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So long, Pax Americana, you've been Trumped

U.S. political scientist Ian Bremmer

NEW YORK -- Donald Trump's surprise victory in the U.S. presidential race has brought the world some anxiety as it tries to gauge what American foreign policy will look like. So far, views are split on whether, and to what extent, the president-elect will deliver on his campaign promises.

The Nikkei Asian Review talked with Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, to pick up some clues. Bremmer coined the term G-zero to describe a world in which a less dominant West loses influence. He says this trend will only accelerate under a President Trump and that 2016 will mark the official end to Pax Americana -- a global order more or less orchestrated by the U.S.

Q: What do you think Trump's foreign policy will look like?

A: Trump's foreign policy is going to look more "Chinese." It's unilateral. It's transactional. It focuses narrowly on American national interests. Allies are useful as long as they're giving you something that works, but common values don't matter. The inside of countries ... [it doesn't] really matter whether they are authoritarian, state capitalist or democratic. He's a businessman. And he sees international affairs like he sees his business transactions. "Whoever gives me the best deal, I'll do business, and tomorrow if it's somebody else, I move along."

There are a couple big problems, though. One is that other countries ... are already questioning American credibility, and his approach is going to make them hedge, much more dramatically.

Also, the U.S. will still have the world's largest military. But the reason that other countries have looked up to the U.S. and have worked with the U.S. is not just about that; it's also about values. They have aspired to be more like the United States. That's already been weakening over the past years. But Trump really puts the nail in the coffin.

Q: How will that affect the world?

A: We're going to see the acceleration of G-zero under a Trump administration. Trump's "America first" makes that obvious. If we were writing a book and there was a chapter on Pax Americana, it'd be over in 2016. Since 2008, the G-zero has been coming, and U.S. leadership has been eroding: on security, on trade and on values. But if you wanted to say, "What's the end point?" -- this is the end point.

Q: But to what extent will Trump be able to shake U.S. diplomacy? He can't do everything he wants, right?

A: I agree with you that American leaders are constrained. They're constrained by special interests, by institutions and by Congress. Trump is going to have a hard time getting big things passed, on a day to day basis. But in foreign policy, typically, the American president has more leeway. For example, the "pivot to Asia," under Obama, was significant. And there was the Iran [nuclear] deal and [the reopening of diplomatic relations with] Cuba and also the move away from the Saudis. There are a lot of things that Obama has done. So, Trump will have much more flexibility, in international affairs.

But the most important thing to recognize is that if we have a significant crisis, a president can make a big difference. And if there is a significant crisis under Trump, then it's a game-changer because Trump wants to be a more authoritarian leader -- like Erdogan in Turkey. Of course, there are limitations because the institutions don't line up with that. But suddenly Erdogan had an attempted coup and then he was able to go after everybody. You could imagine this happening on a larger scale under Trump.

Q: Many people say he is an isolationist. Do you think he will intervene in foreign affairs?

A: He's not an isolationist. It's "America first." He's a unilateralist. This is not a man that is scared of intervention, but he's intervening only in those areas where the United States has a direct interest. And, when it does, his orientation is to intervene hard, by using the banks, using the legal system and so on.

He's much less interested in multilateralism. So he'll do NATO, but he wants them to pay more. As for Japan, he says, "Maybe you should go nuclear." I think those sorts of things are open questions.

Q: Do you think he will respect current alliances?

A: I think his approach with alliances is, "Who's going to make me look good?" Or, "Who puts points on the board?"

So, if Russia makes him look good [in the fight against ISIS in Syria], no problem. I think he will be close with Russia. He doesn't care about Ukraine. He doesn't care about Crimea. So, [he will say] why not get rid of sanctions? He will look around the world, seeing where he can cut deals like that. But deals are going to get hard for the U.S. because there aren't many countries that can do quick deals -- especially when the U.S. has already reneged on other deals they said they wanted, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Q: Can you elaborate on the fate of TPP and its implications for Asia?

A: TPP's dead. That's gone. I was in Singapore [a TPP signatory] just before Trump won and met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was angry because the U.S. is abdicating as if it doesn't want to lead in this part of the world. The Chinese go around with lollipops in their pockets and the U.S. doesn't do anything.

[Japanese] Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe also worked really hard for many years to get support for TPP. But when I have spoken to Trump's advisers, including Jared Kushner, his son in law, they told me, "Well, we're just going to get a better deal." "A better deal" implies that all these other countries are going to stand up and do that deal. They're not.

If you look at the world transactionally, you don't need to put yourself in the other person's position because you're never going to see them again. But, if you're talking about a global environment, where you're building relationships within a structure that actually lasts over time, it's a real problem.

