We are less than 100 days away from the US election. How are regional tensions around the world likely to play out past the November 8th elections?
It is probably fair to say that the world has stalled in terms of decisive political moves on the international arena this past year. More bark than bite has been the general status quo in terms of power plays and strategy execution.
However, far from suffering from a sense of chronic apathy, it is more likely that the world is waiting to see what emerges from the US presidential race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald J. Trump.
Same vision, different aims
In essence the presidential hopefuls promote the same general vision for the nation, that of being a stronger, fairer, more prosperous and protected America. However, their substantive policy positions and rhetoric could not be more different. If the election proceeds, this is what the two candidates offer.
Hillary Clinton presents for many Americans and the world a business as usual mantra, picking up where Obama left off. This can best be described as a predictable foreign policy strategy due to her own long-term involvement in international politics. Her thinking and policy approach have been analysed and dissected by both America’s friends and enemies alike, which could be a major handicap for her. Undoubtedly, she will sell this characteristic to voters as “experience”.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, displays a sense of perpetual unpredictability. He paints a desperate and taken-for-granted America which has exhausted itself and its resources in the pursuit of a long-forgotten goal. He pushes an agenda that seeks a substantial redistribution of focus and resources because he believes the establishment and the American people are being played for a fool by the international community.
Brexit and the indecisive pivot
The first example of this pause comes in the form of Britain’s expectations to trigger Article 50 following British decision to leave the EU in the June 23rd referendum. The UK and US have for the last two centuries maintained a ‘special relationship’ that has been exercised frequently in the field of political consensus, joint military operations and intelligence sharing.
The possibility of a Trump presidency is causing many to question how this relationship will develop. What is for certain is that the UK is watching these elections very closely and will take action in regards to the EU question when they find out who their new US counterpart will be.
There is a strong case to be made that if Trump is elected, the UK pro-EU camp will have even more justification to push for a second referendum. This decision will factor in Trump’s negative views towards the bloc, specifically, as there are already hostile relations between Trump and the UK establishment. This has prompted a petition to be debated in the House of Commons regarding banning Trump from entering the UK following his racist remarks towards Muslims.
However, if Clinton is elected, this could make for a more confident EU exit, despite Clinton’s views that Britain would be stronger within the EU. Clinton has offered her support to America’s closest ally as it sets to re-establish itself within the global economic matrix.
Pax Americana no more?
One place where we see the most divergence in vision and strategy are the Presidential candidates’ views of America’s role in international affairs. Trump quite staunchly holds a regressive view of foreign policy and intervention, and has on many occasions stated that America cannot be the policeman of the world.
This makes America’s allies such as Japan and NATO nervous, with Trump often equating military intervention to a simple monetary cost-benefit analysis, seeing most of America’s military expenditure as a poor return on investment. If Trump follows through with this way of thinking, it could disrupt the delicate military balance in the world and bring forth tectonic shifts in power relations which could harm trade, undermine safety, and create new political turmoil.
Clinton, on the other hand, quite frankly has a lacklustre vision of America’s place in the world. So far, she displays no specific direction for the nation. However, this could be due to two factors. First, she is keeping her cards close to her chest so as not to reveal too much to America’s enemies, such as Russia, which she has on many occasions touted as a clear advisory of the US. Or second, her vision of America is simply reactionary, meaning she would rather play a cautionary game as opposed to making any bold moves. Her rhetoric on different policy issues seems to point to the latter.
Regional power plays
On Russia and NATO, Clinton exclaims her unwavering support for the alliance, but has not stated clearly how she plans to dance with Russian president Putin apart from stating in the 4th Democratic debate that her relationship with Putin was “interesting”.
In terms of the Middle East, Clinton pledges her unwavering support for Israel but has not stated how she plans to help solve the conflicts in the region apart from general foggy rhetoric on peace and cooperation. She also unsurprisingly supports the Iran deal, which she helped put together.
On the issue of China, both candidates express their hostilities. Trump has expressed in his book that “Our biggest long-term challenge will be China”. He has also continually faulted the American political leadership for its disastrous negotiating outcomes with the Chinese. Meanwhile, Clinton is continually criticising China for its human rights record and has also called the current U.S.-China dynamic “one of the most challenging relationships we have.” No matter how you cut it, the Sino-US dynamic will be one to watch, especially as tensions continue to rise in the South China sea.