Trump's moves will leave world order in a mess: Experts at RSIS Distinguished Public Dialogue

Dr Bates Gill (left) and Professor Michael Brown (right) at the RSIS Distinguished Public Dialogue moderated by Dr Adam Garfinkle at NTU@One-north, on Jan 10, 2020.
Dr Bates Gill (left) and Professor Michael Brown (right) at the RSIS Distinguished Public Dialogue moderated by Dr Adam Garfinkle at NTU@One-north, on Jan 10, 2020.PHOTO: RSIS

SINGAPORE - The United States' foreign policy decisions, in the run-up to the US presidential elections on Nov 3 this year, might well leave the world in a bit of a mess and should President Donald Trump return to the White House, the world order could become 'dire' in coming years, veteran observers of US foreign policy said at a forum here.

Washington's recent actions point to a build-up of a nuclear crisis with Iran and North Korea, a return to the great power competition between the US, Russia and China. But US allies - especially in East Asia - are no longer assured of America's security guarantees.

The consequences of policy decisions by the Trump administration on controlling climate change could well be disastrous as well.

Professor Michael Brown and Dr Bates Gill expressed these views at the RSIS Distinguished Public Dialogue on US Foreign Policy in a Time of Turmoil at Home and Abroad, held at NTU @ One-north on Thursday (Jan 09).

Prof Brown is the former Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. Dr Gill is Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies, at Sydney's Macquarie University, and the former Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Both speakers are on the Board of Governors of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. The session on Thursday was moderated by Dr Adam Garfinkle, an RSIS Distinguished Visiting Fellow, and the Founding Editor of The American Interest, a bimonthly public policy magazine.

The dialogue was held at a time of growing interest in American foreign policy after a US airstrike outside Baghdad airport left Iranian general Qassem Soleimani dead and sparked off tensions in the Middle East. Teheran retaliated this week with strikes on Iraqi bases housing US troops, raising fresh fears of the horrors it could inflict next.

With the American move on Iran being seen as a bid by the Trump administration to deflect attention from the impeachment trial due to come up at the Senate, questions abound on the likely consequences of domestic policies on US foreign policy in an election year.

"Every politician likes to win and every first term American president wants a second term," said Prof Brown.

"I think Trump's fixation and obsession with winning the 2020 election is to impart to his self-image as a winner and because, if he loses the election, he probably faces criminal investigation on a wide variety of financial fraud and obstruction of justice charges," he said.

"It is going to be ugly... Trump will do anything against his opponents to win," he remarked.


"The impact of US politics on foreign policy won't be pretty.. will be a bit of a mess," said Dr Gill.

"We may well see more of what we have seen in past week and that is, a president who sees in foreign activity, an opportunity to deflect the attention that is being paid to the issues at home," he said.

The thing to watch out for will be if Iran kicks out the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, said Prof Brown.

If it does so, he said it will mean Iran is moving towards a high level of enrichment and speeding to build a nuclear weapon capability and if that happens, it will be a moment of crisis.

In response to a question, Prof Brown added that Trump has said he will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapon capability, which could mean a substantial attack on the country.

In his address, Prof Brown also highlighted concerns about North Korea conducting intercontinental ballistic missiles tests.

"If he (Mr Trump) wins the elections in 2020, the prospects for world order over the next four or five years are dire. My view is that it will be a new world order, a worse world order... one can't really call it a world order.

"There will be alliances and trade relations and a world with spheres of influence and great power competition where small- and medium-sized countries will have to work out things for themselves," he told the audience.

The Trump administration's second term could also mean a huge impact on controlling climate change, he said.

People recognise the importance of making a difference to climate change in the next 10 years but if five of those are under the Trump administration, then that will be "another area where the world order will be shaken, very substantially", concluded Prof Brown.