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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


United States: Trumps Foreign
Policy After 100 Days
Carlyle A. Thayer
April 26, 2017

[client name deleted]


President Donald Trump will have been in office for 100 days on 30th April. As this
milestone approaches we request your assessment on his foreign policy and Trumps
way of dealing with international issues.
Q1. After 100 days, do you find any indications about President Trumps foreign policy
with respect to (i) the Middle East, (ii) Europe, (ii) East Asia & Southeast Asia and (iv)
China?
ANSWER: Under the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act
passed by the U.S. Congress in 1986 each incoming President must submit a report on
the national security strategy of the United States within 150 days of taking office. This
report is currently underway but is unlikely to be released by the deadline because
President Trump has not appointed officials to senior posts in various departments.
The U.S. National Security Strategy Report is the product of interagency coordination.
President Trump lacks experience in government service and foreign affairs. So far, his
foreign policy has been marked by slogans such as peace through strength and
Make America great again and reactiveness to events outside America, such as the
Syrian regimes use of Sarin gas and North Korean ballistic missile tests. Japans Prime
Minister Abe arguably has had the most impact on Trumps foreign policy in East Asia.
No clear Trump foreign policy strategy has emerged. Whatever strategy emerges must
be funded by Congress and at the moment Congress faces a deadline of Friday, 28
April to approve continuing funding for the government.
President Trump has identified three major priorities: the defeat of the Islamic State
in Syria, enlisting Chinese cooperation to halt nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation
in North Korea, and renegotiation of trade agreements.
Trumps first one hundred days have been marked by sharp changes from what he
said during the election campaign to what he said after taking office. NATO was
obsolete, he said, now NATO is no longer obsolete he declared recently. Trump
promised to designate China as a currency manipulator on his first day in office, he
has now backed down on that claim.
The bottom line is that Trump will put pressure on allies, strategic partners, and China
to support his initiatives. European allies must increase their defense spending. US
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allies in Asia Japan, South Korea and Australia must assist in putting pressure on
North Korea. Trump has linked Chinese cooperation on North Korea to trade issues.
One positive sign for Southeast Asia was White House confirmation that President
Trump will attend the ASEAN Summit in Manila and the APEC leaders meeting in
Hanoi at the end of the year.
Q2. Where will South China Sea disputes fall in President Trumps priorities? If the
rebalance is over what will be President Trumps policy framework for the Asia-
Pacific?
ANSWER: The State Department has stated that rebalance was the policy of the last
Administration and that the Trump administration will come up with its own
formulation in due course. Individual Cabinet members in the Trump Administration
have mentioned the South China Sea, such as secretaries Tillerson and Mattis. The
Pentagon has dusted off proposals for more assertive freedom of navigation patrols
in the South China Sea that were rejected by President Obama. So far it appears that
the North Korean issue has dominated with visits to Japan and South Korea by the U.S.
Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and Vice President. One hopeful sign was the
visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Indonesia and Australia.
What action the Trump Administration takes on the South China Sea will depend on
Chinas actions. If China continues to cooperate on North Korea and if China continues
to push diplomacy on the Framework Code of Conduct with ASEAN, the South China
Sea will not be a high priority for the Trump Administration. The U.S. will support
ASEAN-China discussions on a COC.
In the long term, subject to approval by Congress, Trump will increase defense
spending. This will flow on to an increase in the size of the US Navy and a greater
presence in the Western Pacific. Future US policy towards Asia-Pacific will continue to
be overshadowed by developments on the Korean peninsula.
Q3. Trump Administration officials such as Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson
strongly condemn the Russia government because of the chemical attack in Syria,
whereas President Trump avoided making any comments about Russia. What is your
assessment?
ANSWER: There is near unanimous consensus among Trump Administration officials
that US-Russian relations are at an all-time low. The Syrian issue followed Russias
annexation of Crimea, Russian destabilization of the Ukraine and Russian cyber attacks
on the United States and European countries. Trump initially sought to work with
Russia to defeat the Islamic State. Trump was not concerned about the Syrian regime
and appeared willing to concede Russia a sphere of influence in Syria.
Trumps hands are tied by investigations in the US Congress about charges Russia
interfered in the US elections. Trumps reactive Tomahawk cruise missile attack on a
Syrian airfield has increased Russian suspicions and raised tensions, just the opposite
of what candidate Donald Trump sought. Since Trump has no experience in
government the messages from senior officials have not been well coordinated.
Trumps tweets appear discordant. My assessment is this is the new normal.
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Q4. Overall, some people worry about President Trump's style of "strongly reacting"
to international developments such launching a cruise missile attack on Syria and
issuing several warnings to North Korea. What is your assessment?
ANSWER: It appears that President Trump has yet to learn that his words matter to
the world community because they take them as an indication of what the United
States will do. Trumps cruise missile attack on Syria has not solved the underlying
issue of banned chemical weapons held by the Assad regime. Syria has put all its
aircraft under the protective cover of Russian air defenses. There will be greater risks
to the US if Trump orders further strikes on Syria. Hopefully Russia will pressure Assad
to refrain from using chemical weapons but the Syrian civil war will continue. The
dilemma facing Trump is what to do if Assad does use chemical weapons take the
risk of confronting Russia or doing nothing.
Trumps declaratory policy towards North Korea is that he will not allow it to develop
ballistic missiles capable of striking continental United States with nuclear warheads.
It wont happen Trump declared. He also said if China wont help, the United States
will. This has now been expanded, following Mike Pences visit to Asia, if China wont
help the US and its allies will. It is more likely Russia and the United States can reach
some sort of arrangement to cooperate and differ over Syria at the same time without
provoking a confrontation between them.
The Syrian regime cannot strike back at the United States. The case of North Korea is
different. North Korea is capable to striking US forces in South Korea and Japan. North
Korea can inflict great damage on Seoul. Even enlisting Chinese cooperation to
pressure North Korea will not remove the possibility that North Korea could lash out
if the US attacked its nuclear facilities. In sum, Trumps reactiveness both verbally
and by deed carries great risk of an armed conflict breaking out on the Korean
peninsula and a lesser risk of an clash between Russian and American forces in and
over Syria.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, United States: Trumps Foreign Policy After 100
Days, Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, April 26, 2017. All background briefs are
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.