Pakistan, China, North Korea: Donald Trump has broken from norm as he transforms US foreign policy in an isolationist one

When Donald Trump stunned the world — and himself — by winning the 2016 US Election, it was unclear just exactly how a man who had never held public office before would handle being the most powerful man in the world. While a plethora of domestic issues awaited him, the world at large wondered how it would be affected by "The Donald's" ascendancy.

After World War II, US foreign policy become increasingly global. Especially as it's rivalry with the Soviet Union grew, it became important to reach out to many nations and seek their support. When the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the US became the world's sole superpower and consequently took over the international responsibilities which come with it.

Under Trump however, it looks like all of that has changed.


While the uneasy relationship between the US and Pakistan has been on a downward spiral since the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Trump rocked the boat and then some when he slammed the country for 'lies & deceit' in a New Year's Day tweet that said Islamabad had played US leaders for 'fools.' Trump in his tweet said the US had given Pakistan $33 billion in the last 15 years, yet Afghanistan and the US have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for militants.

This was followed up by action from his administration as on Thursday, the US announced that it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take "decisive action" against Taliban militants targeting US personnel in Afghanistan.

Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the restrictions covered security assistance above and beyond the $255 million for Pakistani purchases of American military equipment that the administration held up in August. Nauert made clear the $255 million was still blocked, and the Pentagon said the new action targets payments of Coalition Support Funds that the US pays to Pakistan to reimburse it for its counter-terrorism operations. This action came the day that the US placed Pakistan on a special watch list for "severe violations" of religious freedom.

Donald Trump. AFP

Donald Trump slammed Pakistan for 'lies and deceit' in fighting terror. AFP

Former president Barack Obama, in his major 2009 speech on Afghanistan strategy, also had harsh words against Islamabad. However, all through his years in office, the US refrained from taking drastic action against Pakistan, as pointed out by this article in The Diplomat. Trump's words and actions showcase a different approach though. And while these actions are not consequences (since 2001, the US has needed Pakistan’s cooperation to enable its military presence in Afghanistan), it does signal a radical departure from the US' earlier approach.

North Korea

For over 25 years, the US has diplomatically engaged with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions in hopes of curbing them, said a report in Newsweek. In those years, North Korea has proclaimed a right to arm itself as a matter of self-defence. However, that arming exercise reached new heights in 2017 as it conducted at least 25 missile tests and one nuclear test. At this rate, it will have conducted over 100 missile tests during Trump's first term in office, which would be the most North Korean missile tests under any single president.

When Trump came to office in January, Obama warned that North Korea's breakneck dash to develop long-range nuclear missiles was his most pressing threat. As 2017 comes to an end, that threat has soared dramatically — in December Kim Jong-un test fired an intercontinental ballistic missile and boasted that his nuclear arsenal can now hit any city on the US mainland.

Trump himself has stirred tensions with reckless language, sneeringly branding Kim "Little Rocket Man" and threatening to visit "fire and fury" on his authoritarian regime. Alongside the bravado, US diplomats have put together a punishing international sanctions regime designed to force Pyongyang to the table — so far to no avail.

South Korea and Japan — also in North Korea's firing line — are facing a potentially cataclysmic conflict and China is concerned about chaos erupting on its border. But, perhaps for the first time it is not the erratic behaviour of the North Korea dictator that worries the world, but the unpredictable signals coming from the White House.


On the face of it, communist China and capitalist US have had plenty to bicker about. However, once Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong hammered out the Shanghai Communique, the relations between the two have been largely been normal. Under successive Presidents from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to both the Bushes, the US has proclaimed its intention towards "the normalisation of relations" with China. Obama, while not averse to criticising China on human rights and press freedom issues, still looked at China as a partner and sought to promote cooperation between the two nations.

Trump though would rather be rid of it all.

In a detailed piece in The New Yorker appropriately titled Making China Great Again, Evan Osnos lays out how while Trump is surrendering US' global commitments, China under Xi Jinping is picking them up. "China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one," writes Osnos.

