Articles - March 2017


Just as the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign raised questions about President Trump’s commitment to critical East Asian alliance structures, the campaign also raised questions and deep concerns about historic U.S. commitments in Europe.

Pence Leads Diplomatic Reassurance Efforts

A substantial dose of reassurance was required, and the Trump administration mounted a major diplomatic initiative by sending Vice-President Pence, Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Tillerson as well as Senator John McCain, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee to the Munich Security Conference to reassert American commitments to Europe and to explain the nuances of Trump foreign policy.

Pence went on from Munich to Brussels to meet with the leadership of the NATO Alliance and with the leadership of the European Union.

 “Be assured,” Vice-President Pence told an anxious audience in Munich, “President Trump and the American people are fully devoted to our transatlantic union.” That said, he continued, “To confront the threats facing our alliance today, NATO must build upon its 20th century tactics and continue to evolve to confront the crises of today and tomorrow.” “But,” furthermore urging, “Europe’s defense requires your commitment as much as ours. The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance.”

In Brussels, Pence assured the European Union Council of continued cooperation and partnership. “The United States’ commitment to the European Union is steadfast and enduring,” the Vice President insisted. “We must stand strong in the defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations in Europe.” Before the NATO leadership, he reiterated that, “Under President Trump’s leadership, the United States is fully committed to NATO’s noble mission.”

From Uncertainty to a New Level of Commitment?

The Trump White House has now mounted early, seemingly successful, diplomatic missions intended to reassure puzzled allies and at the same time encourage critical thinking about the nature of the alliances themselves. These efforts have sought to reshape the chaotic rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign and recast it as creative restructuring more in line with American interests and a changing world.

The unanswered question is whether the new administration can create a coherent foreign policy message or whether the Trump White House has succeeded in creating multiple centers of foreign policy initiative that frequently appear to contradict each other and work at cross-purposes?

Can the new administration build foreign policy on the model of presidential statements that challenge long-standing alliance structures followed by diplomatic missions that try to reassure allies who fear that they and the security structures they depend on are being abandoned?

Is this model a blueprint for disorder, or is it a blueprint designed to strengthen lasting alliance commitments and restructure those same alliances to respond to the new challenges of a rapidly changing global order – terrorism, Islamic extremism, cyber-warfare, renascent nationalism, nuclear proliferation – that threaten to undermine the hard-won yet inherently fragile structures of international security built following World War II and in the aftermath of the Cold War?



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