04 Mar 2016
Time to plan for the Don doctrine
By Tom Hanson
Donald Trump was the runaway winner in the Super Tuesday Republican primaries, winning seven of 11 contests. Although not guaranteed to be the party’s nominee for the US presidency, prudent observers from this side of the international dateline should be delving into the potential impact on Australia of a Trump electoral victory in November.
Some in the US media have located Trump’s foreign policy beliefs in a very orthodox expression of realpolitik. The new “Trump Doctrine” is hostile to “democracy promotion, humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect people from atrocities or the advocacy of human rights abroad”. Most Australians support these concepts with good reason — they validate many of the assumptions upon which the international order is based.
Conversely, his embrace of an expanded use of torture for intelligence gathering will offend just about everyone.
Globally, reactions to Trump run the gamut from outrage in Britain to unease in Germany to nearly unbridled anticipation in Moscow. His approach to international affairs combines bluster and naivete. His understanding of the threat posed to a rules-based international order by Vladimir Putin’s Russia is incomplete at best: his claim he can “make deals with those people” makes him sound like Harry Ellis talking to Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
Treading lightly with Putin might make it easier for him to work with German Chancellor Angela Merkel but will antagonise the rest of the EU. Trump’s solution to Chinese provocations in the South China Sea and the cyber domain (“I’m totally open to a tariff”) says nothing about how a trade war with China will induce it to moderate its drive for hegemony in the region.
Trump’s response to the spread of radical Islamists (“Bomb the shit out of them”) is a pretty firm rejection of the counter-terrorism strategy recommended by former chief of army Peter Leahy that Australian special forces should be sent into Islamic State strongholds to destroy terrorists before they can launch their attacks.
A Trump-designed policy in the Middle East would relegate Australia’s SAS to sifting through the rubble of an “arc light” raid. Trump’s hyperbolic declarations of building a wall on the US-Mexico border and prohibit by executive order the entry of Muslims into the US will do more to undermine American influence around the world than anything he accuses Barack Obama of having done.
In terms of expanding US military capability or capacity, the danger of a renewed arms race with Russia or China, or his plans to prevent a potential Chinese economic dislocation from becoming a global phenomenon, Trump has made no considered statement.
But his tendency to disavow previously held but politically inexpedient positions means his administration would often behave without consistency or continuity from one day to the next.
Perhaps most alarming for Australians, it is no secret that Trump sees the current alliance structure as a losing proposition for the US. Although his ire is directed for now at the “freeloaders” in South Korea, Japan, and The Philippines, how long would it take for a President Trump to demand that the Australian Defence Force “put up or shut up” in the South China Sea? This by itself has the potential to negate the validity of many of the assumptions underpinning the new defence white paper.
Australians could be forgiven if, in the wake of a Trump inauguration in 2017, they chose to accelerate procurement timetables for additional combat aircraft, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance platforms, submarines, and naval surface combatants.
Colonel Tom Hanson is the US Pacific Command visiting fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These are his personal views and do not reflect the official policy of the US Pacific Command.