The election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves around the world. "Anything is now possible. A world is crumbling before our eyes," was the terrified reaction of the French Ambassador to the US.
The newly elected US president will confront a world ridden with conflict, from a Middle East plunged into violent chaos since the Arab Spring uprisings, to a Europe at risk of splitting along new divides. An emboldened Russia is threatening the Western sphere in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, while a resurgent Iran is flexing its muscles in the Persian Gulf, and a rising China pursues an aggressive policy in the East and South China seas.
How America under President Trump will respond to those challenges remains to be seen. Trump is a foreign policy wild card with no previous experience to draw upon.
But the newly elected president laid out his foreign policy vision during a speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC in April 2016 and he had a blunt message for the world: "America first will be the overriding theme of my administration," a slogan that reflects clear isolationist tendencies.
The ideology of white nationalism is on the rise across the West, but now enjoys the endorsement of the most powerful office in the world.
Syria and Islamic State
Trump has stated that he intends to work with Russia in the fight against Islamic State, despite Nato indicating that less than 20 per cent of Russian airstrikes are delivered on the terrorist organisation. In an interview with Reuters, Trump warned that Clinton's policy in Syria would result in a direct confrontation with several countries. "What we should do is focus on Isis. We should not be focusing on Syria," Trump asserted. "You're going to end up in World War III over Syria, if we listen to Hillary Clinton." Trump's refusal to call on Bashar al-Assad to step down will likely undermine America's alliance with friendly Arab states and Gulf allies that see the fall of the Syrian regime as an integral component of the multinational US-led coalition in the region.
No country in the Middle East is expanding its sphere of influence as rapidly as the newly emboldened Iran and Tehran plays a major role in the conflicts in both Syria and Iraq. Trump has been an outspoken critic of the nuclear deal with Iran and has promised to renegotiate the agreement, if elected. "The Iran deal is one of the worst deals I have ever seen negotiated in my entire life. It's a disgrace that this country negotiated that deal," he said during the primaries in South Carolina. His push for new and tougher sanctions against Iran could potentially lead to a breakdown of the deal altogether and once more put a question mark over how to deal with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. An alternative solution Trump has so far not presented.
Although the US has long been a traditional ally of Israel, relations between Washington and Jerusalem have hit an all time low under President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially since the rapprochement with Iran. Trump has sharply criticised the administration's handling of relations with Israel and is keen to repair the damage. He has reaffirmed his commitment to Israel's security and promised to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. If he backs up his rhetoric remains to be seen.
Trump has identified China as one of America's top adversaries throughout his campaign, particularly with view on trade relations and economic policies. He has vowed to end China's "assault on American jobs and wealth" by formally designating China as a currency manipulator, punishing the theft of intellectual property, and imposing steep tariffs of 45 per cent on Chinese exports. He has also stated his desire to protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea by ramping up the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another geopolitical giant President Trump needs to deal with is Russia. He has openly voiced his admiration for President Putin. "He's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader," Trump said during an appearance at a policy forum in New York. "He [Putin] said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good." Despite conclusive evidence that Russia is behind the cyber attacks on US political institutions, Trump insisted that nobody knows who is behind the hacks. In the face of ongoing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and threats against the sovereignty of the Baltic States, Trump's rapprochement with Russia could have devastating consequences for Europe's security.
Europe and Nato
The relationship between most European governments and the Trump administration is going to be frosty. Germany's foreign minister has called Trump a "hate preacher" and former UK Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Trump over his proposal to ban the entry of Muslims into the US. Trump, in return, has slammed Europe for not taking enough responsibility for its own security. He wants allies within Nato to pay more money for US military protection and has threatened to leave the military pact should they refuse. In tune with his Russophile outlook of the world, Trump has also called on Nato to shift attention from Russian deterrence to combating Islamic terrorism, which he regards as the greatest threat to US national security.
Julie Lenarz is the Executive Director of the Human Security Centre.