President Trump has proven in the short 140 days of his presidency that his “America First” ideology is nothing but dangerous isolation. While the president has struggled in carrying out many of his more specific goals and promises (tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, infrastructure, building a wall) this one broad belief in self-imposed American seclusion through antagonization of the rest of the world has been one that has driven the most policy in the administration. This has led to the strange phenomenon of the United States backing off from the world stage and the reshuffling of the geopolitical order we have known since the end of the Cold War. The United States seems to be willing to give up its position in the world, risking the hegemonic status they have held since the end of the second world war. The United States must be careful, as positions on the world stage are not reserved and, when lost, are not easy to gain back. Power dynamics can change very quickly in international politics. The Soviet Union went from one of the two most powerful countries in the world to nothing in less than three years. President Trump has four.
Under the Trump administration the US has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade agreement; instituted a travel ban (which is currently suspended by the courts and will go to the Supreme Court); pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, an international agreement to combat global warming; and questioned the value of NATO, a multi-country military alliances that has brought security and stability to the North Atlantic and Europe since the end of the Second World War. The United States has also targeted countries individually, as the administration has imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber, suggested that the US could get involved in North Korea without Chinese backing, gone on a trade tirade against Germany, a major ally, and has repeatedly gotten into feuds with US neighbor, Mexico.
America First cedes ground to US rivals. China and Russia are thrilled at the United States’ retreat from the world stage as it allows them to grow their international power. The purpose of TPP was to unite countries surrounding China (Japan, South Korea, Vietnam) with other countries in the Pacific in a trade deal created to limit China’s economic influence in the region. The lapse of US influence that occurred when the US pulled out of the partnership allowed for China to grow its trade relations in the region, opposing US economic interests. China has also grown close to Europe in environmental policy and plans, filling the US void there, especially after President Trump withdrew from the Paris accord. Russia has watched the American distance from NATO with glee, seeing the European continent as more vulnerable now that US protection is no longer ensured. This has been aggravated by the seeming fact that the President of the United States seems ambivalent if not accepting of the seizure of Crimea.
Even American allies are picking up stronger global positions with the fall of American involvement. Europe is trying to claim the mantle of leader of the free world with the ambitious duo of France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel and is looking to pick off a Canada that is increasingly wary of the US. Europe has taken up the mantel of environmental protection and multiculturalism. It has crowned itself the torchbearer of Western Democracy and is eager to reassert itself as more than just US allies.
US allies feel that they can no longer rely on the United States and are abandoning the US to strike out on their own, or to joining forces with China, Russia, and the EU. Canada is increasing their military by 70% in the next ten years and is growing closer to France and Germany. Japan has started making its own fighter jets. Italy has closer ties with Russia than with the US right now. The European Union is talking about creating its own military force. And China and Russia are still growing their military as they see more opportunities emerge with American Isolation.
It is clear that the world order that began after the end of the second world war is changing, and is doing so rapidly. The two emblems of western power after the war were Great Britain and the United States, countries both in political turmoil at the moment. Power dynamics are already changing with China, Russia, and a the EU/NATO lead by France and Germany emerging as the three powers vying for the US’s position in the world. The US should be concerned, as not only are enemy nations taking advantage of a lack of American leadership abroad, but allies are increasing distancing themselves from America, believing that they would be more secure without America. The United States must be careful not to be left behind.