Trump and the (Liberal) International Order
One year in, the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy continues to baffle American allies in Europe. Much of the European discussion over the past year has focused on the American retreat from its traditional role as guarantor of the liberal international order. Where can we expect continuity from Trump? And how much will this unconventional president disrupt before he leaves office? In calculating their answers to these questions, several prominent European politicians, including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, have suggested that the Europe should fill the void left by Trump’s “America First” agenda by redoubling its efforts to defend the liberal international order.
The liberal international order describes a body of rules, norms and institutions that govern international affairs. It encompasses security, economics and values. For decades, American administrations have waxed lyrical about defending this order—as in President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy—while frequently struggling to do so in practice. President Trump’s new version does not endorse the post–1945 American-led order. It depicts international affairs as a zero-sum game, and senior administration figures reject a Kantian “global community” in favor of a Hobbesian state of nature in which “nations compete for advantage.” Their language differs starkly from that of the Obama administration and from the EU’s vision of a “rules-based global order with multilateralism as its key principle.”