Donald Trump winning the presidential elections of the United States did not come as a big surprise. The trends of the last months clearly indicated that such a result was very likely. This is why I already recommended, months ago, that Estonia should start building a friendly relationship with Trump’s team as early as possible.
The new president of the United States has been elected and the country has been divided. What will happen next? We can draw indirect conclusions on the basis of the presidential campaign, but in any case, it is clear that the campaign cannot be transferred to the White House one-to-one. Despite holding great power, even the US president cannot do whatever he likes. The Congress, Senate, civil service, intelligence, interest groups, other countries among others will exert their influence and set limits on his actions. Consequently, President Trump cannot quite be like candidate Trump with all his shock value and irregularity. Nevertheless, changes will certainly be made in US politics and even the country’s strong internal division is a new situation that affects US activities all over the world.
Trump will surely try to achieve much as president also in terms of foreign policy and carry out as many campaign promises as possible. He is the first president, in the contemporary history of the United States, who has no political experience, who lacks a distinct ideology, but instead has a lot of pragmatism.
Trump will most probably pursue a foreign policy that is more pragmatic and centred around large powers which stems directly from the national interests of the US in the narrower meaning of the word.
Meanwhile, foreign policy will not be Trump’s main priority—that position would probably be occupied by his domestic policies, such as domestic economy, social themes and internal security. However, here lies a contradiction with the Republican Party politics, which understands that America’s leading role in the world is under increasing pressure and taking a more passive approach will cause the United States to lose its international influence even more. Besides, the majority of international foreign policy and security problems cannot wait any longer.
The new Trump administration will be a partner that is internationally more self-centred and challenging, that sets touchstones for transatlantic relationships and values, such as multilateralism, international law, human rights and also maintaining current international achievements, for example, the matter of climate change.
Trump’s current style makes it possible to assume that he prefers working bilaterally with chosen countries and temporary coalitions, depending on the topic, but not with multilateral institutions. Therefore, the decreasing US support for global structures and the initiatives of international organisations should be taken into account.
Farage, the first guest
In the EU, Trump’s administration is going to focus on more large EU member states than on the EU as a whole or on its institutions. This will complicate the relationship between the EU and the United States. It is also worth noticing that Nigel Farage, who has been the leader of the UK Independence party, and one the leaders of the Brexit campaign, was the first foreign politician to meet up with Trump after the latter became the president-elect. British Prime Minister Theresa May, however, will probably have to wait her turn until the beginning of next year.
Proceeding from Trump’s criticism of the current US military missions, it is not likely that Trump’s administration would be interested in using wide-scale military force in some conflict area. At the same time, Trump has promised to strengthen the global fight against terrorism, which means, for example, that air strikes against IS in the Middle-East will surely continue, and possibly increase.
A general idea of how Trump is planning to engage with the Republicans’ present main line foreign policy will be given through the appointment of the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence. On the other hand, when it comes to foreign policy, he also has to take into account the strong Republican consensus in Congress that relates to NATO’s security guarantees to, for example, Eastern European countries. European allies will no doubt feel increased pressure to increase defence spending. Nevertheless, it seems like Trump is planning to differentiate between NATO members based on their input to defence spending.
The current President Barack Obama also recently confirmed that all allies of NATO must contribute an equal amount. Which means this is not only Trump’s train of thought, since the US has for years showed its malcontent with many European allies contributing too little financially.
Trump’s Russian policy remains vague so far. If one looks at his campaign attitudes then interesting challenges are to be expected, but the topic of Russia is probably one of those where life makes its own larger corrections to Trump’s current views. Even Congress is rather sceptical about changing the Russian policy. At the same time, Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate Trump over the phone. Both Trump and Putin thought that current relations between Russia and the USA must be quickly reviewed and a constructive cooperation started in as many fields as possible.
Russia’s leadership was also one of the few in the entire world that expressed overflowing joy for Trump’s victory. The Russian State Duma greeted the announcement with applause.
In the field of international security, the topic of the Pacific Ocean and the Asian region, as well as matters related to Russia will not be taken off the table. North Korea is still considered a security threat and that is why the US-Japan-South Korea partnership will continue. The fight against IS will remain a priority.
When it comes to nuclear weapons, Trump probably supports modernizing the US nuclear arsenal. It is fair to assume that the US will decrease its contribution to the multilateral activities concerning nuclear control and that the ratification of international armament conventions will also probably stop. What I have in mind is the Arms Trade Treaty.
Europe must do more
The security situation in Europe has become more fragile, first and foremost because of the activities of IS and other terrorist groups, Russia’s aggressive behaviour, and the violence and instability in regions neighbouring on Europe. This means that in order for Europe to defend itself and increase security, it must do a lot more than it has until now. The defence cooperation among the European countries has, up to now, been modest and it has mainly counted on NATO, although, not all EU members even belong to NATO. Also, the situation where around three-quarters of all expenses are covered by the United States alone and Europe passes the responsibility for its security mainly to the Americans will not last forever.
