President Trump’s official state visit to Poland shortly before the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany was a significant moment for the new administration for various reasons.
Firstly, it was President Trump’s second foreign visit, his first to Central Europe, and it comes at a crucial time for both Europe and the Trans-Atlantic relationship. It therefore provided a unique opportunity for observers and commentators to gain an insight into President Trump’s stances towards NATO, foreign policy and defence expenditure, as well as the concepts and theories that underpin Western civilisation.
During his address in Krasinski Square, President Trump praised the Polish people for their courage, determination, and the strength of relations between the two countries, noting that it is a bilateral relationship that dates back to the very foundation of the United States of America as a Nation-State.
Trump also praised Poland’s place as a leading state within Europe, and its position as one of the most committed members of the NATO Alliance, describing Poland as a blessing to the nations of Europe. Trump’s praise of Poland proves that he values international relationships on a transactional basis. Poland, in paying its fees to NATO and meeting “its full and fair financial obligation”, is not on the receiving end of an indirect military subsidy from the US. American leadership on the world stage will be epitomised by persuading other Nation States to pay their fair share for defence cooperation.
Whilst on the campaign trail, some initially interpreted his rhetoric to signal a commitment to withdraw from America’s traditional sense of international responsibility and global hegemonic power. However, it is notable that one of the official objectives of the visit to Poland was to provide American leadership, as stated by General McMaster in a press briefing at the White House shortly before the visit. Therefore, rather than retreat from such commitments, Trump seemed to be embracing global political and economic leadership within Europe. On show was an awareness of the importance of global security and modern global security threats, committing the US to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. This will have begun to reassure European allies at a time of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
This speech gave an insight into the foreign policy priorities of the Trump administration, and allowed an opportunity for the President to clearly state the common understanding of threats facing the Western world. Following on from his address in Saudi Arabia, this speech allowed President Trump to clearly emphasise the importance of global & regional security and prosperity, and to place it at the centre of his foreign policy agenda.
The speech to the Polish people was also significant as it served as a springboard for the global G20 Summit that followed in Germany.
The G20 Summit was another major opportunity for President Trump to realise his influence on a global scale, and to clearly define America’s role in the world under his Presidency.
His first, and highly anticipated meeting with President Putin of Russia was of course significant, with the two leaders agreeing on a de-escalation agreement in Southwest Syria along with a ceasefire, indicating that Russia-US relations are perhaps less volatile than previously thought under Trump. They also spoke about security threats to the two nations, as well as discussing the situation in North Korea.
Whilst meeting with the Prime Minister of the UK, Trump also spoke about the special relationship. He stated that they are working on a ‘very powerful’ trade deal that could be completed ‘very, very quickly’ and emphasised that trade will be ‘a very big factor’ between the US and the UK. Theresa May was quick to jump on this lifeline, commenting that this is a “powerful vote of confidence” in Britain.
The importance of trade was also an issue that arose in President Trump’s remarks before a bilateral meeting with President Xi of China. He stated that China was a major trading partner and that the two leaders will be able to reach a trade deal which is ‘equitable and reciprocal’.
Despite his views on trade that are at odds with his party at times, Trump appeared on this trip to be mutually committed to the importance of trade through the prism of his ‘America First’ strategy that ensures that America benefits from trade agreements economically.
There were further policy decisions made at the G20 Summit that showed Trump is not pursuing an absolutist isolationist stance . This was perhaps most clear when he promised $639 million in aid to Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen in order to resolve regional humanitarian issues as part of the United Nations’ World Food Programme.
President Trump also pledged $50 million to a new World Bank fund to help female entrepreneurs. The programme, called the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, is aimed at improving access to capital and markets, as well as training. It likely proved the influence of his daughter, Ivanka.
President Trump, did, however, remain resolute in his decision to pull the US out of the multilateral Paris Climate Accord negotiated and signed under President Obama. The deal calls on each member nation to reduce carbon emissions, with the aim of committing to the average increase in global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
Certain aspects of President Trump’s rhetoric and policy decisions in Poland and the G20 Summit are both equally surprising and yet predictable. Whilst Trump has clearly followed through on his ‘America First’ approach to policy-making, he has nonetheless committed America to meet other international obligations, most notably leadership in Europe and committing to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. That suggests that he is committed to international cooperation, security and defence so long as the terms are favourable to the United States.
This, coupled with his surprising decision to launch airstrikes in Syria following a reported chemical weapons attack in April, suggests that Trump’s foreign policy agenda is perhaps more in line with his modern predecessors than isolationist in nature.
His support for the UN and World Bank programmes also reassure those who were sceptical of his international policy agenda that he is committed to American leadership, aid and multilateral support.
However, his position on climate change and the Paris Accords certainly reminded observers that he is basing such policy decisions on an ‘America First’ platform.
Therefore, rather than completely detracting from the responsibilities of global leadership, the promotion of global security and economic prosperity, President Trump appears at this early stage to value international cooperation as a means to provide for America and the wider world – or at least a vehicle for a new type of American leadership.
Whilst seemingly committed to certain aspects of international cooperation and to the premise of Western values, Trump appears to also frame international and foreign policy decisions in an ‘America First’ context. President Trump therefore appears to support international cooperation and multilateralism if the benefits for America are clear.
His speech in Poland and subsequent meetings at the G20 Summit therefore offer compelling insights into his policy agenda for America in the twenty-first century on an ‘America First’ basis.
Main image: Meeting with US President Donald Trump