Predicting Trump’s National Security Strategy and RI’s Interests
by Wibawanto Nugroho*
Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and one important way to predict its likely impact at the global level is by comprehending the philosophical and practical grounds of his likely National Security strategy. This is indeed the open manifestation of his National Security motivation, premise, and policy. Every U.S. president is mandated to lay out his National Security strategy at the beginning of his term and President-elect Donald Trump should have his National Security strategy published in 2017. National Security is not a stagnant but a dynamic concern accommodating national values along with growing domestic and international environment to advance national interests of a nation-state. National Security strategy in the strictest sense pursues a broader definition of security: defense; diplomacy; and development, and the modern-day’s National Security strategy that characterizes Trump’s future administration is more complex than just about the choice between the employment of soft and hard power which so far has typified the simple distinction of Republican and Democratic security policies.
There are at least three main determining variables affecting Trump’s National Security strategy: personal factor and preference; National Security premises that typically characterize the Republican party; and domestic-international environment. Like President Ronald Reagan, by his nature President-elect Donald Trump is an anomaly and anti-establishment upon which he has the tendency to confidently shape the surrounding structure instead of being shaped by the environment constraining him. The historical record of Donald Trump’s upbringing that was heavily influenced by Dr. Vincent Peale (the author of power of positive thinking) indicates that he grows as an optimist individual who strongly believes that his presence will make a change on the structure surrounding him. This personality will be reflected in the way he chooses his National Security advisors, in seeking the common grounds with and gaining supports from the current Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, and to engage and to communicate outspokenly with other key stakeholders both in Washington, D.C. and international arena.
Trump’s ideology and background as a business practitioner reflect that he likely to view the world’s prospect more realistically with a Neo-Hobbessian (more chaotic) lens, rather than with a Neo-Kantian’s (more idealist). Trump will likely to emphasize on the stressful security affairs as the main driver for navigating the global politics. Upon this thinking he believes that the U.S. must be strong domestically, more focused on its domestic recovery, while focusing on the greater Middle East in order to achieve the dual-side foreign policy goals: stable security affairs as well as democratic and economic growth at the domestic and global level. He will likely prefer the military power and economic instruments over democratic institutions as he has less faith on conventional treaties, alliances, and international institutions merit. For Trump, over-interdependence at the global level means creating more vulnerabilities for the U.S. National Security. However, Trump’s assumptions differ with President George W. Bush’s. Unlike Bush, Trump has more optimistic attitude about the future and belief that the U.S. should not act unilaterally as a Leviathan at the global affairs. His background as a practical businessman will also influence his preference of always combining the economic, diplomatic, and military power to make the U.S. strong again and the world more stable. Trump’s practical experiences as a senior businessman will make him know of how to work with even the difficult allies in the challenging geopolitical times although these allies’ interests, strategies, and tactics will not always neatly align with those of the United States. Every theater of possible security conflicts are home to U.S. significant allies with vested interests, and Trumps knows that. On top of it, Washington is not the first time dealing with such challenges: from engaging the ideologically-different Maoist China to isolate the Soviets to working closely with Pakistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden.
In terms of promoting democracies at the global level, Trump will believe on the combination between the assertive interventionists and the progressive multilateralists. In practice Trump will likely to combine between traditional conservatives (suppressing of threats and promotion of democratization by using hard military and economic power) and offshore balancers (using the regional powers by diplomatic means). Trump’s administration will likely to view the chaotic southern arc (i.e. the greater Middle East and some part of Asia) and religious terrorism as the major threat where role of alliances are still important with diplomacy, military, and economic power as the preferred instruments of power. The likely global economic turmoil and uncertain security affairs predicted by many analysts need a strong U.S. president with a good stamina like Trump. Even Trump may need Democrat’s and Hillary Clinton’s supports to work with him throughout the likely economic turmoil and stressful security affairs in the years ahead. Among many other things that are likely to erupt in the Eurasian belt and Far East, these contemporary security challenges come from the post-Islamist state (IS) scramble in Syria and Iraq, the unfinished business of Russia-Ukrainian-Syrian conflicts that have drawn the U.S. and Europeans into some kind of grand bargain, the North Korean nuclear missiles, and the possible Venezuelan implosion.
