By: William Tipton

With a change in presidential administrations comes a change in foreign policy. This election has the potential to create the most substantial shift in foreign policy between two administrations. The policies presented by Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton drastically contrast each other. Secretary Clinton’s policy is, in many ways, a continuation of the policy of the Obama administration whereas Mr. Trump’s plan represents a radical departure from traditional American foreign policy.

When one evaluates Mr. Trumps plans, a hierarchy appears among potential allies. This hierarchy is a based on a potential allies’ past relations with the U.S.[1] Mr. Trump expressed that an important aspect of his foreign policy is that it will no longer put the needs of allies’ militaries at the expense of the U.S. military.[2] This suggests that, in a Trump presidency, the U.S. would give less inclined to aid its allies. The implication of having a hierarchy of alliances and a smaller pot of aid to distribute to U.S. Allies will lead to disproportionate results among countries that the U.S. has traditionally supported. The U.S. would likely to lend military resources to a handful of countries while cutting off others completely. The countries that benefitted from U.S. aid would be disproportionally more powerful than the states that the U.S. would not support. Further, the U.S. would aid countries under the condition that they have a history of benefitting, as well as a potential to continue benefitting, the U.S. Since weak countries have little to offer the U.S., as this policy continued the divide between the weak countries and regional powers would grow substantially.

The basic premises of this plan are simplicity and fairness. Many Americans are frustrated by current foreign policy and feel that the U.S. too often aids countries with little to offer it in return for its aid. There are clearly some countries with more to offer the U.S. than others. Further, the U.S. has problems of its own; including an ever-rising debt. Still, the U.S. government continues to send aid to other countries without any hope of directly benefitting from their gifts. Mr. Trump’s plan is meant to answer those problems.

While this new approach to foreign policy might seem like a sensible plan to some, there are inherent flaws in it; most notably, this policy has a high potential to create “regional bullies” out of countries that are long-standing U.S. Allies. Consider hypothetical states A and B. Both might be equally liberal, stable democracies that disagree over an ideology or a piece of territory. Both states, under the present administration, receive aid from the U.S. and, as a result, have roughly equal military power. Their equal destructive capacity prevents either side from having a clear advantage. Since they have similar military capability the cost of going to war would be so great for both sides that neither side is willing to commit to armed conflict.

This concept is not farfetched. In fact, this example is derived from the current situation India and Pakistan. Both countries have historically been at odds with one another and have sought the aid of their foreign allies to strengthen their defenses and economies. This aid came in the form of financial assistance, military training and military equipment. The U.S. has historically been friendly to both; however, it has been far more friendly to India. India has boomed economically over the past century and is considered one of the U.S.’s greatest allies in Asia. Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have historically benefitted Pakistan more than the U.S. and, based on what Mr. Trump stated in his foreign policy plan, would put Pakistan lower in the hierarchy than India.

Over the past sixteen years U.S. and Pakistani relations have increased significantly. The U.S. contributed more than $10 billion in security related assistance to Pakistan between 2001 and 2009.[3] This money went towards training and outfitting Pakistani soldiers.[4] On October 15, 2009 Congress passed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act.[5] The act states that the United States and Pakistan share a history of “friendship and comity and the interests of both nations are well-served by strengthening and deepening that friendship.”[6] Still, Pakistan does not have much to offer the U.S. when compared to India.

India is a major power in Asia. Its economy is rapidly growing, it has a ready workforce, and a relatively well-educated population. It has a lot to offer the U.S. Further, the U.S. is currently the largest supplier of arms to India.[7]

It is likely that under the “America First” Policy Mr. Trump would continue to aid India and would cut off Pakistan completely. In October 2013 Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan to improve American and Pakistani relations.[8] The U.S. currently accounts for more than $200 million of direct investment in Pakistan.[9] Further, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act expressly authorized Pakistan to use foreign aid funds provided by the U.S. to fund its military.[10] Cutting off aid to Pakistan would substantially weaken the Pakistani economy and would cripple the Pakistani Military. Still, what makes this more unnerving is that India and Pakistan’s relationship is not an anomaly in international politics.

India would not be the only country to assert itself over another regional rival. Amid the shift in aid, many developing countries would be affected. Since these countries have had little to offer to the U.S. and would likely have little to offer in the immediate future there would be no incentive to supply them with aid under Mr. Trump’s plan. This policy would lead to widespread instability in the immediate future. Developing governments would fall into chaos as the aid they depend on is taken away, developed countries would be positioned to exploit the weakened governments of smaller states, and regional rivalries would turn into all-out war with death tolls in the millions. What I am arguing, in essence, is that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, in its current form, would lead to regional instability in the developing world and a tremendous loss of life in the immediate future.

[1] Donald Trump, Candidate, Republican Party, America First Speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

[2] Id.

[3] Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, § 3 (2)

[4] Id., at § 4(5)(d)

[5] Id., Title Page

[6] Id., at § 3(1)

[7] Sanjeev Miglani and Rupam Jain, India Tries to Hasten Defense Deals amid Election Uncertainty, Reuters, October 4, 2016

[8] U.S. Relations with Pakistan, U.S. Department of State (October 7, 2015)

[9] Id.

[10] Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 § 201 – 203

Edited by: William Tipton