By HobbsTravels (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Placentia Bay from the look out at Castle Hill [By HobbsTravels, CC BY-SA 3.0]

I accepted with some trepidation the kind invitation of the editors of H-Diplo to contribute a brief essay on the possible foreign-policy initiatives of the Trump administration. The candidate made only sporadic references to that topic during the presidential campaign—tirelessly repeating the slogan “America First” (in apparent ignorance of the historical context of that term). But President-elect Donald Trump has issued a few notable remarks and assembled a team of foreign-policy advisers that give us some clues about where this country may be headed in its relations with the outside world in the next four years. Since the topic I know best is transatlantic relations, I will confine my analysis to that narrow slice of the overall global picture, putting aside the “One China” policy, the wall along the southern border, stringent restrictions on Muslim immigration, trade protectionism, the Paris climate change treaty, the Iran nuclear deal, etc.

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I never thought that I would write the phrase “President Trump,” let alone link it to IR theory. But the former is a great opportunity for the latter. Scholars of international politics bemoan the fact that our sub-field cannot draw on the experimental method. Well, now we can. Although Trump’s election was not a random event, nevertheless much about America’s external environment will remain the same after January 20, 2017 while the country will have a president who has espoused foreign policy views radically different from those of any of his predecessors. Once in office, will he really try to carry out such radically different policies? Or will domestic and international constrains prevail? We are about to run an experiment, and even if the results are not likely to be entirely unambiguous, they should provide us with real evidence. One (analytical) problem, however, is that Trump’s statements in the first weeks after his election indicate that his substantive views may be only weakly held, making any continuity that occurs only a weak confirmation of theories that stress constraints.

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The election of a new President typically offers an opportunity to reflect upon the state of international relations and America’s role in the world.  This would have been especially true of the 2016 election no matter who won: as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently claimed, many believe that for the first time since 1945 the United States’ relations with the world are unsettled.[1] The unexpected election of Donald Trump only heightens the sense of uncertainty about the future of America’s global role.  While much is unknown about President Trump’s foreign policy views, many of his campaign statements are at odds with long-standing American traditions and policies.

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