Trump Could Dismantle Western International Institutions

An America led by Donald Trump could pull out of trade deals and leave Europe to fend for itself.

I am sitting at Madrid airport reflecting on the reality of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections yesterday. We live in a very different world from last night. The American president may be constitutionally constrained by the separation of powers, but Trump will govern with Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In any case, in foreign policy, which most directly concerns those of us outside the US, the president has considerable executive freedom of action.

Trump has been vague about his foreign policy. In part this is because it is an area he understands little.

However, there have been some indications.


Trump is no fan of existing trade deals. TPP and TTIP are probably dead in the water. NAFTA is under threat. He has called the nuclear weapons deal with Iran the “the worst deal of all time.”

At the same time, he has a liking for “strong leaders” with whom he thinks he can negotiate man to man. Clearly this includes Russian president Vladimir Putin, with whom he seems to have formed a mutual admiration society. We can, at the very least, expect a softer line toward Moscow.

It is not altogether clear what Trump’s election will mean for relations with China. On trade issues, he is in favor of a tough position. At the same time, his penchant for strong leaders may lead him to try and negotiate directly with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Trump is isolationist in that he wants to withdraw America from what he sees as expensive and counterproductive entanglements abroad, particularly in the Middle East. He also believes that Europeans and other allies should pay for their own defense.

In its most extreme form, a Trump presidency could mean the dismantling of the Western international institutions which America has used to maintain international stability since World War II.

There are serious implications for world trade, which is already suffering from the stagnation of the World Trade Organization and increase in trade barriers. Mexico is panicking about the impact on its citizens in the United States and the possibility of a border wall while Canada’s immigration website collapses.

Implication for Europe

But the gravest medium- to long-term implications could be for Europe. The European Union, already in crisis, has repeatedly shown itself unable to develop a coherent position for dealing either with Russia or Turkey. It is unable to formulate a strategy for confronting Putin. It has depended on the United States to rescue it from its foreign policy ineptitude, while pretending to an intellectual superiority.

As a newly confident Putin (reportedly launching renewed airstrikes against Syria to coincide with American elections) ramps up the pressure in the Ukraine and the Baltics, the European Union may no longer be able to depend on Washington. Its ability to confront the geopolitical challenges represented by Russia and Turkey has already been complicated by Brexit. European, and British, political leaders need to think hard about the implications of Trump’s election.

Above all, they need, at last, get real about foreign and defense policy.

This article is adapted from a post that originally appeared at BideDao, Shaun Riordan’s personal blog, November 9, 2016.