Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Trump Diplomacy and the Fragmentation of the Postwar International Order
SAHASHI Ryo / Associate Professor, Kanagawa University

February 1, 2018
The foreign policy of the Trump administration is changing the post-WWII international order, heretofore led by the United States, at a faster pace than anticipated. EU, burdened with the Brexit negotiations and the domestic political turmoil in Germany, is in no position to take the helm in lieu of the United States. On the other hand, China and Russia are conducting shrewd diplomacy and expanding their spheres of influence through various means short of resorting to large-scale war.
The U.S. National Security Strategy 2017 announced at the end of last year was taken by some to be a source of relief. The document does address head on the problems posed by China and Russia, and gives concrete expressions to the idea of “peace through strength”. Its consistent tone rejects the weak-kneed approach of the Obama administration, dismissing as false the assumption that continued engagement with rivals would turn them into benign actors. The defense budget is being increased, and the National Defense Strategy 2018 issued in January and the Nuclear Posture Review, soon to come out, all point to the strengthening of the military might of the United States.
But it would be rash to gather from all this that the United States is returning to internationalism. The National Security Strategy was compiled by the White House, but President Trump’s commments in his press conference were seen to be somewhat at variance with the analysis in the document. A considerable body of skeptics in the United States feels that the Review is long on rhetoric and short on practicality. The defense budget increase in fact is nothing more than the recouping by the military, now placed in a position of advantage in the decision-making process, of the sequestered portion of the pie. Further, under the banner of “America First”, the pursuit of fair and reciprocal trade is paraded as a priority. In late January President Trump spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and gave the State of the Union Address, neither of which showed any willingness on his part to return to the free trade agreements that had been concluded.
There is no doubt that the biggest element of uncertainty in the foreign policy of the Trump administration is Donald Trump himself. As was evident at the time of his visit to Europe in spring last year, he has very limited understanding of the alliances that have sustained the U.S. global leadership for more than 70 years since the end of WWII. Not only does he take a transactional approach to the allies of the United States but also has he made only inadequate references to defense commitments entailed by alliances. His abrupt mention of a military option in Venezuela, for example, seems to indicate his lack of prudence required for the use of military force.
Presidential speeches, which in the past served to convey America’s vision of the world as it should be, now seem to be used as a vehicle to propagate Trumpism at home. His speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September was a strange mixture of extolling “America First” to the world and provoking North Korea and Iran.
There is no longer ground for optimistically hoping that experienced presidential advisers and cabinet ministers can educate the president and surely change his ideas and behaviors. Despite the concerted opposition by the cabinet ministers concerned, President Trump and his close advisors apparently forced the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy to the city. The decision to suspend security aid to Pakistan was also made all of a sudden. On the other hand, as was the case with the reinforcement of the troops dispatched to Afghanistan and the transfer of arms to the Ukranian government, the military and the bureaucracy are trying to persuade the president to take actions that would mean a return to the internationalism and interventionism of the past. This policy rivalry lies at the core of the Trump administration. In the coming months, there may well be resignations or dismissals of those high officials who belong to the latter camp such as Secretary of State Tillerson, but President Trump will stay on. The resignation of Steve Bannon, the Chief Strategist, has diluted the ideological color of the administration, but President Trump will likely remain opportunistic and prone to reckless, impulsive actions.

Complaints and concerns about the Trump diplomacy are stronger in countries other than Japan. The Chairman’s Statement of the ASEAN Summit, issued following the East Asian Summit which President Trump had left midway to go home, reflected the situation in which the ASEAN countries felt unable to cope with China on such issues as the South China Sea without the engagement of the United States.

It makes sense for Japan to cultivate personal relationships with President Trump and solidify the foundation of the Japan-U.S. security arrangement. It is also important to work in tandem with the internationalists in and outside the U.S. administration, who are going through a rough patch. From this point of view, the concept of the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy needs to be fleshed out through active dialogue with the mid-level executives of the government, the military and the policy community in the United States.
That said, we need to establish new pillars as follows to cope with the disintegrating international order.
Firstly, we should explore collaborative steps with Britain, EU, Australian and some Asian countries with whom we share a common interest in preserving the international order. This is the case not only with respect to the promotion of free trade through the early coming into force of TPP and the Japan-EU EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement), but also with respect to security as well as promotion of democracy and protection of human rights. On democracy and human rights, the lack of interest on the part of the Trump administration may signal the loss of leadership for advancing these causes. Lest it should happen, it would seem appropriate to contemplate the possibility that Japan and other advanced democracies might step in to take the helm at least for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, China’s hubris regarding its own strength should be held in check. It is important to improve the Japan-China relations and create the opportunities to put on the right track China’s view of the international order and its diplomacy towards its immediate neighbors, through, for example, cooperating with its BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).

Thus, higher expectations than ever before are placed on Japan’s leadership in rebuilding the international order. Prime Minister Abe and Foreign Minister Kono should lead Japan’s diplomacy with these broad perspectives in mind.

The writer is Associate Professor, Kanagawa University. This is an abridged and adapted version of the article that appeared in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper of January 17, 2018.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

佐 橋  亮 / 神奈川大学准教授

2018年 2月 1日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Trump Diplomacy and the Fragmentation of the Postwar International Order