The question from the Finnish journalist to President Biden at last month’s US-Nordic leaders’ summit in Helsinki was direct: “What actions will you take to assure Finland that the US will remain a reliable NATO partner for decades to come?”
Biden replied: “I absolutely guarantee it. There is no question. There’s overwhelming support from the American people,” before adding the caveat: “You know, no one can guarantee the future, but this is the best bet anyone could make … As sure as anything can possibly be said about American foreign policy, we will stay connected to NATO– connected to NATO, beginning, middle and end.”
In an interview a few weeks earlier, Richard Haass, who recently stepped down as president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the most serious threat to the security of the world right now was the United States. “It’s us,” he told Peter Baker of the New York Times. “I should have a nickel for every non-American, every foreign leader who said to me, ‘I don’t know what’s the norm and what’s the exception any more. Is the Biden administration a return to the America I took for granted and Trump will be a historical blip? Or is Biden the exception and Trump and Trumpism are the new America?’”
These issues are beginning to hit home in Australia and with other US allies. Many are already seeing in 2024 a reprise of the successive shocks of 2016 – the Brexit vote in June as a precursor to the upheaval heralded by Trump’s election in November – and what ensued during Trump’s four years in office. We know from the litany of explosive books, from veteran journalist Bob Woodward to Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and so many others in between, what Trump is capable of – and that he would approach a second term with vengeance uppermost in his mind against those who crossed him or stood in his way. Today, leaders of the world’s democracies at least have the benefit of over-the-horizon political radar of what may be coming, given the long lead time of Trump’s all-so-visible and unrelenting campaign to regain power.
With respect to my country, Australia, the deep engagement with the United States began on the western front in the first world war. Australia has supported American troops in numerous wars the United States has waged since then. The Anzus treaty is in its 71st year and “a hundred years of mateship” has been richly celebrated. It is safe to say that Australia’s alliance with the United States is the least troubled of any bilateral relationship the US has with other countries, including Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom. Australia is an integral part of the The Quad with India, Japan and the United States. The AUKUS agreement brings the United States together with the United Kingdom and Australia in a strategic partnership to promote stability and security in the Asia Pacific region.
ustralia, the deep engagement with the United States began on the western front in the first world war. Australia has supported American troops in numerous wars the United States has waged since then.
But what happens to this web of ties if Trump returns to the presidency? Trumpism has four pillars that he wields as swords. America first, to ensure that US interests are always paramount in any foreign policy and military decision taken. Isolationism, where the default position is to end American commitments overseas and to bring US forces home. Protectionism, expressed through trade and tariff wars with the goal of securing trade surpluses for the US with all its trading partners, from China to Canada to Mexico to Europe and back across all of Asia. And nativism, to build walls on America’s southern border and close its doors to migrants seeking the American dream.
In a second term, he will pursue these policies even harder. Trump learned immense lessons from his first four years about who, in the United States and around the world, frustrated his policy objectives and how they could be crushed and punished to help him win more victories in his second term. What happens if Trump cripples, perhaps even works deliberately to destroy, NATO and the United Nations, begins a trade war with the European Union, executes accommodations with Putin and Russia over Ukraine, surrenders Taiwan to China and withdraws troops and naval forces from the Asia Pacific region?
At this granular level, each leader of a state around the globe allied with the United States faces the daunting issue of how to manage all this incoming from Trump should he return to the Oval Office. How can you best deal with a hostile partner? How do those western countries allied with the United States today realign their policies to ensure their security tomorrow?
But these questions also reveal a deeper issue with respect to the ties that bind so many democracies around the world with the United States. For example, can Australia – should Australia – continue its alliance with the United States if it in 2025 may no longer be the United States that has existed for nearly 250 years?
Australia’s alliance is with a country that stands for freedom; democracy; liberty; human and civil rights; and the rule of law. What happens if the struggle for democracy and the soul of America fails in 2025? What if President Trump declares martial law, if the military is deployed to cities across the country to put down protests and restore law and order? What if Trump disobeys court orders, including from the supreme court, to cease and desist his executive actions? What if he ignores laws passed by Congress, orders the detention and imprisonment of his political enemies, has journalists arrested and jailed, and shuts down certain media outlets? What if he interferes with elections held in states across the country and for Congress?
Australia’s alliance is with a country that stands for freedom; democracy; liberty; human and civil rights; and the rule of law.
If Trump dismantles American democracy, America will no longer be populated by united states. It will be bitterly divided. There will be immense unrest. The country will no longer be the United States.
Trump redux therefore poses an existential question: how could Australia remain allied with a country that has discarded the fundamental values of democracy that have bound these two nations together? How can Australia be allied with a country that is drifting towards autocracy?
And it’s not just Australia. Every country strategically tied to the United States will need to contemplate the consequences of Trump’s campaign for the presidency.
It is time to face up to this question. It is better for America’s allies to be proactive in 2024 in planning for such a catastrophic upheaval in global politics than to be reactive in 2025.
As long as Trump is within reach of the presidency, this question is a clear and present danger to every democratic country that today stands proudly with the United States.