The United States of America, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, has seen a drastic shift in its traditional line of the policy followed in terms of foreign affairs. Since the end of WWII and during the Cold War, U.S. and U.S.S.R. were in a bipolar conflict for global superiority, which ended with the fall of U.S.S.R. and the beginning of a unipolar world under U.S. hegemony.
The 21st century saw the emergence of alternative centres of power with growing influence at par with U.S. There were two commonalities throughout this timeline. Firstly, America’s dominant presence in all major international platforms. Secondly, the existence of unilateralism as a distinct part of its foreign policy for advancing national interests such as global prominence and possession of natural resources.
The foreign policy doctrine pursued by every president is given a name; the one famously given to Trump’s policy by the Washington Post is “The Withdrawal Doctrine”. It is so because, under the Trump administration, the United States has seen the withdrawal from almost every manner of multilateral agreements and international organisations in the name of going at it alone. As mentioned above, unilateralism is not new to American foreign policy, seeing its history and what’s happening right now, it’s not difficult to conclude that Trump’s unilateral approach focuses on deconstructing everything that previous presidencies have worked hard to build.
Most recent action in this direction includes U.S.’s withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement signed in 2002 to act as a confidence-building measure between the signatories. It allowed aerial reconnaissance over signatory nations to collect data on troop deployment and military activities. This act of withdrawal will hurt the interests of all the parties of the treaty many of whom are members of the NATO.
The decision to cut-off funding for W.H.O. during a global pandemic seems to be a very ‘Un-American’ decision; if there were issues or call for reforms, they should have been addressed after the crisis was over. A reduction in the budget for W.H.O. is only going to harm poverty-stricken nations of Africa and Asia that are heavily dependent on global assistance. There have been multiple other withdrawals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.) agreement, Paris Climate Deal, the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (I.N.F.), withdrawal from the UNESCO and the U.N. Human Rights Council.
As mentioned by Thomas Wright, Director of Centre on the United States and Europe in one of his articles, “A Trump administration would pose the greatest shock to international peace and stability since the 1930s. This is not because Mr Trump would invade other countries but because he would unilaterally liquidate the liberal international order that presidents have built and defended since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If the word “isolationist” has any meaning, he qualifies as one.”
The Great American withdrawal that the world is witnessing right now is not limited to treaties and organisations but reaches out to instruments of security as well. Military withdrawal from Syria after declaring the defeat of ISIS, the United States abandoned its most important ally in the war, the Kurdish Peshmerga, without whom defeating ISIS would not have been possible. The mere presence of U.S. forces could have safeguarded the Kurds from an aggressive Turkish advancement.
A similar type of retreat is underway in Afghanistan where the United States has bilaterally come into an agreement with the Taliban keeping the Afghan government out of the loop, hoping that it would bring the long sought after peace in the rugged country. However, what we actually have on ground is a very fragile deal, an overly aggressive Taliban that has increased the intensity of its attacks, a fractured Afghan government with an ongoing power struggle in Kabul and herculean armed forces of the United States looking for a face-saving exit from an 18-year-old war.
Under Trump, the United States has also embarked upon a systematic destabilisation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). During the NATO Summit of 2018, it became evident to the world that this alliance was seen as a bad deal for the American exchequer by Mr Trump. According to him, members of NATO are not paying enough for maintenance of the force, i.e. only 2% of their G.D.P.s, as their defence budgets while maintaining a presence of more than 62,000 American troops along with air defence missile systems in Europe is costing America a lot of money. Since then, the United States has given an informal ultimatum to NATO members for increasing their defence spending with a threat of reducing American presence and money in the alliance.
A few weeks ago, Mr Trump took a step in that direction by announcing the withdrawal of 9,200 troops from Germany, a very important ally that hosts the highest number of U.S. troops and bases in Europe. It is understandable that NATO members should increase their share in funding the alliance since most of the load is borne by the American treasury. However, the way Trump pursued this agenda was very erratic and abrupt, which created suspicion in the minds of allies, not only in Europe but all around the world. For its allies, the United States is slowly transitioning from a sure-footed confidante to an unpredictable friend, making them increasingly doubtful of their safety in American hands.
The world today is witnessing Mr Trump’s own version of ‘America First’ which is leading to a gradual decline in America’s presence in the global sphere. Only time will tell whether the withdrawal symptoms of his actions will create an opportunistic vacuum for unilateral countries like China and Russia or pave the way for a new multilateral world order.