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Trump, it’s time to get smart

Posted By on June 6, 2017 @ 11:00

Image courtesy of Pixabay user Aritio.

President Obama’s ‘rebalance’ to Asia was officially pronounced dead in March this year. Susan Thorton [1], the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stated: ‘I think you can probably expect that this administration will have its own formulation and… we haven’t seen in detail what the formulation will be or if there even will be a formulation.’ Thornton referred to the pivot as a ‘bumper sticker’ in an effort to downplay the announcement. But bumper stickers are crucial, especially when they sell a broad effort to wield hard and soft power. Regardless of what it’s called, the Trump administration needs a comprehensive Asia strategy with both soft and hard power elements if the US is to remain a significant player in the region.

The term ‘smart power’ was used by American political scientist Joseph Nye, to identify strategic formulations consisting of both hard and soft power. Non-military actions that attract and persuade other nations are considered soft power, while military actions are at the ‘hard’ end of the power spectrum. In Nye’s 2006 CSIS report  he stated that the US should focus on five critical areas:

  1. Alliances, partnerships and institutions
  2. Global development
  3. Public diplomacy
  4. Economic integration
  5. Technology and innovation

President Trump’s overseeing a recession of US smart power in Asia. He’s damaged long-standing US relationships. His contradictory statements about NATO [2] have alarmed allies, and his tense phone conversation with Malcolm Turnbull caused experts to question the future of the ANZUS alliance [3]. Vice President Mike Pence then came to Australia on what The New York Times labeled a ‘charm offensive [4]’. ‘Band-aid diplomacy’ would be more accurate. The VP’s tour did not address the cause of damage—it was an attempt to heal the wound. Not even Trump’s commitment to build US military capacity through a 10% spending boost has improved his standing with allies. Trump needs to focus on repairing relationships he’s damaged, as international cooperation is essential to US security.

Significant damage has been caused to institutions such as the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement among the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer made their priorities clear when they repeated an unsubstantiated allegation that GCHQ spied on the president during the election campaign. That prompted two senior UK officials to ‘express their concern [5]’  to both Spicer and Trump. Interstate relations were damaged further when Trump disclosed classified Israeli intelligence to Russian officials [6]. US institutions need access to intelligence from agencies such as ASIS, ASIO, and GCHQ to protect American interests. Allowing trust to decline will significantly hurt the US.

US leadership in diplomacy and global development is quickly diminishing. Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, wrote in April on The Strategist [7] that Trump’s unwillingness to fill key diplomatic posts  in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo, was a cause for concern. The situation’s about to get worse: Trump’s planned a 28% budget cut for the State Department. Those cuts to public diplomacy, global development and technology initiatives [8] will primarily affect foreign aid, the UN and climate change mitigation. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued [9] the department would be ‘much more effective, much more efficient and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.’ That’s at odds with Secretary James Mattis, who once told lawmakers [10], ‘If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.’

In terms of economic integration, withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has hurt US interests in Asia, causing some nations to shift to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The continued pursuance of the TPP [11] by 11 nations may result in the US joining it post-Trump. In positive news, Trump has not kept  his campaign promise to label China a currency manipulator, suggesting he will adopt a status quo approach to economic affairs. Overall, Trump has had a negative but reversible effect on economic integration.

Technology and innovation are a White House priority. Planned funding for the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office indicates an increase of $300 million to a total of $1.2 billion [12]. Investment in defence R&D programs is crucial as they are intended to ensure the US military has a technology advantage and can resist cyber attack. However, there is inconsistency in White House priorities. $3.1 billion dollars is being cut from [13] energy research. This will have especially detrimental effects in Asia where climate change is likely to put millions of lives at risk [14] and may contribute to future security issues.

Trump has had an interesting start to his presidency. Many of his actions have caused uncertainty among allies and the effectiveness of US smart power in Asia has declined. A sustained focus on smart power is needed, even though a sole focus on military development may be more politically expedient. It’s in Australia’s interests to see the growth of US smart power in Asia. Australians should encourage Washington to pursue strategic interests using all of the tools at its disposal.



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/trump-time-get-smart/

URLs in this post:

[1] Susan Thorton: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/513900/foreign-press-center-briefing

[2] contradictory statements about NATO: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2017/apr/12/donald-trump/donald-trump-nato-i-said-it-was-obsolete-its-no-lo/

[3] question the future of the ANZUS alliance: http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2017/02/03/us-australia-military-alliance/

[4] charm offensive: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/world/australia/mike-pence-visit-sydney-turnbull.html

[5] express their concern: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/13/politics/trump-russia-british-intelligence/

[6] classified Israeli intelligence to Russian officials: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/opinion/israel-trump-classified-intelligence.html

[7] The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/trumps-diplomatic-deficit/

[8] public diplomacy, global development and technology initiatives: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/state-departments-28-percent-cuts-hit-foreign-aid-un-and-climate-change/2017/03/15/294d7ab8-0996-11e7-a15f-a58d4a988474_story.html?utm_term=.e6b11dd1bd73

[9] argued: http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-trump-budget-slashes-state-department-1489671887-htmlstory.html

[10] once told lawmakers: http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/06/brass-tone-down-the-ask-for-foreign-aid/

[11] continued pursuance of the TPP: http://www.bbc.com/news/39990686?ocid=global_bbccom_email_21052017_business

[12] increase of $300 million to a total of $1.2 billion: http://www.defensenews.com/articles/trump-fy18-request-offers-plus-up-for-technology-programs

[13] $3.1 billion dollars is being cut from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/climate/trump-budget-energy.html

[14] put millions of lives at risk: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/22/global-warming-hit-asia-hardest

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