Foreign policy challenges

The surprising victory of Donald Trump as the next US President elect, defying all expert predictions, has sent the whole world into shock. While some people and world leaders have displayed their surprise and called Trump’s election as a disaster for the West, few segment has cheered his win and are looking forward to his leadership.

Though it cannot be denied that Trump gave a tough competition to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party Presidential candidate, and garnered publicity with his hyped campaign statements. However, all his statements, which might have appealed people of US to vote for him, will come haunting to him if he fails to deliver on the promises made during his campaign.

As the world struggles to digest the stunning election victory of Donald Trump, there will be much hand-wringing in many capitals about how their relations with Washington could change in radical ways.

Foreign relations of United States at this critical juncture will prove to be a litmus test for Trump to prove his mettle as the new US President.

All new presidents face a formidable workload, no matter what their level of experience is. Foreign policy challenges are always a complicated and daunting part of the portfolio for a new commander-in-chief. But in 2017 President Donald Trump will have to deal with perhaps the most sensitive array of crises faced by any American president in decades.

From Mexico and the Middle East to the NATO countries and America’s alliance partners in Asia, there will be very real concerns about future relationships with a leader whose foreign policy views suggest a strong desire to shake things up in the world in a very big way.

Future agenda

Many important issues will crowd Trump’s foreign policy agenda, but a few key issues will likely dominate-namely great power relations with China and Russia and the turmoil in the Middle East. More challenges will include the American response to multiple ongoing conflicts around the world, the franchising of terror attacks, an aggressive Russia, nuclear weapons stockpiles and a rumbustious North Korea, an emboldened China, handling complicated trade and environmental negotiations and handling Iran.

Trump, who has no foreign affairs or military experience, will confront the absence of a national or even Republican political consensus on how to deal with Syria, the Islamic State militant group, the rise of China and a newly assertive Russia.

Many top Republicans have publicly rejected him, and a number of professional diplomats, intelligence and military officers had privately said they would retire if Trump wins.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault pledged to work with Trump, but said his personality “raised questions” and he admitted to being unsure as to what a Trump presidency would mean for key foreign policy challenges, from climate change and the West’s nuclear deal with Iran to the war in Syria.

The deportation of immigrants was a key highlight of Trump’s election campaign. Trump has said that he will deport three million undocumented immigrants “immediately” after assuming office. Further his plans and promise of building a wall along Mexican border will also be put to test. The nearly 2,000-mile US-Mexican border currently has high walls in some sectors, fencing in others, along with electronic and human surveillance in other portions, including vast desert areas where border officials have questioned the utility of a large physical barrier. Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by outlining his uncompromising stance on immigration.

The Middle East is undergoing a complex set of revolutions. The turmoil may last for decades, and it will continue to feed radical jihadist terrorism. Europe remained unstable for 25 years after the French Revolution, and military interventions by outside powers made things worse.

But, even with reduced energy imports from the Middle East, the US cannot turn its back on the region, given its interests in Israel, non-proliferation, and human rights, among others.

The civil war in Syria is not only a humanitarian disaster; it is also destabilizing the region and Europe as well. The US cannot ignore such events. US airstrikes in Syria and in Iraq have been slowly breaking down the jihadist group’s power centres in the Middle East, but have done little to weaken the spread of the ideology. They will also have to devise ways to tackle ISIL’s propagandists and address radicalisation of citizens on home soil. The group’s tactic of essentially outsourcing attacks to willing volunteers around the world, rather than organising them from Syria or Iraq, has made their efforts harder to stop.

Americans regard ISIL as the greatest foreign threat. But clearly, ISIL’s position in both Iraq and Syria is waning.

By the time Trump gets into office in January, ISIL will probably represent a negligible threat in Iraq. And there will be no need for American intervention in Syria if Trump signals a willingness to let Bashar al-Assad and Putin handle the opposition forces in the region. So, ironically, it is likely that Trump will maintain Obama’s policy of “no boots on the ground” in Syria, although in reality American forces are already there, assuming a variety of advisory and training functions.

Managing Russia and Asia

The next challenge could be carefully tackling Russia, a country in decline, but with a nuclear arsenal sufficient to destroy the US-and thus still a potential threat to America and others.

