It is increasingly clear that US President Donald Trump represents a departure when it comes to the US’ global outlook and behavior. As a result, the US will no longer play the leading international role that has defined its foreign policy for three quarters of a century, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike.
There have already been many examples of this change. The traditional US commitment to global organizations has been superseded by the idea of “America first.”
Alliances and security guarantees once regarded as a given are increasingly conditioned on how much allies spend on defense and whether they are seen to derive unfair advantage from trade with the US.
Illustration: Mountain People
More broadly, foreign trade is viewed with suspicion — supposedly a source of job loss rather than an engine of investment, job creation, growth and stability.
Immigration and refugee policies have become more restrictive. Less emphasis is being placed on promoting democracy and human rights. More dollars are going to defense, but fewer resources are being devoted to supporting global health or development.
This is not to be confused with isolationism. Even Trump’s US would continue to play a meaningful role in the world.
It is using military force in the Middle East and Afghanistan; increasing diplomatic pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The policies of states, cities and companies will translate into a US commitment to climate change, despite Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris agreement.
Still, a shift away from a US-dominated world of structured relationships and standing institutions and toward something else is under way.
However, what this alternative will be remains largely unknowable.
However, it is clear that there is no alternative great power willing and able to step in and assume what had been the US role.
China is a frequently mentioned candidate, but its leadership is focused mostly on consolidating domestic order and maintaining artificially high economic growth rates to stave off popular unrest. China’s interest in regional and global institutions seems designed mostly to bolster its economy and geopolitical influence, rather than to help set rules and create broadly beneficial arrangements.
Likewise, Russia is a country with a narrowly based economy led by a government focused on retaining power at home and re-establishing Russian influence in the Middle East and Europe.
India is preoccupied with the challenge of economic development and is tied down by its problematic relationship with Pakistan. Japan is held back by its declining population, domestic political and economic constraints, and its neighbors’ suspicions.
Europe, for its part, is distracted by questions surrounding the relationship between member states and the EU. As a result, the whole of the continent is less than the sum of its parts — none of which is large enough to succeed the US on the world stage.
However, the absence of a single successor to the US does not mean that what awaits is chaos. At least in principle, the world’s most powerful countries could come together to fill the US’ shoes. In practice, though, this will not happen, as these countries lack the capabilities, experience and, above all, a consensus on what needs doing and who needs to do it.
A more likely development is the emergence of a mix of order and disorder at both the regional and global level. China will promote various trade, infrastructure and security mechanisms in Asia. The 11 remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership might launch their trade pact without the US.
Less clear is whether China is prepared to use its influence to restrain North Korea, how India and Pakistan will avoid conflict, and the resolution of Asia’s many territorial disputes. It is all too easy to imagine an Asian and Pacific future characterized by higher spending on arms of all types — and thus more susceptible to violent conflict.
The Middle East is already suffering unprecedented instability, the result of local rivalries and realities, and of 15 years during which the US arguably first did too much and then too little to shape the region’s future. The immediate danger is not just further deterioration in failed states such as Yemen, Syria and Libya, but also direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Europe might be something of an exception to such trends, as the election of French President Emmanuel Macron has given rise to a government that is committed to reforming the EU.
However, the EU itself faces an uncertain future, given Brexit and slow-motion crises in Italy and Greece, not to mention the potential for additional Russian mischief, or worse.
To all of this, one could add the meltdown in Venezuela and the all-too-familiar horrors in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Then there is the growing gap between global challenges such as how to govern cyberspace and the willingness of governments to work together to address them.
There is no little irony in this global turn of events. For decades, many countries criticized US policy, both for what it was and what it was not. These same countries now face the prospect of a world in which US leadership is likely to be less of a factor. It is far from clear that they are prepared for such a world, or that they will find themselves better off in it.
Richard Haass is president of the New York City-based Council on Foreign Relations.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), tasked with reforming the party and returning it to the viable political force that it once was, is faced with a Gordian knot. The complexities of the job ahead go beyond appealing to a younger generation of voters. Chiang might have to decide between jettisoning much of what the party originally stood for and preparing it for a return to the Presidential Office, or doubling down on its founding purpose and representing what is increasingly, in the current state of Taiwanese politics, a minority view. The KMT, as the founding party and self-proclaimed champion
Although concerned over the impact of many citizens returning from Europe and the US while those nations cope with soaring COVID-19 infection rates, Taiwan has handled the pandemic with alacrity and seems to be successfully managing the process compared with many others, including European nations and the US. Despite its proximity to China, by March 3, Taiwan had only 42 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death, while Japan had 287 cases and six deaths and South Korea had 4,812 cases and 28 deaths. This is of considerable interest internationally because Taiwan is not only located near China, but is relatively densely
On Tuesday last week, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that he would ask government officials to assess the possibility of holding an online conference with international disease prevention experts to share Taiwan’s methods of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Su was responding to a question by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Charles Chen (陳以信), who had said that Taiwan should capitalize on its first-rate disease prevention experts and experience to “show the world its loss for excluding [Taiwan] from the WHO.” Chen is right. Taiwan must use this time — when the nation’s international profile has been elevated due to its pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the trend of US-China decoupling. For more than a decade, these two countries relied on each other for mutual economic growth and prosperity. Historian Niall Ferguson refers to this symbiotic connectivity as “Chimerica,” in which both nations worked closely to deal with the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, championing state-controlled capitalism through massive economic rescue packages. However, the “Chimerica” nexus seems to have come to an end. As bilateral ties have worsened amid trade and media disputes, the entangled US-China relationship further complicates the development of geopolitics and the global economy. In recent years,