The not too distant future will determine whether Donald J. Trump’s entry into the White House will bring a new era in American politics or will it just lead to a stronger change in course – such issues were debated at the roundtable discussion of the American Studies Research Center held on February 13, 2017 at NUPS.
Dr. Tamás Fellegi, former President and CEO of the Hungary Initiatives Foundation reminded that President Trump’s intention is to introduce a new era, however, this would completely change the post-WWII global order. Right now it is not exactly clear what content this policy will have, for example how it would affect the operation of NATO. It is possible that a more balanced burden-sharing will emerge between members of the Alliance, yet Article V on collective defense may also gain new meaning. According to Tamás Fellegi, should the United States desire and realize such changes then we can say that a new era comes, and if not then a stronger change in course is set. Mr. Fellegi also noted that as an effect of globalization, certain international organizations have grown beyond nation states in the last decades, having considerable weight in global affairs. The question is how these political and economic processes outside the administration will turn out and to what extent will they bind the hands of the President and his administration.
Tamás Fellegi added that many people explained Trump’s victory by the idea that a major part of American society and economy have become the losers of the last years’ and decades’ policies. On the other hand, the American multinational companies have gained considerable profits by outsourcing their manufacturing capacities abroad which has led to an increase in unemployment within the United States. The big question now is whether these companies can be re-deployed in the US.
Regarding NATO, Mr. Fellegi noted that currently the Alliance cannot fulfil its former role of credible deterrence. Although the last days have shown the deployment of U.S. soldiers in symbolic numbers to Poland and the Baltic states, American military presence in Europe is in essence over, and it is a huge question whether it can be restored. The United States definitely has to respond to the challenges posed by Russia but to the conflicts around the South China Sea as well. As for the isolation of the US, Tamás Fellegi said that it would be particularly bad for Central Europe and would lead to the destabilization of major hotspots around the globe. He reminded that NATO itself was only successful in the various operations due to American participation.
Dr. Tamás Magyarics, Senior Research Fellow at the American Studies Research Center reminded that in contrast with the popular opinion, the current presidential change cannot exclude the possibility of foreign policy continuity, as certain attempts of isolation were visible during the previous presidency as well. He recalled that – although in a chiseled way – President Obama had also spoken about the idea that the United States has overstretched in a certain sense and that the burdens it had set on its shoulder are not to be carried anymore. Mr. Magyarics said that the United States has played the role of a “benign hegemon” since the Second Word War and that this benevolence may disappear with the entry of President Trump. America has always paid more for defense than other NATO members, and the debate on that had started earlier. Yet from the American perspective, the organization is not just a military alliance but one that serves U.S. strategic interests to great extent.
According to Tamás Magyarics, there is no full concordance between the new President and his administration at the moment, as there are serious differences between the ideas of the President and those of his major advisors. Thus it is difficult to say anything for certain regarding the new direction of America’s policies.