Where the US has retreated from global climate accords, trade agreements and banned Muslims from entering the country, China has steadily increased its investments in assets that had established American authority earlier: foreign aid, overseas security, foreign influence, and new technologies like artificial intelligence. It has become one of the leading contributors to the UN’s budget and to its peacekeeping force, and has joined talks to address global problems such as terrorism, piracy, and nuclear proliferation.

Trump — or at least his administration — recognises this rise in Chinese soft power as in its first National Security Strategy uses remarkably biting language to frame Beijing as a global competitor. "China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity," the document says. The strategy accuses China of seeking "to displace the United States" in Asia, listing a litany of US grievances, from deficits, to data theft to spreading "features of its authoritarian system." "Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others," it says.

While US might recognise the rise of China, under Trump it seems that it will do little to stop or counter it.


According to AFP, Trump has spent much of his first year as president seeking to undo Obama's legacy. One of the foremost examples of this is in the volatile Middle East where Trump has broken with US policy and precedent.

In the Israel-Palestine dispute, Trump overturned decades of US policy by announcing that Washington recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and setting in motion plans to move the embassy there from Tel Aviv. In this, he has instituted a policy of unwavering support for Israel after a period of strained relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Donald Trump. Reuters

Donald Trump overturned decades of US policy by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel . Reuters

The last days of the Obama administration included an extraordinary US refusal at the United Nations to block a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.

Netanyahu had welcomed Trump's November 2016 election saying he was a "true friend of the State of Israel." Since then, Trump has appointed a US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, known for his support for settlement activity, and ordered the withdrawal of US support for UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias.

Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, with relaunching moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But he has been lukewarm about a Palestinian state and angered Palestinian leaders with a threat — since withdrawn — to close the Palestine Liberation Organisation mission in Washington.


Trump considers Iran to be the principal threat to US interests in the Middle East and has frequently condemned the Islamic Republic for what he sees as its "destabilising" influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. He has been a relentless critic of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 and has repeatedly threatened to scrap the agreement intended to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

The president's tough stance on Iran has earned praise from Netanyahu and from Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Republic's chief regional rival.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt

Trump has strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia and his first official visit abroad as president was to the oil-rich monarchy, where he was received with pomp and circumstance. Trump threw his support behind the anti-corruption crackdown launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi actions against Qatar, which Riyadh accuses of cooperating with Tehran.

Relations with another Middle East powerhouse — Egypt — have also entered a new era under Trump. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was persona non grata under Obama and the United States cut off some military aid because of the bloody crackdown on supporters of the former president.

But Trump welcomed Sisi to the White House in April and proclaimed his "strong backing" for the Egyptian leader.


Trump frequently accused Obama of failing to stand up to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and in April he ordered the first US military strike on Syrian troops since the civil war began in that country. Dozens of US missiles were fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel town which left 87 people dead.

The United States has deployed some 2,000 troops in Syria and the Pentagon said Tuesday that they will stay "as long as we need" to prevent a return of the Islamic State group.

Hitting out at traditional allies like the UK and Germany

Since his first weeks in office, Trump has also railed against America's traditional allies, accusing them of short-changing America by failing to find mutual defence pacts. He has hit out at Britain's prime minister Theresa May and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on Twitter, accusing them of being lax in the battle against Islamist extremism.

The withdrawal doctrine

Different experts have tried to describe Trump's "America First" foreign policy in different ways but perhaps none has come closer than Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who tweeted, "Donald Trump's foreign policy not only has a theme — The Withdrawal Doctrine — but also a slogan: "Leaving from Behind".

While Haass, at least, credits Trump with having a plan, Paul Stares a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations is not so kind. "I think before President Trump there was always a consistency about US policy and preferences, with some exceptions," Stares said and added, "But his behaviour, the erratic decision making, the tweeting and seemingly impulsive behaviour has I think rattled a lot of capitals around the world," he said.

With inputs from agencies

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2018 14:44:33 IST

Also See