The Success of Trump’s Foreign Policy | Daniel Hawker
In the run-up to the US presidential election this November, many Trump haters, Democrats and Republicans, will look back at all actions undertaken by President Donald Trump and view them as symbols of idiocy and damaging to America’s international image. Indeed, many Republicans have already began turning up on social media, television and newspapers, urging all Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, to vote for Joe Biden, with a group of foreign policy experts recently announcing that President Trump has ‘gravely damaged America’s role as a world leader, by aligning himself with dictators, dishonouring the rule of law, imperilling national security and more’.
But to overlook the significant success Trump has had abroad would be in my view a mistake and disregarding a major triumph of his presidency so far. There will be Democrats who believe these next few examples to be catastrophic and world-ending but I ask you, how much of that is because of your personal dislike of Donald Trump – and what would your response have been had these actions taken place under former President Obama’s administration?
We must begin of course, with the historic peace deal the President recently presided over between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (with Saudi Arabia possibly following suit soon). Taking place on the South Lawn of the White House on 15th September, the signing of the Abraham Accords is set to normalise relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbours in what is being described as a strategic realignment of the Middle East against the main threat in the region, Iran. In order to protect this new friendship, the countries must aim to expand this peace agreement, embracing more Arab countries into a union which in the future, could be used to peacefully resolve economic, political and human rights differences.
Going back to 2017, but remaining in the Middle East, one of the earliest and most significant foreign policy moves by the Trump Administration was the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Whilst it may have seemed like a deeply unpopular move at the time (at the UN, 128 countries voted AGAINST it), it was a promise made by many US presidents – but it was Trump who followed through. The fear of committing to this change was primarily because of the fear that the Arab world would erupt in anger and indeed the US deployed aircraft and navy vessels in case of this happening – but the reaction was minimal.
Instead, Trump successfully oversaw a transition which finally saw Jerusalem gain the recognition it deserves – as the most important city to Jews in Israel, the literal Jewish state. Trump’s landmark decision also encouraged other countries to consider making this move, including Guatemala, Paraguay, the Czech Republic, Romania and Honduras. More recently however, the Trump Administration announced a deal between Serbia and Kosovo to establish a single market (despite Serbia’s longstanding opposition to Kosovo’s declared independence) – with the deal including the intentions of both countries to open embassies in Jerusalem.
Moving our focus to Iran, Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal in May 2018. Heavily criticized by the media who claimed that he had underdone years of diplomacy and negotiations, Trump insisted that the Deal was ‘defective at its core’. Whilst adhering to the deal in technical terms (limiting its nuclear programme, regularly checked by inspectors, in return for the lifting of crushing economic sanctions), Iran has doubled down on its efforts to destabilise much of the Middle East, and has refocused on its aim to destroy Israel – undermining the efforts of Western powers and their allies. Trump was less concerned about the actual deal, rather Iran’s military intervention in many countries in the region who are allied with the United States – Israel most prominently, and the one who has faced for years the possibility of complete destruction by Iran, who’ve repeatedly called for the annihilation of all Jews in the Middle East.
In pulling the US out of the agreement, Trump was making it clear to Tehran that it wouldn’t stand for its reign of hostility in the region for much longer – which brings us nicely onto the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani earlier this year. A risky move and far more confrontational that previous action taken in the region, its exposed Iran’s weakness internationally – a wannabee nuclear power that can be kept in line by the US. A response such as this was long expected, ever since Trump disavowed President Barack Obama’s agreement to allow Iran to keep a nuclear programme and give them $150bn per year in frozen assets. Far from letting Iran continue its tyrannical spread of influence in the region, the president sent a clear and necessary message for all Iranian leaders to hear, and one that I definitely don’t think former President Obama would’ve been willing to make, for fear of an international controversy.
To say that Trump’s impact on US-North Korean relations has been successful would be a dramatic and insulting understatement to the sheer advancements that have been made under his leadership. For context, between 2013 and 2016, the North Korean nuclear programme greatly advanced, all whilst Obama opted for a strategy of ‘strategic patience’ in which the US and its allies increased sanctions in the hope that the North Koreans would agree to sit down and negotiate. To his credit however, Obama did send a US delegation in December 2009 to hold bilateral meetings in an attempt to stop missile testing. Despite sanctions implemented, in November 2010, Pyongyang announced that the regime was committed to advancing its weapons programme.
