During the campaign, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump made it clear that he does not like the prevailing international order and rejects key components of traditional U.S. foreign policy. In contrasting his “America first” approach with status quo “globalism,” Trump implied that Americans are not the chief beneficiaries of the current world order but victims of it. Weakened by bad trade agreements, shortchanged by free-riding allies, and called to endless military interventions, the United States, in the president-elect’s view, should no longer expend blood and treasure propping up the international system.
And yet, as his team will discover upon taking office, knocking down the liberal, rules-based international order would only worsen the problems Trump has identified. If Trump seeks to enhance the security and well-being of the Americans who sent him to the White House, he will need to mend the global order rather than end it. It is thus good news that, in true “Nixon goes to China” fashion, Trump’s months spent railing against allies, trade agreements, and current rules uniquely position him to reform and strengthen the U.S.-led order, if he chooses to do so.
Trump’s months spent railing against allies, trade agreements, and current rules uniquely position him to reform and strengthen the U.S.-led order.
Taking on the task would require a change in perspective by Trump and his national security team. But perhaps it will be just the kind of transformation prompted by the shift from campaigning to governing. As the Trump team takes the reins of foreign policy, it will see that the components of the international order are quite concrete and were in large part created by the United States and its allies. As such, the interlocking web of norms, institutions, rules, and relationships that makes up the liberal international order—ranging from maritime law to the nonproliferation regime to trade and financial arrangements—has delivered tangible benefits to the United States.
THE LIBERAL ORDER AND ITS