Scholars who claim to know with any certainty how U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy will crystalize are engaging in tenuous prophecy. As they and the United States’ international partners strain to determine the contours of his plans, however, there are at least two groups of source material on which they can draw. The first is Trump’s statements on foreign policy during his campaign; the second is the writings of his closest national security advisers.
When it comes to the president-elect’s approach to Asia, these two sets of evidence point in different directions: one toward retrenchment and the other toward unilateralism. Yet these divergent visions have something important in common. Neither calls for a foreign policy centered around the system of alliances, rules, and norms that have underpinned the United States’ leadership of the international order since 1945. Together with the deep uncertainty surrounding Trump’s objectives for Asia and the tools he has suggested he will use to pursue them, the absence of principled and predictable U.S. leadership could lead to a destabilizing shift in the regional balance of power in the near term.
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