Transatlantic Relations in the Age of Donald Trump

By Kanat, Kilic Bugra | Insight Turkey, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Transatlantic Relations in the Age of Donald Trump


Kanat, Kilic Bugra, Insight Turkey


A Reluctant Ally?

Relations between the U.S. and its allies have been a hot issue in recent years for scholars of international relations. The changing nature and transformation of U.S. foreign policy in its relations with allies have serious implications for different regions around the world, as well as the broader international system. Although this debate has reached a heightened level with the presidency of Donald Trump, the process of U.S. disentanglement from its allies was visible in previous administrations. The unilateralism of the George W. Bush Presidency and the Obama Administration's disregard for allies both generated a serious crisis in the United States' alliance network. Many started to argue that the U.S. was becoming a "reluctant" (1) or an "unreliable" ally. (2) In a recent study, Jakub J. Gyrgiel and A. Wess Mitchell, who is currently serving as the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, described the current state of affairs between U.S. and allies as an 'advanced crisis' According to them,

Many long-standing U.S. allies believe that the United States, for
reasons of either decline or disinterest, is in the process of pulling
back from decades-long commitments and inaugurating a multiregional
diplomatic and military retrenchment... [A] steady succession of U.S.
actions--cancellations of regionally deployed U.S. weapon systems,
reductions in forward-deployed U.S. combat units, lessening of U.S.
diplomatic support for traditional allies, participation in tacit
bilateral bargaining with large authoritarian states, a much-touted but
under-resourced Asian "pivot"--have seemed to confirm their suspicions.
(3)

This change in the alliance behavior of the United States is generating serious repercussions in different parts of the world. In Asia, for instance, U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea are increasingly anxious over how committed the U.S. is to the security agreements it has made with them. In the Middle East, the traditional allies of the U.S. felt abandoned because of the U.S.' disregard for the stability of the region and the security of its allies. In particular, President Obama's 2013 "red line" statement on Syria and his subsequent decision not to fulfill his commitment without informing U.S. allies resulted in one of the most significant credibility problems for the U.S. In Europe as well, the situation was not so different. President Obamas decision to halt the installation of a U.S. missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic generated the same form of anxiety and concern about the future direction of U.S. policy. (4) Obama went so far as to refer to U.S. allies as "free riders" in one of his highly publicized interviews. (5) The unilateralist military interventions of George W. Bush years had been replaced by the unilateral inaction of the Obama Administration. In both cases, the concerns and priorities of U.S. allies were ignored, and many felt that the U.S. had abandoned these countries in a critical juncture of history. Partly in response to these concerns, in both the 2012 (6) and 2016 elections, many candidates for the U.S. presidency asserted that the U.S. had abandoned its allies and isolated itself in international relations.

The election of Donald Trump, who ran his campaign promoting economic protectionism and international isolationism, has vaulted this trend to new heights. President Trump's "Make America Great Again" discourse has underlined the prioritization of the U.S. and placed less emphasis on the security of U.S. allies. As a candidate, Trump's foreign policy platform was not very promising for the future of alliance networks. He criticized U.S. allies in NATO for not contributing sufficiently to the organization and refused to openly commit to defending the Baltic States against an invasion by Russia. (7) He also accused U.S. allies in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea, of burdening the U.S. with high economic costs. …

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