The Threat to Peace
'Peace is on the brink of a precipice.'
Edmund Wilson | 12 November 2016

Trump promised “Brexit plus plus plus”. The irony is that “Brexit” has not happened yet: the UK is still a member state of the European Union (EU), and will only forfeit its seats at the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council once it completes the withdrawal process outlined in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Given this lack of precedent, we can only make one prediction from the USA’s fateful decision: the unpredictable. Nevertheless, I can foresee three risks that a Trump presidency might pose to the cause of world peace.

Firstly, Trump’s presidency gives rise to the possibility of a strain in Sino-American relations. For Trump, China is a currency manipulator, a supporter of Kim Jong-un’s communist dictatorship, and a robber of blue-collar American jobs. Hence, he believes that “the Chinese leaders are not our friends”, and supports unilateral tariffs on Chinese goods. This nationalistic approach to trade policy may result in the collapse of China’s $483 billion annual exports to the US. But, paradoxically, Trump also wants to discontinue American security guarantees to East Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, suggesting that they should develop nuclear weapons to protect themselves from external threats instead. Therefore, Trump would likely give President Xi Jinping the illusion that America does not care about Chinese military aggression. China would consequently judge that Secretary Hillary Clinton’s “pivot to Asia”, or America’s protection of smaller Asian states from Chinese dominance, is going to be discontinued by Trump. Therefore, the President-elect would hurt China economically, whilst simultaneously providing an attractive path for it politically by allowing it to gain hegemony over South-East Asia. Trump would, bizarrely, let China express its anger at his foreign policy in an increasingly conflict-prone foreign policy stance. As Professor Minxin Pei has pointed out, “this is a recipe for conflict”.

Secondly, Trump has stated that he would “cancel” the Paris climate change accords, a view which is perhaps unsurprising, given a tweet in which he claimed that, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” As the Paris deal, negotiated by the UN’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), is legally binding on the US for four years, the best Trump could do is slow down the process somewhat. However, such opposition runs the risk of the UN’s 192 other member states taking this as a sign that climate change is not on the global agenda. Trump, through his apathy towards climate change mitigation, would arguably endanger the cause of lasting peace, since even the Pentagon has identified climate change as a conflict “threat multiplier”. Moreover, according to the World Resources Institute, only 100 states – representing 69% of global emissions – have formally joined the Paris plan. This makes Trump’s anti-scientific stance hardly encouraging to states that have not yet fully joined, such as Spain, Australia, Egypt and Russia. Ironically, just as the majority of Florida’s voters were selecting “Donald Trump and Mike Pence” on their ballot papers on 8 November, diplomats were thinking at COP22 in Morocco how the world should put COP21’s proposals (the Paris accords) into action.

Thirdly, Trump wishes to befriend a thuggish former KGB officer, who just so happens to be the 4th President of the Russian Federation. Both Putin and Trump are admirers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has presided over a bloody civil war leaving 320,000 dead and 11 million displaced. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has vetoed the council’s resolutions on Syria four times, leading the council’s American representative Samantha Power to predict that Russia may “jeopardise the security council’s status and credibility”. Trump is likely to reinforce this trend towards increasing the power of autocratic states and decreasing that of international institutions. Having labeled NATO as “obsolete” and suggested that using “a nuke” in the Middle East would be acceptable, it is telling that one of the first leaders to congratulate the President-elect was Mr. Putin.

After the last world war, the United Nations was created to build a global sphere of peace. In order to do so, this “liberal”, or freedom- and peace-seeking, organisation collaborated with the EU, NATO and other liberal institutions to introduce a fair measure of liberal peace into the world. But now, due to problems concerning Asia, climate change and renewed Russian aggression, peace is on the brink of a precipice. Trump could yet be the man who pushes it into the abyss. We can only hope that he does not fulfill his dangerous promises.


Image sourced under Creative Commons License.

James Routledge 2016