By Thomas Badham
Curated over years of publicity, including movie cameos, book releases, and even a WWE performance, Trump’s public persona of a no-nonsense, straight talking businessman became a hallmark of his political style. This certainly helped to deliver him the presidency, but the world of international diplomacy is used to a far more delicate touch. Trump’s disruptive style has complicated and transformed US relationships across the world.
His meetings with world leaders have been punctuated with bizarre instances of showmanship. Trump’s visit to the UK saw a baffling moment when Theresa May appeared to be holding the President’s hand as they approached the press, whilst President Macron has been subjected to unusually physical on-camera experiences with Trump. Handshakes between the two are prolonged affairs, as both men try to physically exert their dominance.
Yet Trump often goes further than just perplexing his allies. In 2017 he withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement which aimed to mitigate the effects of climate change. At the NATO summit last year, Trump demanded other members contribute 4% of their budgets to defence spending, doubling the 2% spending target which most members already fail to meet. He then threatened to withdraw from NATO if changes were not implemented, though conceding it was “presently unnecessary”.
It is Trump’s comments on terrorism, however, where he truly ruffles international feathers. Trump fabricated a terror attack in Sweden in February 2017 to highlight issues surrounding immigration, compelling Swedish ex-Prime Minister Carl Bildt to ask Twitter “what has he been smoking?” A year later, his comments about the police having prior knowledge of the 2018 Parsons Green terror attack were also described as “not helpful” by Theresa May in a BBC interview. These are instances where Trump is performing for his home crowd, giving his vote base in America the chance to see their President standing up and defending their interests on the world stage, even if this to the detriment of international relations.
Trump’s relationship with Russia is often heavily scrutinised and criticized. After the Novichok poisoning attack, Trump reacted by expelling 60 Russian diplomats as well as imposing economic sanctions on Russia, taking a decisive step in solidarity with the UK. However he has consistently failed to hold Putin to account for Russian action in Syria, and his presidency has been plagued by continuous accusations of his relationship with Russia in influencing the results of the 2016 US presidential election.
Trump’s dealings in Asia have been similarly controversial. In 2018, Trump took the decision to start a trade war with China, seeing tariffs totalling over $250bn. China retaliated in kind, imposing tariffs worth $110bn. However, Trump recently declared that given China and the US’s diplomatic progress he will delay increasing US tariffs on China which were scheduled for 1 March and will be organising a Summit with President Xi in order to finalise their trade agreement.
The President’s most recent summit with North Korea is just as intriguing. In contrast to his hard-line diplomacy and cutting comments made to Western political leaders, the first day of the Vietnam summit saw Trump showering Kim Jong-Un in compliments. Previous interactions between the two leaders have seen Trump pushing North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weaponry for great economic power. In last week’s summit, Trump pushed for the same again, claiming he, and only he, could make North Korea an “economic powerhouse.” Despite the sense of optimism surrounding this summit, talks collapsed after Kim Jong-un demanded that all economic sanctions on North Korea were lifted, a request which Donald Trump refused to realise.
Trump’s diplomacy has had a seismic effect on global relations. Reversing tradition, Trump has been hard-nosed and disruptive when dealing with US allies, whilst taking an arguably softer approach with Russia. Although with approximately two years left in office, Trump’s diplomacy has the potential to cause international distress or success in equal measures.