The US in the past has criticized President Vladimir Putin’s interventions in neighboring countries and the Middle East, and his cyber attacks on the US and others, however Trump has spoken admiringly of Putin.

Russia-US have been all-weather allies in the modern history of the world, yet Donald Trump has been sending mixed signals when it comes to his policy on a newly-assertive Russia. Trump has adopted an open-minded stance towards Putin.

So, in the short term, Trump’s election boosts Putin’s ambitions to regenerate Russia as a global power. Nonetheless, a shrinking economy, declining military spending, a host of domestic problems, and no sign of a major rise in oil and gas prices to bring Putin more revenues will limit Russia’s options.

Trump is trying to reset the relations with Russia as it is not correct to avoid the complete isolation of a country with which the US has overlapping interests when it comes to nuclear security, non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, the Arctic, and regional issues like Iran and Afghanistan. Financial and energy sanctions are necessary for deterrence; but US also has genuine interests that are best advanced by dealing with Russia.

Every US President wants to maintain a strong presence in the Asia Pacific region to contain China’s growth as a regional military power by locating forces in Asia and reinforcing alliances with other Asian powers.

Regional balance

So another challenge for the new President will be the US Pivot to Asia policy.

Contrary to what he has said about Russia, Trump has taken a firm stand on dealing with China.

Trump has rather taken a more aggressive tone toward China, threatening to slap tariffs on Chinese products to show Beijing the United States is “not playing games anymore” when it comes to leveling the field on trade.

He has called it a currency manipulator and discussed introducing new trade barriers against Chinese imports.

Obama had championed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement that does not include China as a means to deal with China’s rising power. But the TPP is extremely unpopular in the US.

Managing China’s global rise is one of this century’s great foreign-policy challenges. So the policy toward Asia will likely tilt from a military presence coupled with multilateral economic engagement to a bilateral focus on trade and finance between the US and China.

The regional balance of power in Asia makes the US welcome there. The rise of China has fueled concern in India, Japan, Vietnam, and other countries. The US needs to launch economic initiatives in Southeast Asia, reaffirm its alliances with Japan and Korea, and continue to improve relations with India.

Still, Trump will need China’s help in dealing with North Korea to avoid war on the Korean peninsula.

The US focus will be on strengthening existing security architecture in the region, with South Korea and Japan at the helm. This will in some way prepare for a nuclearized North Korea and help keep a check on China. But the prospect of a growing US security footprint in the Asia-Pacific is not acceptable to the China, which is determined to reduce US interference in what China considers its maritime sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, India is looking forward to Trump’s leadership as the new President elect is perfectly comfortable with the long-standing fundamental drivers of US-India cooperation-shared values of democracy, convergent interests oriented around combating terrorism and pushing back against China.

Additionally, there’s reason to believe Trump could build ample camaraderie with Indian PM Narendra Modi, whom Trump has referred to as a “great man.” The two share numerous similarities.

They both enthusiastically embrace social media. They enjoy close ties to the business world and cater to conservative constituencies. They claim to be deeply nationalistic; slogans like “Make America Great Again” and “Make in India” convey a strikingly similar message.

However the issue of H1B visa  and US policies towards Pakistan could play spoilsport in the otherwise progressing bilateral relationship.

Other major important issue to be tackled by the new US President will be maintain stability in Europe, managing NATO alliance and new economic arrangements.

Donald Trump based his presidential campaign on denunciations against China and Mexico, and a promise to revert to a protectionist economy. He spoke of raising import tariff and penalising American countries that took jobs overseas.

But experts believe that a retreat from a globalised world, may only lead to greater instability. The less interconnected the nations are, the more the chance for competition and disagreement.

Trump’s entire campaign is built around the idea that foreign influences are infecting the United States. “The US,” he declared upon announcing his presidential campaign, “has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.”

Trump’s supporters like the fact that he’s rich, blunt, and hasn’t spent his life in politics. But his pledges to keep the rest of the world at bay are core to his appeal.

Trump needs to address many critical issue immediately which might challenge his calibre as the President and try to convince nervous allies and opportunistic adversaries that he can deliver on few of his campaign promises, if not all made sense.

The immediate foreign-policy task for Trump will be to adjust his rhetoric and reassure allies and others of America’s continuing role in the liberal world order.