Jump forward to 2017, and recently-inaugurated Trump re-designated North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test (which it claimed were a hydrogen bomb, causing international worry and alarm). However, despite a rocky first year in March 2018, it was announced that Trump had accepted an invitation to meet with Supreme Leader Kim-Jong Un, and despite Trump calling off the summit only a month before it was due to take place, the two leaders met face-to-face in Sentosa, Singapore on 12th June 2018; the first ever meeting between leaders of North Korea and the United States. They both signed a joint statement agreeing to new peaceful relations and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. They also agreed to recovering the remains of US soldiers who’d died fighting in the Korean War (1950-53).
Before Trump and Kim met in June however, the Supreme Leader did something unbelievable in April, and became the first North Korean leader to cross the border into South Korea for a summit with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and was the first meeting between the two heads of the Koreas in eleven years. This move is widely credited as being of Trump’s making, with his want to negotiate with the North convincing the South to try and do the same. These events were followed up by two further summits, one in September 2018 with President Jae-in (with a joint declaration promising further inter-Korean cooperation and denuclearisation being signed) and the other in February 2019 held in Vietnam between Kim and Trump; unfortunately, this one did not result in a deal as the leaders disagreed on sanctions relief and denuclearisation. Trump claimed that Kim agreed to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programme in return for complete sanctions relief, but the President wanted more substantial plans to be in place. Thankfully, Kim and Trump agreed to restart their nuclear negotiations in June 2019, with Trump also becoming the first-sitting US president to set foot in North Korea.
This amount of progress, not only between the US and North Korea, but between the North and South, is nothing short of a breakthrough in US foreign policy, and it’s all thanks to the strategy and negotiations of Trump, with North Korea reportedly waiting until after the US election to resume talks. Trump has also announced that, if re-elected on 3rd November, he will make deals with North ‘very quickly’, whereas as his opponent Joe Biden has stated that if elected, he would instead focus less on in-person summits and more on tighter sanctions.
This isn’t all however to suggest that the president hasn’t made any advancements in US-European foreign policy in his time in the Oval Office – his attitude towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is immediately what comes to mind for me. Trump has repeatedly stated how the US will only provide NATO members military aid if they meet the NATO requirement of spending 2% of their GDP on defence, and how he believes the US shouldn’t have to promise to aid countries who don’t reach the requirement – the United States currently accounts for 70% of total spending on defence by NATO governments (approximately 3.4% of its GDP, or $718bn). While this has garnered worldwide controversy and media attention, the same issue was raised by members of President Obama’s staff – his Secretary of Defence Robert Gates continually asked European countries to spend more on their own defence. President Trump’s annoyance seems to me to be entirely reasonable – when these countries joined NATO, they joined understanding what was expected of them in order to guarantee protection by other members but currently, only eight of the 29 NATO members (aside from the US) spend 2% of more of their GDP on defence: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. European heavyweights like Germany and France are surprisingly absent from this list, spending 1.38% and 1.84% respectively. Luckily for and arguably thanks to Trump, 2019 is the fifth year to have seen an increase in defence spending by NATO members other than the United States.
The United States also has tens of thousands of soldiers stationed across Europe, primarily to aid against possible Russian aggression. They are routinely re-positioned (with Germany seeing a dramatic decrease) in order to provide different areas of Europe with the necessary military presence, varying from the Black Sea to the new V-Corps headquarters in Poland.
To conclude, simply discrediting Donald Trump on the basis of him being Donald Trump, especially in regards to his foreign policy, would be ignoring the significant developments that have occurred geopolitically across the world in the past four years. Love him or hate, looking at the evidence you simply cannot deny that President Trump has had many triumphs worldwide, from the Middle East and Iran, to North Korean negotiations, to strongarming European NATO members into paying their fair share. Despite running with the slogans ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First’, Donald Trump certainly hasn’t shied away from the rest of the world.