As the mechanism of success, Trump will likely to emphasizes on the combination between persuasion, coalition building, suppression of threats, and promotion of democratization. It is easily predicted that Trump will make the U.S. leadership style into a path-setting leader of ad-hoc coalitions. However, Trump’s realistic view will influence him to realize on the overstretch of American military power, thus making him also to become a consensual leader of multilateral security alliances, and not to over burden the limitation of U.S. military power. Given his commitment to be tough on Iran, it will make Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan will likely to strongly support his National Security policies at the global level. As of Russia and China, these two global powers will have different position towards Trump’s protectionist policy (i.e. charging 45% of import tariff and the renegotiation of NAFTA). China will be impacted more by this policy along with India and Mexico. As of European Union, Trump will likely to use NATO as a preferred instrument of power to deal with contemporary security affairs while Judeo-Christian values that are backing up Trump’s administration will become a strategic asset to maintain strong relationship with democratic European countries and greater Middle East including the Erdogan’s Turkey and other Islamist states.
The biggest problem is the fact that we do not know what Trump’s political leadership style is and how he tries to make decisions. Furthermore, there are questions about Trump's perception on the importance of Indonesia. If Trump considers Indonesia as important then he will bring up Indonesia as an issue for the U.S. Congress to consider. For President Bush and President Obama, the two regarded Indonesia as one of the most important partners in the struggling over global violent extremist movements as well as to balance the rising China. Indonesia has been a good democratic partner for the U.S. defense, diplomacy and economic development engagement at the global level. Hopefully Trump will consider Indonesia as one of the most important partners and to accommodate Indonesia's interests as much as President Bush and Obama did, where some agendas that were not successfully addressed by President Bush and Obama would be resolved during Trump’s years in the oval office.
There are four possible scenarios on the Indonesian – U.S. security cooperation in the years ahead. The best-case scenario is for Trump to consider Indonesia as an important partner and he considers himself independent from the U.S. Congressional leaders. In addition, the Congress will not emphasize Indonesian military's human rights records. This best-case scenario means that the Indonesian – U.S. security cooperation could be leveraged and be more-straightforward to address the contemporary security challenges. On the other hand, the moderate scenario could also happen when Trump considers Indonesia as an important state, but the U.S. Congress still links the aid to Indonesia with the human rights records. However, since the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress also realizes that Indonesia is an important partner for Trump administration, so the U.S. Congress may only focus on human rights issues of a few aspects in order to satisfy their constituent’s concern over human right issues. Under this scenario, the security cooperation will be increased but not as much as in the first scenario.
The last one is the pessimistic scenario that is not preferable for Indonesia. This could happen when Trump considers Indonesia as an important state and he considered himself independent from the Congressional leaders. However, the Congress may link the aid to Indonesia with the human rights records. This will hinge on Trump's personality. If he is similar to President Bush in term of temperament or leadership style, he would bypass the Congress to aid and support Indonesia in many respects. If not, then there will be some deals to be made (i.e. some pressures to Indonesia), but not that much. This would be similar to President Bill Clinton's first term, where East Timor was an issue, however, aside of some rebukes and limitations in aid, there were still some cooperation going on.
As a concluding thought, we should be optimistic about the future. Our optimism will overcome any pessimistic intuitive that may arise from the outcome of this election, and the government of Indonesia should timely grab the momentum by creatively employing its multiline efforts to engage and to win as much as supports from Trump administration and Republican-dominated U.S. Congress in order to advance Indonesian national interests. If the government of Indonesia is keen and focus to creatively engage Trump’s administration and the U.S. Congress, the best scenario for Indonesian – U.S. security cooperation is likely to be achieved. The Trump’s preference to support the state of Israel should also not become a source of emotional grievances for Indonesians. Above everything, Indonesia should do its best to advance its own fundamental national interests: to create a secure, stable, and economically strong Indonesia. When Indonesia is strong, Indonesia can do so many important things in the global arena.
*The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Security, Arab and Islamic Studies with the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, an Indonesian Fulbright scholar, and a Subject Matter Expert with the U.S. National Defense University. This is his own personal opinion. He is an NDU ICTF from Indonesia, class of 2007.
This article was previously published on The Jakarta Post.