Since his inauguration, President Trump has made it clear that American foreign policy will be based on the idea of “America first.” What that looks like exactly is unclear, given the sometimes contradictory messages from various administration officials. What we do know, however, is that America’s role as a global leader has now diminished so much that US foreign policy is an example of how NOT to approach global issues. This is especially evident in a number of areas, including the UN and development assistance, NATO, and climate change.
The UN and Development Assistance
President Trump’s FY2018 budget “proposes that the Department of State examine options to: (a) reduce the levels of international organizations’ budgets, (b) reduce U.S. assessment rates, and/or (c) not pay U.S. assessments in full.” (p. 71 of Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the U.S. Government“) This would lead to an overall reduction of $786 million for international organizations contributions.
Additionally, in January 2017, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), introduced H.R. 193- American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which called for the US to withdraw from the UN. While the bill most likely will not become a law, it does illustrate that some members of Congress are taking the “America first” mentality to a whole new level.
If the US does not fulfill its responsibilities with the UN, then it falls upon Europe to fill the void. On May 17, 2017, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke at the European Parliament and said that “A strong and united Europe is an absolutely fundamental pillar of a strong and effective United Nations.” This is especially important given the White House’s current attitude.
When it comes to official development assistance (ODA), the US has consistently fallen short of the target of .7% of GNI. In 2016, the US spent .18% of GNI on ODA, placing it eighth worst among OECD countries; however, it was number one in overall spending with $33.59 billion. Imagine how much good could have been done had the US met the .7% target. Unfortunately, the outlook is not promising, as President Trump’s budget would eliminate $2.5 billion in ODA (p. 67 of Major Savings and Reforms).
Even though the US fell short, six of our European allies met or exceeded the .7% target, with Norway leading the way at 1.11%. For those six countries, the total amount adds up to $54.65 billion, well above the US amount. The irony here is that while President Trump has chastised our NATO allies for not spending 2% of GDP on defense, the US has not met the target for ODA.
As for NATO, President Trump spoke in Brussels on May 25, 2017, at the unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall memorials. In his remarks, the President pretty much scolded our NATO allies:
“The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO’s eastern and southern borders. These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the Alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense.
This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States. And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years. Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined. If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defense and for the financing of additional NATO reserves.
We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even 2 percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces. We have to make up for the many years lost. Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats. If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.”
The picture below sums up the response by the other NATO leaders in attendance.
If that wasn’t enough, Trump also pushed the prime minister of Montengro out of the way during the meeting.
A few days after the meeting, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said, “The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days… That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”
After the trip, Press Secretary Sean Spicer remarked that “the President is acting to strengthen alliances, to form new partnerships, and to rebuild America’s standing in the world.” The reality, of course, is that threatening to cut funds to the UN and alienating allies weakens alliances and demolishes America’s standing in the world.
President Trump and the White House also have an abysmal record on climate change. According to the White House website, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” His budget calls “to eliminate funding in 2018 related to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)” (p. 75 of Major Savings and Reforms). Furthermore, the budget reduces funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.4% down to $5.7 billion (p. 42 of Budget of the U.S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness). Additionally, the President has made it clear he is no fan of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. As this piece is being written, it is expected Trump will announce the U.S. is withdrawing from the deal.
Across the Atlantic, however, our European allies are committed to fighting climate change. At a recent UNFCCC conference, Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said, “We came here to Bonn to advance our work on the rules and instruments to implement the Paris Agreement. We leave Bonn with steadfast progress in many areas. And while much work still lies ahead of us, the cooperative talks and the tangible results show once again the unwavering determination of all of us to turn our commitments into real action.” Quite the opposite from President Trump. The EU has also adopted a 2020 Climate & Energy Package and a 2030 Climate & Energy Framework.
President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has left a vacuum of global leadership that could potentially be filled by the EU. This is a perfect opportunity for bodies like the European External Action Service and EuropeAid to step up and show the world what European cooperation and coordination can accomplish. For the UN to succeed, and for progress to be made on the Sustainable Development Goals (one of which is climate action), Europe is our only hope.
Thanks for reading.