By: Ahmad Zubair
The term foreign policy is defined as a set of political goals that illustrates the interaction of a country with the rest of the world. Attaining and protecting national interest, national security, ideological goals and economic prosperity constitute the primary focus of foreign policy of a state at the international level. In particular, the goal of US foreign policy is to create a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people. The three possible visions that I put forward on the future of US foreign policy include the denuclearization of nuclear states, who are potential threat to global security; sustaining United States’ global hegemony and the growing tendency of US towards the political isolation from global politics coupled with protectionism in trade.
Denuclearization of nuclear states and preventing nuclear proliferation have been, and continue to be, US foreign policy priorities. However, the denuclearization process has followed an uneven and sometimes paradoxical path in post-World War II. From one hand during the Cold War years, the world witnessed proliferation of nuclear weapon technology, mostly within countries with high technical capabilities. For instance, the United States until 2009 designed more than 31,000 warheads. From another hand, the US pursued denuclearization of smaller powers as an integral part of its foreign policy. Historical and current denuclearization and disarmament have targeted vibrant measures for bilateral cooperation in order to reduce nuclear weapons, their production materials and facilities and their delivery systems. Denuclearization and preventing nuclear proliferation efforts of US have shown two different paths.
One, the two superpowers in order to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons and preserve the status quo reached several agreements between them, including the formation of International Legal Framework for Denuclearization. In addition to their disarmament agreements, the efforts taken by the two nuclear states can be observed as additional confidence building measure between them. Likewise, a large number of denuclearization and nuclear disarmament treaties took place between the United States and Russia. These two states being the two superpowers had always utilized their leverage in dealing with denuclearization process globally. Secondly, the denuclearization and preventing nuclear proliferation efforts also focused on preventing smaller states from achieving nuclear weapons. It includes the US efforts to convince Pakistan and India not to develop nuclear weapons, though it failed to achieve its aims. Though, the US and other countries succeeded in convincing Ukraine to give up its nuclear programme, the Crimean crisis showed that it failed to secure its territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression. This trend of future US foreign policy is applicable to regimes such as Iran and North Korea that are potential threats to international order and the interests of the United States. To that end, the US government has escalated economic and political sanctions on the Iranian government. It is highly likely that the Trump administration would go as far as for a preventive war to barricade Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
The US foreign policy on denuclearization lacks consistency. The Obama administration signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme. However, Trump administration has abandoned the deal. Exiting from the JCPOA left other countries including the US allies in a state of ambivalence and uncertainty. It can hinder reaching a productive agreement with the North Korean leader about destruction of North Korean nuclear bases. The United States is committed to pursue a strong and specific future policy with regard to denuclearization and preventing nuclear proliferation. Former nuclear disarmament and denuclearization agreements and treaties were exclusively decided between the United States and Russia, primarily due to having the largest arsenals. The future US foreign policy with regard to denuclearization probably involves additional parties when it comes to signing agreements.
Preserving the US hegemony is the second priority of the US foreign policy. Powerful countries have always had the capacity and the desire to influence the international system wherein they are the major stakeholders. The present era differs from the Cold War years. After the collapse of the USSR, the United States remained the sole superpower in a unipolar world – the unipolar world benefits it greatly. The US has more stakes than any other country in preserving the post-Soviet world order. Thus, the US is keen to sustain its hegemonic power. The hegemonic power of the United States is manifested in the areas like economy, military, politics and culture. Nothing has happened in the interim to change this basic position, despite widespread concerns in the 1980s about the supposed decline in America’s position of a hegemon. Without doubt, the end of Cold War in 1990s and the economic development of the United States during and after the 1990s settled its hegemonic position and locked in its dominance for the future as well. However, the rise of China would pose a daunting threat to that position. On the face of new threat to its position, the US would assert measures to make sure it has the final word in International affairs. The recent imposition of US tariffs on the Chinese imports could be the symptom of hegemonic tensions. This leads us to my third vision which discusses the recent US disregard of the liberal order.
Recent US foreign Policy behaviours give us the glimpses into how future might evolve. The US had adopted isolationism in the international politics for most of its history. The visionary US president Woodrow Wilson came up with the idea of League of Nations in the aftermath of the World War I. However, he failed to convince his own nation to join the League. The American public views and political elites favoured to stay out of European and world politics. It was the World War II which dragged the United States out of its isolation and turned it to an active great power in world affairs. In post-World War II, the US helped creating the United Nations and other international organizations such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO). Since, then it has been the most vocal supporter of these institutions.
However, the US under Donald Trump signals the signs of retreating to pre-World Wars political isolationism and economic protectionism. He is also reversing all the outward looking policies adopted by previous US presidents. It’s manifested in his contempt towards international organizations such as UN, WTO and trade agreements like NAFTA which could undermine the liberal order constructed and upheld by the US in post-World War II era. This retreat could be the symptom of US public opinions that have become tired of US interventionism and international adventurism. However temporary it maybe, the absence of US from other parts of the world would create political vacuum which likely will experience political turbulences until the vacuum is filled by emerging regional powers like China and India in Asia.
These three visions, besides lacking consistency and coherence, seem paradoxical in some aspects. For instance if the United States is keen to preserve its hegemony at the international level, undermining liberal order would be a self-defeating endeavour, the United States as its primary beneficiary has benefited a lot due to its mere existence. When it comes to the third vision, engaging in wars with Iran or North Korea over nuclear issues would contradict United States’ isolationism and inward-looking tendencies. Such inconsistencies are typical of great power politics which contains contradictory elements of foreign policy behaviours in dealing with various challenges. However, there is also the possibility of these three visions would be combined together-adjusting contradictory elements — and establish the future course of US foreign policy.