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World split on Trump triumph

November 9, 2016

What will a Trump foreign policy look like? Some global leaders are worried, but many others see the mogul's rise as either confirmation of their own authoritarianism or a harbinger of more authoritarianism to come.

Martin Schulz Präsident des Europäischen Parlaments
EU Parliament President Martin SchulzImage: picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/Hoslet

Among the early reactions, the EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the bloc's trans-Atlantic ties with the US "go beyond the election of Trump." 

EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said the result "must be respected" as he said that Trump "managed to become the standard-bearer of the angst and fears of millions of Americans."

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called Trump's victory "a warning for Germany and Europe," urging policy makers to listen more closely to people's concerns. "Trump is the pioneer of a new authoritarian and chauvinist international movement. He is also a warning for us," Gabriel told German publisher Funke Mediengruppe.

Russland Barack Obama und Wladimir Putin
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Loeb

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain and the US would remain "strong and close partners on trade, security and defence," while French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said France would work with the new president, but warned: "We don't want a world where egoism triumphs." France's Socialist government had openly endorsed Clinton. Ayrault also said he wanted clarification on US policy issues such as the conflict in Syria, Iran's nuclear deal and climate change before a hastily arranged meeting of EU leaders in the coming days.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told students in Ottawa that he would with the president-elect not just for Americans and Canadians, "but for the whole world" on Wednesday. The prospect of Americans moving north to Canada drew so much interest it temporarily knocked out Canada's immigration website due to a surge in traffic.

French news agency AFP said Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto insisted "Mexico and the US are friends, partners and allies" despite strained relations. Trump has repeatedly stated during his campaign that he would have Mexico build a wall along the US-Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration.

Hardliners emboldened

However, the first French presidential candidate to comment on the US election was populist, anti-immigrant politician Marine Le Pen, congratulating Trump even before the final results are known. Le Pen, hoping to ride anti-establishment sentiment to victory in April-May French presidential elections, tweeted her support to the "American people, free!"

Brexit Reaktionen Archivbild Marine Le Pen
French populist politician Marine Le-PenImage: Reuters/H.-P. Bader

Britain's EU exit campaign leader Nigel Farage, meanwhile, said he would "hand over the mantle" to Donald Trump as he congratulated the Republican on his win. "This is a year of two great political revolutions," Farage said, drawing parallels between the US vote and Britain's decision to leave the European Union in June.

Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, a frequent target of comparisons with the billionaire mogul, expressed confidence in Trump's leadership skills. "I am sure that the president chosen by the American people will be able to safeguard with authority and composure the United States' difficult role as the leading country of the free world, within the complex and delicate world order," said Berlusconi in a statement.

In turn, Turkey - a key player on several fronts, from its stance on Syrian refugees and its own EU entry to its role in NATO and in relation to the Syrian conflict - said it wants US policy under Trump to recognize the strategic importance of the country and its "main priority is an effective fight against terrorism," President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Another democratically elected hardman, the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte - a fierce critic of Barack Obama who attacked his harsh anti-drug crackdown - was also quick to congratulate Trump.

Trump's foreign policy

"We will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great relationships," president-elect, Donald Trump, said in his acceptance speech. "We will deal fairly with everyone, including all other nations," he said.

But will he?

Trump's foreign policy team will have to deal - odd as it may sound - with a Republican-majority Congress, which  is split on issues of free trade and migration and - after Obama's decision to refer direct military intervention in Syria to a vote in Congress - might expect more say in overseas interventions.

Moreover, Trump's comments have until now not only indicated his intention to act unilaterally, but often seem to indicate a man unaware of the choices he will need to make to deliver on campaign promises. For example, what would be the implications of protecting the domestic economy from global competition, in particular the possible effects on the Chinese economy? Sending home illegal immigrants from Mexico would also hurt US businesses and Mexico is unlikely to agree to pay for any wall. 

Deep anxiety in Mexico

The situation is further complicated by the fact that many senior figures who might have hoped for foreign policy positions in a Republican administration have ruled themselves out by opposing Trump during the race and the positions of those that might be selected are less well known and will likely be less experienced.

One thing seems clear: Trump is likely to set out what one might call a "transactional" approach to foreign policy. In other words, seek alliances and deals on a case-by-case basis. His philosophy, if such a thing emerges at all, may be known in the making. But, again, events on the ground - in the Middle East, the Far East and Eastern Europe - may drive a Trump policy in certain unknown directions.

What's known

Not much. We know what he has said, often contradictory, on free trade, NAFTA, the US's attitude to NATO and Russia. He has promised a deportation force to round up and expel the 11 million undocumented migrants who make up 6 percent of the US workforce, a ban on all Muslims entering the country - later downgraded to a pledge to impose "extreme vetting" - and a big wall to seal off the Mexican border. But rhetoric and reality will collide very soon and which will win out is not easy to predict.

What's unknown

More or less everything else, although given that the rhetoric and the reality are often very different beasts with Trump, what we know is that much is still unknown.

Trump himself is probably not yet aware of many of the things he is not aware of. Critics fear that the effects of and the reactions to his victory will, for example, embolden many authoritarian or want-to-be authoritarian rulers, from Erdogan in Turkey, to Putin in Russia and others.

Possible flashpoints

The South China Sea

China's increasingly belligerent language in relation to its own 'backyard' - the South China Sea - in recent months could provide one imminent cause of conflict, which would necessitate some kind of US response.

Middle East

Trump will be asked, no doubt, to add flesh to the bones of his skeletal aim of destroying the so-called "Islamic State." His attitude and tactical skill in relation to Moscow and Ankara will be key here. He might also like to rethink his position in relation to Iran, an area of Obama's foreign policy he was often keen to attack.

Trump should stay committed to the international nuclear deal with Iran, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Tasnim news agency on Wednesday. "The US should fulfill its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear deal) as a multilateral international agreement," Zarif was quoted saying.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he hoped the victory of Trump would lead to positive steps for the Middle East and for basic rights and freedoms in the world.


Trump said during his campaign that he would work with President Vladimir Putin. This could have implications in terms of possible joint military effort with Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat the Islamic State. Trump has proposed such a resolution. 

Putin sent Donald Trump a telegram of congratulations, expressing "his hope to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state." The leader of Russia's nationalist Liberal Democratic party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has welcomed the victory of Trump. Russia's lower house of parliament later applauded Trump's win.

jbh/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)