By Professor Andrew O’Neill, Griffith Business School
Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States may have been unthinkable for many, but the reality has already started to sink in for foreign policy and defence strategists around the world.
Trump has been very clear in stating that he will review America’s global engagement, including commitments to allies.
He has also demonstrated a willingness to cut deals with authoritarian countries, including Russia, and has intimated this may guide his approach to China.
Trump and his core constituents are deeply opposed to multilateral trade deals, including the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership, and would act quickly to introduce trade barriers to protect struggling US sectors such as manufacturing.
More broadly, it’s likely a Trump administration will retreat into isolationism, neglect US friends and allies, while endorsing quite rabid xenophobia among Americans. The promise to ban all Muslims from entering the US and building a ‘great wall’ to shut out Mexico is indicative of the depth of this xenophobia.
It’s highly likely the US will retreat from its global commitments, including those in the Asia-Pacific.
This would translate directly into the rapid decline – and possible end – of US strategic leadership that has underpinned regional economic and political stability since World War Two.
No silver lining
For Australia, there will be no silver lining to this cloud. China will be emboldened to push harder on its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, South Korea and Japan will explore closely the option of nuclear weapons as the credibility of US extended deterrence commitments evaporates, and the absence of US economic leadership will most likely spell the end of further multilateral initiatives to promote trade and investment.
The world will not end, but for Australia this will be a more nasty and brutish environment where our alliance with the US may start to fray as the reliability of the US is brought into serious question.
In this context, Australia’s defence expenditure will rise as governments seek to hedge against a potential US withdrawal from the Asia-Pacific.
Another casualty may be public support in Australia for the US alliance during a period of a Trump residency, which is likely to be intensely unpopular outside the United States.