NATO’s role was, is, and will be important but Europe must contribute a lot more and use all possibilities to increase its defence and security and that’s all in the context of the EU as well.
The Treaty of Lisbon gives significantly larger opportunities for EU defence cooperation than have been in use so far. So far, there is no point talking about an EU army and frightening the sceptics in the process, because that is, at the moment, an unreal goal. Neither is there any reason to talk about how closer EU cooperation would somehow weaken NATO. It is rather the opposite—for years, NATO has wished to see EU as a partner who could complement NATO and support it with its capabilities. One should not forget that not all EU countries are in NATO and their systematic inclusion is necessary.
Therefore, the circumstances demand EU defence cooperation and partnership with NATO to be more concrete and efficient. The creation of security and defence capabilities set out in EU treaties have not progressed far, although Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty states a steady development of defence policy, which will lead to the creation of a common EU defence. The same article states the establishment of defence institutions and the definition of common capabilities and arms policy. By the way, EU’s actions must overlap with those of NATO to strengthen it and make territorial, regional and global security and defence capability more efficient.
Sadly, it is often so in the EU that taking something up decisively happens only after a crash has already occurred. This was the case with the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks. Taking defence cooperation to the next level would be pre-emptive because otherwise it might already be too late.
Not including the establishment of the European Defence Agency, so far no other concrete common security and defence measures have been planned. However, according to the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU must systematically develop defence cooperation in order to react to external crises, develop the capabilities of EU partners, assure the safety of Europe and create a strong European defence industry that is vital for securing the independence of Europe’s defence-related activities.
The keyword in developing the capabilities of the EU and EU Member States is cooperation with NATO. On 8 July 2016, the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization signed a joint declaration that stressed the need to strengthen cooperation in the fields of defence and security and declared that EU and NATO cooperation must encompass strengthening resistance capacity in the East and South, as well as defence investments. The EU and NATO agree that both must improve their compatibility and the interaction of their activities since that would strengthen NATO’s role in the collective defence of security and defence policy.
And, of course, it should be made an objective for EU members, as with NATO member states, to spend 2% of their GDP on defence. That would be a clear sign of the common stance of the EU and NATO. In order to do that, a contribution from the EU joint budget must be added and the right place to specifically deal with it is the multi-annual EU financial framework for carrying EU defence policy through.
The first action plan of the Common EU Defence Policy must also encompass NATO projects that deal with the fight against hybrid threats, operational cooperation (including at sea), migration, cyber defence and security, defence capability, strengthening defence research and industrial cooperation, military exercises and the defence and security capabilities of EU’s Eastern and Southern neighbours.
A hit on free trade
One of the most important changes will be looking over the free trade agreements and stopping the signing of new ones. According to many analysts, this is a field in which Trump will definitely keep his campaign promises. Trump has repeatedly vowed to withdraw from the free trade agreement talks, in addition, he has promised a 45% import duty on goods from Mexico and China and also to review agreements previously made with China.
The first victim of the changing trade policy of the US is probably China, towards whom Trump is planning many restrictions. This is why he does not support giving China Market Economy Status. The EU–US trade relations will probably not remain untouched either. This is why the EU–US broad free trade agreement talks are probably dead and the atmosphere concerning those agreements is becoming more complex. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will also probably meet its end because Trump prefers bilateral agreements with only a few countries of the region, such as Japan.
In Europe, instead of TTIP, Trump will most probably try to start bilateral talks with Great Britain. Trump’s administration is probably going to use one-sided protectionist measures and will not shy away from trade wars with current partners.
One of Trump’s priorities will be the fight against terrorism in the US and elsewhere. That is why it is a field that has potential for making EU–US relations closer, mainly in all fields that relate to intelligence cooperation. What may become an obstacle are the different attitudes concerning basic rights, privacy and data protection because proceeding from Trump’s campaign, those are not arguments in a war against terror, unlike in Europe.
The visa facilitation programme might also be under pressure because, as a candidate, Trump called an end to the programme especially after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Trump has also promised to strengthen US border control. At the same time, the visa facilitation programme falls under the jurisdiction of Congress and reviewing it comes with discussions about US immigration mechanisms. In any case, a complete visa waiver between EU states and the US is further away than ever before.
Other aspects of immigration policy might also have a foreign political impact. Trump repeatedly said during his campaign that illegal immigrants must be deported, a wall built between USA and Mexico and Muslims banned from entering the States. That has already caused concern for human rights violation. Unlike Obama, Trump has also stood against closing the Guantánamo detention camp and has, in principle, approved of the interrogation methods used there. Trump is also anti same-sex marriages and wishes to overrule the decisions accepted so far in the US.
Difficult times for climate policy
The current climate policy may also take a hit. Trump has stood against international agreements tackling climate change and Obama’s climate policy. Therefore, he has promised to stop US payments to the UN climate change programmes that originate from the Paris Agreement. That has already started causing a strain between France and the US, which is why the French presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, called for punishing USA with higher import taxes if America backs down from the climate agreement. At the same time, the US military leadership has clearly assured that climate change is a threat to its national security, and hopefully, the Pentagon can still exert influence over Trump’s final standpoints.
