The Khmer Times, 20 April 2017
The decisive acts of the United States in Syria and Afghanistan and assertive words on North Korea and Iran have compelled us to reassess the foreign policy direction of President Donald Trump.
Despite the early signs of his foreign policy weakness, Mr. Trump has formed and assembled a strong national security team to advise him on foreign policy options and decisions.
Mr. Trump’s transactional politics seems to apply only in external economic policy, not in security and defence policy.
Seemingly, “America First” is reflected in US economic policy and “Make America Great Again” is being realized through military power and intervention.
The US has withdrawn from multilateral economic arrangements but not from multilateral security mechanisms. It remains committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and alliance system.
The US has demonstrated its military power, sending a clear signal to other major powers that it is willing to take action unilaterally.
The geographical priorities of the United States are the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and Europe. On the contrary, Southeast Asia and Asean are not on its list of priorities.
The US may not have clear long-term strategy towards Syria and North Korea. Yet it is going to reassert its global hegemonic power through military means.
The crises in Syria and North Korea’s nuclear program are the litmus test of Mr. Trump’s world view and firm foreign policy posture.
Facing relatively low approval ratings at about 40 percent, Mr. Trump may need to enhance his legitimacy and consolidate his power by implementing hawkish and interventionist foreign policy.
Diverting public attention from controversial, often clumsy, domestic policies with active engagement in global affairs would largely help save Mr. Trump’s administration from domestic political crises.
Vice-President Mike Pence said during his visit to South Korea that “the era of strategic patience is over”.
He urged North Korea to give up its nuclear arms peacefully otherwise all options including force will be used.
“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan.
North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” he added.
Mr. Trump is carrying a big stick while conducting diplomacy. While unpredictability is perceived as his weakness, it can also be a strategy to wield power and leverage his bargaining position.
He may opt for a military pre-emptive strike against North Korea if Kim Jong-un refuses to give up nuclear arsenals peacefully. However, the US needs to work closely with China to avoid unnecessary military confrontation between the two powers.
Mr. Trump’s administration is striving to prove that the US remains a prominent superpower in the Asia-Pacific. American exceptionalism and interventionism are likely on the rise, supported by military prowess.
The US has reassured its treaty allies in Asia, particularly South Korea, Japan, and Australia, that it is committed to protecting its allies and maintaining regional security.
The US firmly stands with South Korea and Japan amid rising nuclear threats from North Korea.
During his visit to Japan, Mr. Pence reaffirmed: “We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan. We are with you 100 percent.”
A big mistake in US strategy towards Asia was the decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has serious strategic repercussions on its image and role in the Asia-Pacific.
It would be also a diplomatic blow if the US neglects Asean, the most important inter-governmental organization in Southeast Asia. So far, the US has not mentioned Asean at all in its Asia policy.
The US needs to reconsider its policy on the TPP and proactively engage Asean. The effectiveness of America’s Asia policy does not rely exclusively on military power but on economic integration and multilateral diplomacy.
Forging a constructive partnership with China on regional issues, especially North Korea and South China Sea issues, is necessary to avoid unnecessary confrontation between the two global economic powers.