The network of alliances that the America has built over the last 70 years is slowly being unstitched by Trump.
In the last couple of weeks, the already tense relationship between the US and Turkey has further deteriorated following the decision of a Turkish court to prolong the detention of an American Pastor, Andrew Brunson. He was detained over charges of spying, divulging state secrets and for links to FETO and PKK on October 2016.
As a reaction to this, Trump administration first announced sanctions on Justice and Inferior Affairs Ministers of Turkey, which followed by doubling the tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium imports. In response, the Turkish government retaliated in kind.
Although the US attitude towards Turkey appears peculiar to Turkey at first glance, it is a reflection of a gradually shifting US foreign policy regarding its alliance politics:
a trend that has been marked by the US disregard for the interests and concerns of its allies. This tendency has started with the Obama administration but has worsened under the Trump administration
In the second term of Obama in particular, this policy shift became visible as the US began to support the PYD/YPG in northern Syria.
Since Turkey considers PYD/YPG as the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is considered as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US, the American military support to the PYD/YPG caused huge concerns in Turkey.
Again, during the Obama presidency, the US inaction upon the usage of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, although President Obama considered it as a red line, caused serious frictions with its western allies including France and Turkey.
Trump has taken this trend to another level. During the NATO Summit last June, Trump accused his allies of being complacentand urged them to not only spend at least 2 percent of their GDPs but to increase this participation to 4 percent on military spending. He also accused Germany directly, a long-term ally, of being “a captive of Russia”.
Moreover, he labelled the NAFTA as “the worst trade deal” in the US history, which alienated both Mexico and Canada.
Although a new deal has been reached between the US and Mexico, discarding NAFTA, president Trump tweeted that Canada might remain outside this new deal.
Losing credibility and reliability
There will be profound ramifications for the way the US is treating its allies.
States, which feel their interests are being discarded, will undoubtedly seek alternative policies including new alliances. This might pave the way for more instability and conflict in the near future.
The continuity of an alliance is largely contingent upon the trust measures and confidence mechanisms established between the partners. Breaking promises and showing apathy towards the concerns of one’s allies damage the credibility and stability of the partnership.
Additionally, an alliance exists as long as it serves to the benefits of partners: otherwise, it ceases to exist.
In this regard, the US under the Trump administration suffers from a remarkable loss of credibility internationally as a result of controversial policies and attitudes such as withdrawal from international agreements like TTIP, the Paris Climate Agreement, the imposition of tariffs on its allies and harshly criticising them in public.
These policies had for effect a drop in the American image overseas. For instance, a recent surveydemonstrated that the German perception of the US has dramatically become negative during the Trump administration, which is also on the rise across Europe.
A similar pattern can globally be observable.
Implications on the regional level
Trump’s attitudes towards its long-time allies will undoubtedly have repercussions on the regional level. Keeping in mind that the US has meticulously established and managed the alliance system particularly in Europe and Asia to keep the world out of great power conflicts and wars; the implications of the shifting US foreign policy are bleak.
The US security and economic alliances with Japan and South Korea have been the lynchpin of its East Asia strategy. These alliances are considered as assurances to prevent the eruption of possible inter-state wars between regional powers. They have also long served as deterrence against potential Chinese attempts to tilt the regional balance of power in its favour.
Trump’s decision to suspend joint military drills that were conducted by the US and South Korea for decades after his historic meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, has worried the South Koreans.
Trump pointed to the cost of the military practices as the reason for the suspension, disregarding its symbolic and actual meanings regarding being a powerful deterrence against the North’s aggression; it also sends mixed signals about the extent of the US commitment to the security of the South. Coupled with Trump’s statement that he is looking for the options to reduce the number of US military presence in South Korea, people in South Korea have viewed Trump’s moves with scepticism and resentment.
These developments have also raised the concerns of the Japanese side as its security is hugely dependent on the US military presence in the region. Additionally, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from Trans-Pacific Partnership and adding Japan to the list of sanctioned countries, thus shaking the foundations of the long-lasting alliance, led to increasing alienation on the part of the Japanese government.
These reckless policies may lead to an arms race and increased aggression in East Asia.
The other implication at the regional level would be that allied countries that are left in limbo by the US would search for new partnerships to replace the existing arrangements. This is the case in Africa. As the Trump administration has cut off its development aid and reduced its military assistance, African countries have started to consider other options.
China, who is more than willing to fill the void left by the US, has appeared as a viable partner in terms of providing development assistance and model as well as security support.
Similarly, the US decades-long strategic partnership with Turkey has constituted one of the building blocks of the American grand strategy in the Middle East. Turkey, being a NATO member and an active contributor to the counter-terror operations and stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, has played an important role in military missions aiming to restore peace and stability in the region.
Turkey is also home to the Incirlik Air Base, which has been actively used by the US Air Force since the Cold War; during the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraq War, and Afghanistan Operations and more recently in the fight against Daesh. Turkey’s contribution also includes the missions in Somalia and the Mediterranean.
However, this partnership is going through a turbulent period due to the latest crises, which jeopardises the future of the relationship as well as the stability of the region.
Losing a key partner in the fight against Daesh and other terrorist organisations will weaken these efforts and might cause their resurgence.
Additionally, the US alienation of Turkey and the US disregard towards its security concerns might force Turkey to look for new reliable and credible partners. Turkey’s increasingly close cooperation with Iran and Russia particularly in Syria, which culminated in the Astana Peace Talks, can be looked at through this lens.
Implications on the global level
By moving away from the values and norms that constitute the very basis of the current international liberal order, the US creates a legitimacy crisis and endangers values such as democracy, good governance, and human rights.
Since the US presents itself as the defender of these values, its controversial actions undermine both its global leadership and these values.
The Trump administration’s recent unilateral actions such as moving US embassy to Jerusalem and recognising the city as the capital of Israel caused resentment and disapproval by the majority of the international community.
Additionally, the US rescission of the Iranian Nuclear Deal, which has been negotiated multilaterally and accepted unanimously by the United Nations Security Council put the international order in crisis. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has mentioned, this move erodes trust in the international order.
The problems that the world faces today, such as the ongoing worldwide humanitarian crises, climate change and proliferation of terrorist networks, require an enduring and multilateral commitment.
By acting otherwise, the US is increasing the risks the world faces and jeopardises the chances of overcoming them.