Another thing that might decline is US support for EU efforts to strengthen its energy security and broaden its energy sources. Trump’s positive attitude towards Russia might result in the US changing its position relating to energy sanctions, Nord Stream II and the reform of the Ukraine’s gas sector. The changing policy towards Russia may reopen a door for US investments in Russia’s energy sector – the same door that was once opened during the reset of US–Russia relations and closed again after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
The changes in energy policy may also cause partial changes in US–Middle East relations. This is why Trump has been consistently critical of OPEC, especially towards Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. He holds a view that “oil for security”-agreements are out-dated.
In conclusion, in addition to incoming changes in internal and foreign policy, an important new situation is the US being deeply divided. Half of the voters are not only feeling disappointed but also, according to a study, feel hostile towards the president-elect.
In these turbulent times, Europe must stand up for itself more than before. This goes for security and defence cooperation, economy, free trade and a lot more.
Many things that have been taken for granted in recent decades in EU-US relations have changed. Europe must quickly adapt to the new situation by doing more, and not only counting on someone else.
Brexit and the US presidential elections are concrete examples of how a familiar situation can rapidly change. The French elections, German parliamentary elections are coming up, as well as many others that can add flavour to the mix.
Trump’s Victory and Western Unity
Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union)
The presidential elections in the States have always been for good reason at the centre of the world’s attention in recent decades. Of course, it is because the role of the US in world politics has addressed all continents and important hot spots. The 20th century has been called Pax Americana for a reason.
Today, the world is undergoing rapid change. In addition to the States, China has started to stand out, especially in the last decade and Russia is attempting to regain its position with unconcealed aggression. There are a number of other countries who, for one reason or another, try to change the regional balance of powers.
Backed by current social media and changed media consumption, Donald Trump’s victory has for the first time created a situation where there are more questions about the future president than there are answers. Including questions about whether the US is still ready to carry the role of the leader of the free world.
From the standpoint of Estonia, it is of course important that the US continue defending a world order based on international law and principles in close cooperation with European allies. It is especially important that the continued unity of the Western world be preserved despite internal turbulence. An opposing development would damage the long-term interests of all Western countries as a whole.
The less doubt there is about the readiness of NATO to protect its members, the more secure the transatlantic connection is, and the easier it is for the new president to work on fulfilling his main slogan—Make America Great Again.
Piret Ehin ;Senior Research Fellow at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu
A week after Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, it still remains unclear how substantial the changes that are in store for the US will be in internal and foreign politics. Many unanswered questions are fundamental in nature. To what extent is a US led by Trump dedicated to liberal-democratic values, and preserving and strengthening of the world order that protects those values? How far will Trump go with rearranging trade agreements, should we expect a protectionist backlash to the globalizing markets? How dedicated is the new US leadership to relations with allies? How is Trump going to put into practice the “great relations” with other great powers and manage serious foreign policy challenges? Are the impulsive populism and “flexible approach to the facts” that characterized his campaign the new norm in Western politics to which the liberal establishment and votes must adapt or will the high office shape Trump into a more conventional and less colourful politician?
The answers to the above questions will become clear when we know who will belong to the Trump administration. The first nominations speak of an attempt to balance the two wings, including mainstream republicans as well as forces opposing them. The performance of the new administration will largely depend on whether Trump manages to restore domestic peace within the Republican Party, form a competent, broad-based team and establish working relations with the Republican-ruled House of Representatives and the Senate.
Kalev Stoicescu, Researcher at the International Centre for Defence and Security
Since 9 November, international media has started to publish news clips with startling headlines, such as Estonia Is Panicking (because of Donald Trump winning the US presidential elections) and Estonia Is Turning Towards the East (so far as the Centre Party is replacing the Reform Party in the new government). Of course these “news” items are quite far from the truth. Estonian foreign, security, and defence policy in general will not change and a similar message was expressed by Barack Obama, who is leaving office, about Donald Trump and the intentions of his new administration, trying to calm US allies around the world. Whoever will lead the Department of State and the Pentagon, whether they are the colourful Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and the senator of Alabama, Jeff Sessions, who supports cutting defence expenditure, they all have to implement the politics of Donald Trump and the White House team. Meanwhile, Trump has noticeably changed his behaviour to a more adequate one because the eccentric stage presence and provocative speech that ensured his victory are no longer appropriate or useful. The Kremlin is primarily interested in an agreement with Trump that would lift sanctions and give Russia a free hand in “dissident” countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. A wholly different matter is what Russia is willing to promise and do in return, especially to avoid a conflict with NATO, but also to destroy IS and guarantee stability in the Middle East that would satisfy the Western world. In addition, the issue of Putin’s trustworthiness in the eyes of Trump is unresolved. If such an agreement should even come to life, then Estonia will probably have to accept the inevitable and, in essence, give up supporting Ukraine and Georgia, itself left on the EU and NATO side of the “red line”.
This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.