Donal Trump would pull the United States back from East Asia and Europe, severing alliances that go back decades and putting American trade interests at risk.
The property tycoon and former reality TV star who is now the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination told The Washington Post on Monday that America can no longer afford its military presence in Europe.
“NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money,” he said.
The businessman had similar laments about America’s allies in Asia.
“South Korea is very rich, great industrial country and yet we’re not reimbursed fairly for what we do,” Trump said. “We’re constantly sending our ships, sending our planes, doing our war games — we’re reimbursed a fraction of what this is all costing.”
28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help protect the country from its impetuous communist neighbor. Another 50,000 are deployed in Japan.
Both countries do contribute to the costs. Most recently, South Korea agreed to pay up to 40 percent of the costs of America’s deployments in the country.
Although Trump is still uncertain to win his party’s presidential nomination and would almost certainly lose a general election in November against Barack Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, his remarks are bound to raise alarm in allied capitals.
Few foreign leaders have weighed in on America’s presidential contest. The ones that have have been uniformly critical of Trump.
The prime ministers of Britain and Canada, David Cameron and Justin Trudeau, have taken offensive at Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from the United States, calling it a “divisive”, “hateful” and “stupid” plan.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German economy minister and vice chancellor, has likened Trump to right-wing populists in Europe who are a “threat to peace and social cohesion.” They promise voters “a way back into a fairytale world,” he said, in which economic activity can be constrained inside national borders.
Trump told The Washington Post he sees no benefit from America’s involvement around the world. Asked specifically whether it gains anything from its presence in Asia, he said, “I don’t think so.”
It might have made sense when we were “a very powerful, very wealthy country,” he explained, but “we’re a poor country now.”
The comments suggest Trump would reverse the “pivot” to Asia, Obama’s signature foreign policy which has seen a shift in economic and military resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific region.
The New Yorker has called the Trans Pacific Partnership, the keystone of the pivot’s commercial component, a “disaster,” claiming in a debate last year that it “was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the backdoor and totally take advantage of everyone.”
In reality, the hope is that the agreement, which covers twelve countries and 40 percent of the world’s yearly economic output, will put pressure on China to meet American-set standards and stop trying to game global trade to impede foreign companies.
Trump frequently claims that China and other economies around the Pacific are “killing” America at trade.
But the Hudson Institute’s John Lee points out that half of all Asian-made goods entering the United States are produced by firms wholly or partially owned by multinationals based in advanced economies, with up to a third of them American.
America is also among the largest investors in China, Japan and South Korea.
“Hardly surprising, since four-fifths of all American foreign direct investment into Asia goes toward funding export-manufacturing companies,” he writes.
The sort of withdrawal Trump advocates could put open access and stability of sea lines of communication in Asia at risk, Lee warns, “especially if the maritime domain in East Asia becomes a Chinese lake.”
Two-way trade between Asia and the United States is worth about $1.5 trillion per year and almost all of it comes and goes on ships.
“Trump would come to understand that the American presence in Asia is not just a matter of national ego,” according to Lee.
Anne Applebaum, a journalist who specializes in Central and Eastern Europe, has argued in The Washington Post that not only is Trump uninterested in America’s alliances; he would be incapable of sustaining them.
Alliances require not the skills of a shady property magnate who “makes deals,” she writes, “but boring negotiations, unsatisfying compromises and, sometimes, the sacrifice of one’s own national preferences for the greater good.”
Trump had shown a capacity for neither.
His administration would come as a shock to Europeans who are used to drawn-out deliberations and have come to rely on American largesse.
President Obama’s policy, as he recently told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, is to only gradually shift the burden for security in Europe’s neighborhood to the Europeans — and even that sometimes seems too much to ask. Britain and France disappointed Obama when they failed to help reconstruct Libya after NATO’s intervention there. The United States redeployed troops when Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Politico recently that none of Europe’s leading powers — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — is ready for the sort of sudden American exit Trump advocates. “Neither psychologically nor logistically is Europe ready for this,” he said.