Archive for December, 2017

Geopolitical impact of the America-first presidency: a perspective for 2018

December 3, 2017

President Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint includes plans to increase military spending, while cutting the State Department’s budget. But the proposed new investments in military hardware are not likely to make any difference for America’s geopolitical power. Recent frustrations of US foreign policy have not been due to any lack of military capability, but instead have been due to a weakness of diplomatic capabilities for turning battlefield successes into positive political developments. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s policy-makers continue to focus more on winning battles than on cultivating local political leaders, and so America’s influence in the Middle East has continued to decline in spite of costly military efforts. There is no indication of any plan to invest in state-building capabilities that could reverse this trend.

A nation’s power in international affairs depends as much on its ability to make credible long-term commitments as on its military might. In this regard, President Trump’s shift to an opportunistic America-first policy could actually weaken America’s ability to achieve foreign-policy goals. For example (as discussed here), sanctions against North Korea cannot be effective without China’s full support, and such support cannot be expected as long as China fears that any political change in North Korea might open the way for American forces in Korea to advance toward China’s border; so diplomatic success in Korea would depend on credible assurances against such an advance. America’s withdrawal from major international agreements will make it harder to build confidence in any newly negotiated promises. In this environment, the best hope for effective containment of North Korean militarism may be found in security agreements directly between China and South Korea, even though such agreements could be interpreted as evidence of a weakening of America’s alliances in Asia.

Meanwhile, the North American Free Trade Agreement is at risk after being blamed by the President for contributing to America’s longstanding trade deficit. But this trade deficit has been primarily driven by strong international demand for US debt, based on global confidence in the stability and reliability of the United States government. America-first policies could erode this confidence and weaken global demand for US debt, making US federal deficits harder to finance under President Trump than they were under Presidents Obama or Reagan. The result could be substantially higher US interest rates after tax cuts in 2018.