Trump the Alliance Wrecker

Countries understand the value in maintaining an alliance with the United States, but the reckless, arbitrary way in which the current administration deals with alliance diplomacy sends a message of narcissism and condescension.

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President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy was a key part of his 2016 presidential campaign platform, something he has maintained in his approach to foreign policy throughout his term. Trump’s actions regarding alliance management have raised serious concerns among foreign policy experts and everyday people alike.

Since Trump has taken office, he has alienated numerous allies, especially in East Asia. One key player that Trump has alienated is Japan. Just days after entering office, Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade agreement that was signed during Obama’s term in office of which Japan was also a part. Trump’s threats of steel tariffs and automobile duties have also created an economic rift between the U.S. and Japan.

Most important, however, are Trump’s actions that have called into question U.S. security commitments to core partners in the region. Trump has increasingly ramped up demands for U.S. troop presence and support for partners in strategic areas. In early December, Trump demanded that Japan and South Korea pay more for the stationing of troops and military bases in their respective countries. These demanded increases have been perceived as extravagant with some as large as five-fold.

Trump clearly doesn’t see U.S. alliances as bilateral agreements where both sides receive reciprocal benefits from their ties; his actions have demonstrated a continuing destructive pattern. Appeasement from allies has so far prevented a stirring of the pot, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will find it increasingly difficult to tolerate Trump’s demands should they continue to escalate. Though it may appear to be in America’s best interests to extract as much value from its alliances as it can when considered in a vacuum, this line of thinking is a short-sighted way of evaluating the value of strong U.S. alliances. Japan and South Korea have been historical partners with the United States and the long-standing alliance has had a deterring effect against actors like North Korea, which have the potential to destabilize the region.

Furthermore, Trump has made it no secret that he wishes to take a more stringent stance on America’s participation in NATO. Trump’s repeated criticism of NATO for what he believes to be disproportionate contributions from other members has highlighted a continuing trend in Trump’s treatment of alliances. In early December, President Donald Trump clashed with French President Emmanuel Macron over key issues like Turkey, in addition to previous comments made by Macron regarding the course of NATO.

Multipolarity seems inevitable as countries like China have exponentially accelerated their economic growth while expanding military capabilities as well. Trump’s increasingly isolationist stance only serves to propel this process forward. Trump’s myopic approach to dealing with foreign policy is dangerous and has the capacity to result in detrimental long-term consequences. The world of geopolitics is shifting quickly, and Trump’s narcissistic attitude toward international relations is destabilizing and, quite frankly, net-worse for U.S. interests.

This issue is more pertinent due to the failed denuclearization talks earlier this year with North Korea. While Trump has boasted about his superb negotiating abilities from his background as a businessman, its effects have clearly yet to produce tangible results. North Korea has continued to conduct its missile tests in light of these apparently failed negotiations. Trump’s praise for Kim Jong Un and his apparent disregard for North Korea’s terrible human rights track record has further caused discomfort in allies, as it should. Trump’s strategy of appeasement has yet to yield any fruit and has only further contributed to increasing skepticism of U.S. reliability in the eyes of countries like Japan and South Korea. In fact, this strategy could only serve to embolden North Korea’s demands and actions.

By upending the U.S.’s alliance infrastructure with little in the way of results, Trump has bitten off more than he can chew. This makes the 2020 election all the more crucial. Another four years of a Trump presidency with this continued “America First” platform could prove disastrous and exacerbate the ramifications of the U.S.’s brazen strongarming against its allies.

His decisions’ scope of illogical neglect isn’t purely isolated to the East Asian region either. Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Northern Syria in October left long-standing Kurdish allies in the dust and opened them to invasion from Turkish forces. Trump’s acquiescence to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as a shock to even staunch Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and demonstrated Trump’s willingness to leave allies out to fend for themselves in a moment’s notice. This trend, if it were to continue, could cause irreversible damage to U.S. standing in geopolitics and bilateral ties with nations all over the world.

It’s no surprise that South Korean protestors angrily demonstrated outside the embassy following Trump’s exorbitant demand for increased payment for U.S. troops. Countries understand the value in maintaining an alliance with the United States, but the reckless, arbitrary way in which the current administration deals with alliance diplomacy sends a message of narcissism and condescension. Only time will tell if Trump’s future actions will push this situation past the tipping point. A reversal of current diplomatic strategy is necessary if the United States is to maintain stable long-term partnerships.