Trump's foreign policy and the transition of power in international politics

Published 08.11.2018 00:00

There have been significant changes in the international system at certain intervals. As the relative power shifts between actors in the international system occur, the states which increase their relative powers become a hegemon of the changing system, while actors which are at a declining position remain as ordinary states.

The risk of war between the great powers has increased, together with the rising powers and falling hegemons. However, the current state of the international system has unique features and there are certain complexities which remain in a state of flux. Namely, the current power transition in world politics doesn't necessarily mean that the conventional war is expected among the great powers.

The global system is changing in a way that has never been seen before. As a result of globalization, the emergence of new non-state actors has made the international system convoluted. Furthermore, some global corporations have become more powerful than small states in some aspects. Most importantly, terrorist organizations are challenging states such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, states still remain the most active actors in the international system and continue to effectively manage and defend their interests within the system with their ascendancy in security issues. States are dominant actors and their role on hard political issues still extant even in a highly byzantine environment with the involvement of various actors in political processes across the world.

The foreign policy shifts of the Trump administration had meteoric effects on the decline of U.S. influence around the world. This did not just happen because of economic or military factors, but because of the loss of credibility. With the "America First" concept, Donald Trump only heralded that the U.S. would invalidate the previous balance of power and it was only a prologue of the forthcoming policy changes. Although the negative effects of Trump's ambiguous policies have been admonished assiduously, the Trump administration has insisted on rescinding the agreement with Iran and their nuclear program. Adding pressure on Iran will have negative effects the U.S.' image around the world and it will undermine its political power and deepen the quagmire in the Middle East.

It is clear from past experiences and can be extrapolated from the decision to interfere in Iraq in 2003 that the hawkish U.S. policies toward the Middle East increase the radicalization trends in the region. Analogously, it is obvious that the U.S.' decision on the Iran nuclear deal only served to justify the proponents of hard line politics in Iran about the diabolical actions of the U.S. and weakened reformists.

Furthermore, as it became clear from the recent statements of Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, Trump's attitudes toward Iran has undermined U.S. authority in Europe and European countries seem like they have intentions to construct their security plans without dependence on the U.S.

As a consequence, the U.S. is losing its influence over Eurasia, though there will be some ephemeral gains in regard to the security of Israel and the weakening of Iran economically. This trend will raise questions about the competency of the U.S. in global issues, since it is crucial for great powers to act with responsibility and to protect the stability in the international system.

Some of the forces which are strongly against the global hegemony of the U.S. do not only have the aim of becoming stronger in the system, but at the same time the system itself is also threatened by these powers. It is obvious that non-state actors emerging in the Middle East hold this kind of threat for the international system. Although the current international system has some weak points, which should be removed with serious reforms, the threats the international system's destruction can lead to a disaster for all of humanity.

Challenges to the global power balance and system that emerged in the 1990s have been increasing over the last years. In this sense, globally, the U.S. hegemony is frequently excoriated by powers such as Russia and China, and the struggle against the U.S. hegemony in these countries, especially in Russia's foreign policy strategies, is very important. Essentially, this is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, from the end of the 1990s, Russia and China have tried to counteract the U.S. hegemony by developing the rhetoric of a "multipolar world system."

It is worth noting that Moscow has been pursuing active politics in recent years and it has gained enough economic and military power to encumber the U.S. hegemony in certain regions. Indeed, 20 years ago, it did not even appear as a balancing power economically. Russia's military strength was far behind the U.S. which was indexed at 100 points in 1996. Namely the military power of Russia was 27 points in the same index. Russia wants to show that it is an alternative power, trying to take an active role in the problems that the U.S. cannot solve and has drawn from global leadership areas. For the Kremlin, military power is as important as diplomacy. On the diplomacy side, Moscow is trying to mobilize great powers aw well as some regional powers that are not satisfied with the leadership of the U.S.

The struggles of these powers, which are against the U.S., have become more blatant in recent days, which is also the result of the political processes in the United States. Trump's ambiguity in foreign policy and Washington's discursive approach toward regional problems open space for these powers and enable them to maneuver and pursue their foreign policy goals more effortless than before. There was a serious paradox between the attitude Trump has taken to the rising power of China to prevent the possible fall of the U.S. and the rhetoric about the U.S.' withdrawal from Syria, which would reduce the U.S. influence worldwide. On the other hand, last month, the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran met in Ankara and discussed a possible solution to the ongoing civil war in Syria, even though they have different approaches to the problem. The meeting also has a symbolic meaning which can be perceived an attempt to undermine the global leadership role of the U.S.

Apparently, the foreign policy makers in the U.S. seem as if they are baffled and this confusion serves the powers that try to balance the U.S. On the one hand, the limitation of the influence area of the Iran is coming to the agenda, and on the other hand, the statements that express the withdrawal from Syria are a huge paradox and reduce the credibility of the U.S. worldwide. Secondly, it leads the allies of the United States to rightly question the leadership ability of U.S. decision makers on global issues.

Indeed, being a hegemon in the global system is not limited to brute power, or economic and military capabilities. Another issue as important as these capabilities is pursuing partnership with allies within the framework of openness, credibility and certain values. At this point, we are faced with a U.S. administration that has serious problems with its NATO allies and that one side is aiming to limit Iran to the region while the other side has an inconsistent foreign policy which becomes clear with recent statements. The U.S.' global decline will presumably continue incessantly, if these inconsistencies continue.

* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at Istanbul University

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