Q: The TPP was supposed to be an important pillar for the U.S.'s pivot to Asia. What will happen to that?

A: The pivot is officially dead. It was dying. It is now dead. It could have come back a bit, with Hillary [Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president] and a good Asia team. Trump is not going to resurrect it.

Q: How will Asian countries react?

A: I think that you're going to see more leaders like [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte who went to China and basically said, "We're going to separate ourselves from the United States." A lot more countries in Asia are going to do that. I mean, Duterte looks smart now. I think that Duterte got it right. It looks like he made the right call.

Q: What will Trump's stance be toward Southeast Asia and the South China Sea issue?

A: What we know is that "America first" is going to be a unilateral policy, and the Southeast Asians are not that important to Trump.

Q: And China will take advantage, right?

A: Yes, of course they will. They're already doing it, not only in the Philippines but in Malaysia and in Thailand. Over time, you're going to see all of these countries align themselves with China. Singapore will be the great exception because Singapore doesn't need money. So they can't be bought off by China. Instead, Singapore needs globalization. They need rule of law. They need a leader that supports values, all the things that Trump won't do. So that's a problem.

But I think China's [approach] will be more bilateral. I think Chinese economic relations are going to become more dominant, and the Chinese are going to be smart. They're not going to push too hard and they're just incrementally going to get more and more of what they want, but individually, with countries, where they have more leverage.

Q: What will happen to the U.S.-China relationship?

A: So, I think the U.S.-China relationship is going to be interesting because, on the one hand, the Chinese will welcome the fact that they're not going to be criticized for human rights. The U.S. is not going to say meet the Dalai Lama, or Uighurs have to be treated better. That's fine; they like that.

But you also have an environment where Trump is criticizing the Chinese for trade and threatening to put high tariffs [in place]. And definitely the Chinese are not going to be comfortable with that. ... The Chinese did not want Trump; they wanted Hillary. They didn't like Hillary, but it wasn't like Russia. Russia wanted Trump because they want to undermine the U.S. China wants a balance. They want more stability, and they're worried that Trump is going to create a lot more volatility, geopolitically and in the marketplace. The Chinese don't like that.

I don't think Trump yet knows what he wants on China. This is the classic story of a dog that chases a car and then catches it. What do you do with it, when you've caught the car?

Q: Now, your take on U.S.-Japan relations. Will Trump try to scrap the U.S.-Japan security treaty?

A: No, I think security will be OK. I'm less worried about this than most people. I think the U.S.-Japan defense relationship will be reasonably stable. We're talking about doctrines that develop over decades, interoperability of weapons systems, strategy and coordination, doctrine -- this is not something Trump just comes in and says, "We don't want to support the Japanese."

Plus, Abe himself wants to expand Japan's military, and the defense budget. So this is actually reasonably aligned. Also, The U.S. and Japan are both concerned about North Korea. That doesn't change under Trump.

The problem between the U.S. and Japan is going to be on the economic side because Trump not only kills TPP but views the Japanese like he did in the 1970s, 1980s, when Japan was buying golf courses, buying [properties in] Honolulu, and Rockefeller Center. I don't think we're going to see tariffs, but there are still all sorts of executive orders that Trump could put in place that would make life more difficult for U.S.-Japan relations.

Q: What kind of measures might there be?

A: Trump is going to focus more on enforcement. He'll probably have some kind of czar inside the government who is looking at all the people that are breaking U.S. trade rules and going after them.

He wants to show that he's the guy that's playing hardball with all of these countries that are taking advantage of the U.S. -- and Japan, China, Mexico are all on that list, from an economic perspective.

Q: What will be the wise way for Japan to deal with its neighbors under the new circumstance?

A: I think the Japanese are going to need to understand that they are not a defense threat to China. If I were the Japanese, I would not be building up my defense in a way that undermines China or makes them feel insecure. I would recognize that China's long-term threat is India, or maybe Russia.

Japan should be like a big Singapore. You want to be a country that everyone wants to work with and everyone wants to do economics with. Your economic model is good for China. So, I think Japan should find ways to be closer to China. Unfortunately, that undermines the U.S.-Japan relationship, but clearly that's the right direction for Japan. Abe is going to have a hard time with that because of his background, but for the next Japanese prime minister, it seems like a new direction.

Meanwhile, I think Russia is a great opportunity for Abe. The Trump administration is not going to punish Japan for doing business with Russia. So, clearly this is a great time for you to have a summit between [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Abe to discuss the Northern Territories and the investment Japan can make in return. Putin is going to feel like he has more flexibility.

I suspect that the India-Japan relationship will look better. So these are two key countries for Japan, going forward. No question.

Interviewed by Nikkei deputy editor Hiroyuki Nishimura

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