US president Donald Trump's foreign policy is characteristically carrots and sticks, but in his case, it's sticks for the allies and carrots for opponents. The upcoming Trump-Vladimir Putin summit on 16 July, to be held in Helsinki, will also display some of the noticeable trends of the Trump foreign policy. The summit will be an important global event, probably even more important than the Trump's Singapore meeting with Kim Jong-un, because this will potentially have consequences for the larger world order.
Given the meeting between the two leaders will occur right after the NATO Summit, the contrast between the US' weakening alliances with European democracies and the president's penchant for striking the right diplomatic notes with authoritarian leaders, will become even starker.
The NATO Summit, scheduled for 11 and 12 July, is set to see greater commotion, given a potential US versus All scenario. Trump is not a big fan of multilateral fora. His pullout from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and his refusal to endorse the G-7 statement, exemplify this, and the NATO Summit is likely to go down the same road. Trump has made his dissatisfaction with the NATO evident on several occasions. He has repeatedly questioned the purpose and efficacy of the alliance, even going to the extent of calling it "obsolete".
He believes that the organisation may be "costing the US a fortune" and that it imposes an "unfair economic burden on the US". During the NATO Summit held last year, Trump demanded the European countries to pay more money for their own security. The 2018 edition will either be no different, or could be far worse — given the souring of ties between the US and European powers over the issue of trade tariffs and the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal, both of which have worked to put in jeopardy the economic and national security of the European countries. In fact, the 2018 summit could see a repeat of the G-7 scenes, where a further hardening of posture by the president may bring under scrutiny the future of the alliance.
The future of the NATO will also depend on the events set to take place less than a week after the summit — during the Trump-Putin summit. Under Trump, US-Russia relations have followed a curious trajectory. While the two presidents have appeared more than willing to improve relations, the domestic political scandals that have erupted in the US on the issue of Russian meddling in the US elections, have served to hold the two back from taking any concrete steps in this direction.
Trump, nevertheless, has continued to stress upon the need to improve relations with Russia, to the disappointment of his NATO allies. Last year, after his meeting with Putin, Trump insisted that he believed "Russia never meddled in the elections". Trump has also been uncharacteristically soft on Russia, calling for its readmission to the G-7 and blaming the Barack Obama administration for the annexation of Crimea. On the latter, reports suggest that Trump may have gone to the extent of suggesting that "Crimea is a part of Russia". Any display of bonhomie between Putin and
Trump, during the summit, is sure to further ruffle some feathers at home and in allied nations.
The two back-to-back summits may not completely overhaul the world order. This is because the tensions between Russia and the US run too deep for any one president to restructure ties. The Cold War legacies run deep in their bureaucracies, and even Trump's personal diplomacy may be unable to create any space for improvement in US-Russia ties. On the other hand, the Trump's outreach to Moscow may prove to be counterproductive, hurting the interests of US allies and creating further tensions in the US-led world order. This outcome becomes even more pertinent, given how Trump promised to give up on US-South Korea military exercises during his meeting with Kim, effectively leaving South Korea in the cold. The Europeans might be fearing the same outcome from the Trump-Putin summit.
Effectively, the carrots for opponents and sticks for allies strategy is set to boomerang on the US administration.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 15:43:57 IST