During his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to “Make America Great Again.” Based on Trump’s view, what explains the American decline is a security and foreign policy created by the political establishment in Washington, D.C. — criticized as being composed of “globalists” pushing for the interests of the world rather than “America First.” The result is disproportionate burden-sharing in alliances, entanglements in endless wars, and unfair trade agreements that cause huge trade deficits. Trump’s isolationist ideas and related confrontational rhetoric and actions represent a discontinuity with the security and foreign policies of previous United States (US) administrations since Second World War. During his presidency, he has broken with various conventions, norms, and rules of the existing liberal world order, alliances, and approaches to conflict resolution.
While scholars of peace and conflict research, as well as foreign policy experts, criticized his unconventional and confrontational style from the outset, it opens the chance for scholars to critically reflect on existing ideas and concepts. As the end of his (first or only) term approaches, this special issue edited by Dr Holger Janusch tackles the opportunity for scholarly reflection by evaluating the US security and foreign policy under the present administration. Is Trump a peacebreaker whose unconventional rhetoric and policies tend to intensify existing conflicts and destabilize conflict regions, as many have feared from the beginning? Or is he the “greatest dealmaker”—as he describes himself—whose break with traditional approaches makes it possible to resolve deadlocked conflicts and reach new agreements?
Daniel S. Hamilton examines President Trump’s approach to reform the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at the internal level that consists of a fairer burden-sharing, and at the external level that involves stressing the role of the alliance within the context of competition toward great powers, in particular China. He views the prospect that the US could be less supportive of integration rather than division, thus serving as a country that is part-stakeholder and part-spoiler, as a deeper challenge for Europe compared to how the US could abandon NATO.
P. Terrence Hopmann takes a look at US foreign policy toward Russia and Ukraine during the Trump presidency. He concludes that Trump’s personal and political interests undermine the national interests of the US. While Congress, advisors and civil servants have restrained President Trump’s policies toward Russia and Ukraine, his acquittal in the impeachment trial and his dismissal of experts are increasingly freeing him from these constraints.
Lars Berger analyzes Trump’s hasty withdrawal of US forces from the fight against the Islamic State, his embrace of Arab authoritarianism, and his departure from basic principles regarding the two-state-solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to him, Trump’s Middle East policy resulted in a “mishmash” that offers disruption where continuity is required and continuity where disruption is needed.
Marco Overhaus discusses the different foreign policy approaches of the US toward Iran under Obama and under Trump: from dual-track to the “maximum pressure” approach. He concludes that Trump’s aggressive approach is not per se doomed to fail but is flawed because it voids diplomacy and risks, which eventually drags the US more into “endless wars” again.
Elisabeth I-Mi Suh examines President Trump’s personal involvement in the negotiations over the North Korean nuclear weapon and missile program. She concludes that Trump’s foreign policy toward North Korea has increased the role of emotions, personalities, and domestic audiences, and therefore, sidelined, if not undermined, working-level talks that are crucial for designing and forging an agreement.
Against the background of an American decline, Holger Janusch and Daniel Lorberg analyze President Trump’s trade war with China. According to them, Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach fits into the behavioral pattern of a declining hegemon as predicted by the hegemonic stability theory. The “phase one” deal can be seen rather as a trade ceasefire than a lasting trade peace between the declining hegemon and its ascending challenger.
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera focuses on migrant caravans and protest movements in the time of Trump’s border security policy. By referring to other protest movements, especially the Standing Rock protests, she provides preliminary explanations regarding the networks of protest movements, politics of philanthropy, utilization of counterinsurgency, and the geopolitics of border security.
Last but not least, John M. Callahan offers an alternative, optimistic view when evaluating Trump’s grand strategy that is inspired and rooted in the “America First” ideology within a broader historical and global context. He argues that contrary to an often articulated criticism, Trump’s security and foreign policy is characterized by learning and restraint in conflicts and tackles the fundamental problem of imperial overstretch.
Outside the thematic focus, Nils Zimmermann and Jahara Matisek propose a stronger developmental role for military personnel in Africa within the framework of a Peace Engineering Corps.