President-elect Donald Trump faces a full international inbox.
Awaiting the 45th president are multiple Mideast crises and concurrent crises in confidence among allies in Europe and East Asia facing daunting foreign policy challenges of their own. Elsewhere, allies India and Pakistan are involved in spiraling skirmishes. There are hot spots such as Venezuela, which risks becoming a failed state, Central America, where high levels of violence increase instability, and oft-forgotten conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and elsewhere.
On top of these international issues is the threat of climate change, which the Pentagon believes will increase instability, if not conflict.
Trump ran against globalism, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever evolve into an internationalist. Nevertheless, it’s essential that his administration work to ensure international stability in order to focus on its domestic agenda. Accordingly, Trump should quickly reassure nervous allies that his self-described “America first” foreign policy does not render decades of defense and diplomatic relationships second.
Facing a revanchist Russia, a politically destabilizing Mediterranean migration crisis and other issues, NATO nations were understandably shaken by the candidate’s uncertain trumpet regarding the alliance. Now that the campaign is over, Trump should unequivocally state his belief in and support for NATO. The president-elect, who seems rightly wary of the use of force, must not unintentionally invite it by sending the wrong signals to Russia, which should remain under sanctions for its illegal and immoral annexation of Crimea.
Similarly, Trump should shore up Asian alliances, particularly with South Korea and Japan. Both countries were rattled by Trump’s cavalier consideration that they (and other nations) might be encouraged to develop their own nuclear arsenal. Just as uncertain signals could embolden Russia into a military miscalculation, it’s critical to continue the “pivot” to Asia that’s intended to respond to a rising China. Concurrently, Trump must engage China to more aggressively use its influence with Pyongyang to curb North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program.
Other global protocols should be preserved, too. Candidate Trump railed against the Iraq war. As president, he may face unnecessary warfare if he abrogates the multinational nuclear deal with Iran. And Trump, a dealmaker, should also honor existing trade pacts. No one expects him to embrace Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. But exiting the North American Free Trade Agreement or other bilateral pacts could create economic chaos and exacerbate economic dislocation for working-class Americans. Similarly, pulling out of the U.N. climate-change agreement would encourage international backsliding on such a crucial issue.
Trump won on a pledge to make America great again. Doing so requires global leadership, not shirking allies or shrinking away responsibilities. His administration’s foreign policy should be crafted accordingly.