November 9, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: A New Chapter for U.S. Foreign Policy

• Donald Trump’s election as the 45th U.S. President brings with it a potential dramatic reorientation of long-standing U.S. national security policies.

• During his acceptance speech, President-elect Trump stated his administration will seek common ground with other nations, not hostilities.

• It is unclear if and how far the Trump Administration may stray from the current international alliance structure, and how his policies could impact broad-based security constructs such as NATO.

• A hallmark of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy has been doubt over the benefits the U.S. gleans from NATO and other defense pacts; he will need to prioritize reassuring long-standing allies of U.S. support.

On November 8, the American people elected Donald Trump as the country’s 45th President. President-elect Trump will assume office on January 20, 2017. While U.S. elections are primarily driven by domestic concerns, this year’s election also served as a referendum on the fundamental assumptions and goals that have shaped U.S. foreign policy for over 70 years. The results demonstrate that those assumptions are being reconsidered by an electorate frustrated with foreign endeavors and obligations that have clear-cut costs, but very little clear-cut benefits from their perspective. It is impossible to know how much of the desire to reorient U.S. foreign policy and national security priorities will transform from rhetoric to reality, but the election itself indicates that significant and uncertain change is coming.

The difference between the incoming Trump Administration and every post-World War II administration is not in its goals or priorities; every U.S. president’s primary goal is the protection of the United States and its interests. The difference—based on the broad outlines laid out by Trump during the campaign—is how to achieve this goal. President-elect Trump has consistently questioned the benefits the U.S. receives in defense treaty organizations such as NATO. To be clear, Trump has not directly questioned the value or need for NATO, but rather he has pointed to America’s role in providing the vast majority of capability and funding. In Trump’s view, the success NATO has had in contributing to the economic and defense stability of its member states means that the terms of the agreement need to be renegotiated, since the conditions in which the agreement was crafted have drastically changed for the better. The drive of an ‘America First’ foreign policy—which has always been somewhat implicit in U.S. foreign affairs—may now become more explicit than at any time in the last seven decades. There is a strong argument that addressing the world’s increasingly interconnected crises requires a robust—yet more effective—approach towards collaboration and negotiation. One clear result from the U.S. election is that this style of diplomacy and conflict resolution is unlikely to be a primary feature of U.S. foreign policy for the next administration.

As President-elect Trump has never held an elected office, there is no record of voting or legislation with which to assess the breadth and depth of his views on wide-ranging treaty organizations. His statements on these issues, as well as his views on trade, suggest a more individualized and ad hoc approach to what heretofore have been long-term collaborative endeavors. Though it is yet to be seen how much of Trump’s rhetoric on security issues will translate into policy, there is little question that his election will bring with it a wave of global anxiety amongst America’s long-standing allies.


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