Trump won't have such a free hand globally: Experts

(From far left) Panel moderator Jonathan Tepperman, Mr Enrico Letta, Mr James Goldgeier and Ms Susan Collins during yesterday's discussion.
(From far left) Panel moderator Jonathan Tepperman, Mr Enrico Letta, Mr James Goldgeier and Ms Susan Collins during yesterday's discussion.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

US President-elect Donald Trump may become less of a maverick after he begins his presidential term later this month, several leading international affairs experts said at a conference yesterday.

This is because the United States cannot go it alone on global issues, said Mr Enrico Letta, dean of the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po.

"The problems that Trump and other global leaders have to deal with are so high, so huge, so tough, that even Trump has to learn to listen to others," he said.

Mr Letta, who was prime minister of Italy from 2013 to 2014, cited trade, security as well as financial and economic issues as examples of areas where Mr Trump will have to cooperate with other leaders.

Mr Letta also argued that international institutions will oblige Mr Trump to listen to others and to make shared decisions. "The situation will oblige him to change. At the end of the day, the United States is part of the world," he said.

He was on a panel on the new American presidency and its global impact during the last day of a three-day conference hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to exchange ideas on global issues. The school is part of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, whose leaders attended the conference.

Meanwhile, Mr James Goldgeier, dean of the American University's School of International Service, said Mr Trump would find it hard to stick to his campaign promises.

For instance, he would not find it so easy to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement, which scales back Teheran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions being lifted.

Mr Trump had said he wanted to review the deal, in which Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany were also involved.

But reneging on this agreement will be bad for America's international standing, said Mr Goldgeier.

"For the US to essentially turn its back on the accord in a way that would be so damaging to its standing in the world... would be so misguided that I don't think the Trump administration will do it," he said.

Additionally, the process of doing so would be highly technical and would require a sustained campaign to convince others, argued Foreign Affairs magazine managing editor Jonathan Tepperman.

Agreeing, the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy dean Susan Collins pointed to the reality of America having to work together more constructively with other nations. She said: "Things are going to evolve differently from what's been stated so far."

But an America that is less engaged with others means others have to step up and play a bigger role, panellists noted. Mr Letta said 2017 may be the year Europe "becomes an adult" and takes the lead on issues affecting global security.

At a separate panel on managing the rise of Asia, Lee Kuan Yew School dean Kishore Mahbubani said Trump or no Trump, one trend is unstoppable: the rise of Asia.

Asian countries too will have to take on their share of responsibilities in the global system, he added.

But former top US diplomat Christopher Hill was less upbeat, saying countries had to brace themselves for an interesting and unpredictable ride with Mr Trump at the helm.

The dean of the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies wondered whether Mr Trump knew what he was doing when he questioned the longstanding One China policy.

And attempts to criticise him may backfire, he said: "He doesn't like being told he's wrong, so when that happens, he doubles down."

Referring to Mr Trump's penchant for taking to Twitter, which had a 140-character limit for posts, to tackle complex geopolitical issues, Mr Hill quipped: "China cannot fit into 140 characters."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'Trump won't have such a free hand globally: Experts'. Subscribe