership. Following the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee, Trump notably refused to support official reports directly implicating Russia. The Wall Street Journal quoted Trump as wanting to “ease tensions” between the US and Russia, but he did not specify what kind of diplomatic action that entailed. In a New York Times interview Trump was quoted saying he would “love” for the US and Russia, “to have a good relationship […]” Time Magazine, however, has questioned how Trump’s business dealings with Russia might impact his foreign policies.
CRIMEA: Foreign Policy has recorded the confusing timeline of Trump’s statements regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It would seem that Trump has sided with Russia – a position that has drawn ire from Ukraine and would likely strain US-Ukrainian relations in the near future.
TURKEY: In an interview with the New York Times, Trump expressed support for President Erdogan’s handling of the failed coup attempt earlier this year, and implied support for Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic style of leadership. Trump also stated that he foresaw opportunity for the US to combat ISIL with Turkey, saying, “[…] I would hope that if I’m dealing with them, they will do much more about ISIS.”
ISRAEL: Trump supports Israel’s desire to install Jerusalem as its national capital. In a Facebook post, Trump also emphasized continuing US support for Israel in general.
PALESTINE: Like many of his foreign policy stances, Trump has flip-flopped on supporting Palestinian statehood. Early in his presidential bid, he sought to broker a “peace deal” between Israel and Palestine with the US as a neutral third party in the discussions, as reported by The Hill. Since then, The Telegraph has recorded Trump’s increasingly pro-Israel stance after his campaigning for American votes in Israeli settlements.
SYRIA: Trump and Pence have at times taken conflicting positions on what their administration’s Syria policy will be. One of the few firm stances Trump has taken is that ISIL must be destroyed before the US can target Assad. In regards to Syrian refugees, Trump stated in a September speech that under his administration, he would suspend all Syrian (and Lebanese) immigration to the US. He later spoke of an “extreme vetting process” that would severely circumscribe the number of refugees allowed into the country.
IRAN: In his speech at The National Interest, Trump cast uncertainty over the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Under a Trump administration, [Iran] will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” he declared. With respect to the agreement, he commented, “In negotiation, you must be willing to walk. The Iran deal, like so many of our worst agreements, is the result of not being willing to leave the table.”
SAUDI ARABIA: According to CNBC, Trump previously accused Saudi Arabia of funding terrorism. He has not retracted this statement. Trump has also reiterated a plan to retract US security commitments in the area if Saudi Arabia fails to defray the cost of US military expenditures. Trump indicated that he would use America’s newfound energy independence as leverage at the bargaining table: “Now, we don’t need the [Saudi] oil so much […] And if we let our people really go, we wouldn’t need the oil at all. And we could let everybody else fight it out.”
CHINA: Although Trump has repeatedly emphasized his strong personal relationship with Chinese businessmen and officials, the president-elect has repeatedly emphasized the need for America to “win” against its rising Asian counterpart. One of the prongs of his administration’s China policy is the threat to apply “steep tariffs” to Chinese imports if the rules of US-China trade are not rewritten to benefit the US. Another prong is Trump’s intention to hold China responsible for cybersecurity threats to the US, and for future intellectual property theft. Additionally, much speculation has surfaced with regards to Trump’s North Korea policy and his seeming endorsement of a Chinese invasion of the DPRK after statements in which he said, “China should solve that [North Korean] problem for us. China should go into North Korea.”
NORTH KOREA: In the first presidential debate, Trump claimed that he could use the America’s relationship with Iran to blackmail North Korea, falsely claiming that Iran is North Korea’s main trading partner (it is in fact China). Trump added that he would like to see South Korea develop its own nuclear arsenal in order to defend itself against North Korea, thereby allowing the US to withdraw a portion of its conventional forces from the Korean peninsula. Recently, Trump drew criticism because Kim Jong Un (along with several other world dictators) endorsed his presidential campaign.
JAPAN: Although Trump has reportedly retracted this statement, in March he proposed allowing Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons capacity to protect itself from North Korea and allow the US to further retrench from the region. According to Trump, Japan’s development of nuclear weapons is “only a question of time.”
MEXICO: America’s southern border is perhaps the most well-known, and contentious, area of Trump’s foreign policy agenda. He continues to insist on building a wall on the border to stop the flow of undocumented migrants, and believes Mexico will pay for the construction costs — an assertion that he has stuck to despite being repudiated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. In addition to the construction of a border wall, Trump has also proposed deporting undocumented immigrants en masse, especially those from Mexico. Less well known is Trump’s plan to “pull out” of the Inter-American trade deal, NAFTA, as he discussed with the New York Times. However, in the same interview, Trump remained optimistic about the future of US-Mexico relations, saying, “I think we’ll have a very good relationship with Mexico.”
CANADA: Trump’s plan to withdraw the US from NAFTA could affect Canadian trade flows with the US. During the campaign season, talk of immigration to Canada among Trump detractors reached such a fever pitch that during election night Canada’s immigration site crashed multiple times. (Trump has yet to release any statement on US immigration to Canada).
SOUTH AFRICA: The Trump administration’s single mention of this African nation came from a tweet in April:
In another tweet from July, Trump implied that his administration would be willing to reduce US emergency and development aid to the continent:
BRAZIL: Other than his plans to stem southern immigration using the US-Mexico border wall, Trump has made no foreign policy statements regarding Latin American. However, Reuters reported that Brazil’s government did congratulate Trump on his presidency, with President Michel Temer saying, “a Trump administration would not alter the solid relationship between the two countries with the largest economies in the Americas.”
PERU: Several political leaders in South America have condemned Trump. According to a report by ITV, Peru’s president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski threatened to sever ties between the US and Peru in the event of a Trump presidency, saying, “We’re going to grab a saw and cut them [relations] off.”
. . .
Looking ahead it is difficult to predict a Trump foreign policy. To date, Trump and his campaign have released very little detail about future national security and diplomatic initiatives.
What is certain is that the US must now contend with strained relations with several major allies as well as a never-before-had popularity among the world’s dictators – notably Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.
Only time will tell what lies ahead for this convulsing superpower.
Julia Airey is a graduate of the University College Roosevelt where she triple-majored in Law, Linguistics, and Geography. Julia works as a news correspondent and runs the legal journalism blog How is that Legal?