World order prepares for a Trump shake-up

Chin up: The leaders of Russia, Syria, China and France’s National Front welcome Trump.

From his praise for Putin to the Mexican wall, Donald Trump’s foreign policy was the most vivid part of his campaign. It was also the vaguest. What does his presidency mean for the world?

By phone, tweet or telegram, world leaders have congratulated Donald Trump on his victory. Some are clearly delighted. Others can barely contain their anxiety.

Since the USA became a superpower, no president has threatened to disrupt the global order like Trump. He differs from his predecessors on most areas of foreign policy, and disdains expert advice: ‘my primary consultant is myself,’ he says. But while his plans are often incoherent, his worldview has consistent traits.

First, he is wary of alliances. He sees NATO as obsolete, and the security pacts with South Korea and Japan as a waste of money. Trump only wants to interfere abroad when the USA’s interests are directly threatened. One example is terrorism: he is keen to team up with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin to ‘bomb the hell out of ISIS’.

His normal approach however is to keep America aloof. This passive approach could empower strongmen like Putin, whom Trump has called ‘a hero’. A weakened Nato might not be able to stop a Russian invasion of the Baltic states. Without an American military presence in Asia, the balance of power would tip toward nuclear states like China and North Korea. Indeed, Trump seems to welcome nuclear proliferation.

Second, the president dislikes free trade. He has warned that he will pull out of landmark trade deals like NAFTA, and will impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports. This is likely to have a severe effect on the global economy.

Third, Trump is against mass immigration. He is set on keeping Mexicans and Muslims in particular out of America. Aside from the direct effect on these people, the president’s xenophobic language will also encourage far-right politicians elsewhere, such as Marine Le Pen in France.

Fourth, Trump thinks global warming is a hoax. He has vowed to pull out of the Paris Agreement and stop federal spending on clean energy.

In short, Trump’s rhetoric points to an end to Pax Americana: a world order in which the country uses its military and economic power to maintain peace and prosperity.

The question is: does he mean it?

Cross my heart

Calm down, say some. Trump is no fool and knows that most of these pledges are too risky, and would get blocked by Congress anyway. His advisers have implied as much. He will tone down the rhetoric, start listening to experts, and come to realise that keeping global stability is in everyone’s interest.

Wake up, reply others. American presidents have far more power in foreign than domestic policy – Trump can pass many of these policies if he wants. And he does: he has been advocating them for decades. The new president will change the world, and not for the better.

You Decide

  1. How worried are you by Trump’s policies?
  2. What, if any, are the duties of a superpower?


  1. How have people in your country reacted to Trump’s victory? Find four quotes from public figures, two of which you agree with, two of which you do not.
  2. Imagine Trump has hired you as a foreign policy expert. Present him with a list of the three most pressing issues facing the USA. Write two paragraphs for each, explaining the problem and proposing a strategy.

Some People Say...

“Everything in life is luck.”

Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

Is the USA really that important?
Yes. Many argue that its influence is waning, and some think that China could soon surpass it. Yet the USA is still the world’s largest economy, greatest military power, and second-biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Any change it makes in any of these fields will have seismic effects, and could set a precedent for others.
When did the country become the world’s only superpower?
Gradually. France and Britain lost their empires after the two world wars. But the USA emerged from the second almost unscathed, its economy supercharged by the war effort. It began to see itself as a moral force in the world, spending vast sums to rebuild war-torn nations along democratic lines. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA was the only superpower left standing.

Word Watch

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Developed in response to Soviet communist expansion in 1948 the treaty was signed in 1949 between the USA and Canada, and European aliies — now 26 in number; it requires each to defend the others if one is attacked.
Nuclear proliferation
Promising only to use nuclear weapons as a last resort, Trump suggests that South Korea and Japan should develop their own – a U-turn on the longstanding US policy of deterrence.
North American Free Trade Agreement, a major 1994 deal signed by Mexico, Canada and the USA.
Marine Le Pen
France’s far-right Front National party leader, tipped to come second in next year’s presidential election.
In 2012, Trump tweeted: ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.’
Paris Agreement
Last December, 195 countries agreed on a landmark deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It came into effect last Friday.
Pax Americana
Latin for ‘American peace’. Past centuries have seen Pax Britannica and Pax Romana.
See The Atlantic in Become An Expert.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.