In the years of the Obama presidency, foreign policy was focused on finding ways to advance the U.S. agenda with appeasing and rapprochement. Under Trump, however, that policy has undergone a definite shift.
Iran has been warned that all options are on the table, including military force, particularly in light of Iran’s missile tests earlier this year. But North Korea is also in this administration’s sights. Top Trump administration officials warned Tuesday that North Korea’s latest failed missile attempt was reckless and an act of provocation, while assuring allies in the region that the U.S. was ready to work to achieve peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Vice President Mike Pence offered support to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, as the trip focused primarily on the nuclear intentions of North Korea.
“We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan,” said Pence. “While all options are on the table, President Trump is determined to work closely with Japan, with South Korea, with all our allies in the region, and with China” to resolve the problem.
He acknowledged that peace comes through strength, and that the U.S. would stand strongly with Japan and its allies for peace and security within the region.
“Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless and it is necessary for us to exercise pressure on North Korea so that it comes forward and engages in this serious dialogue,” said Abe.
It is also clear that Trump isn’t willing to stand with old policies, even if they have been in place for decades. In order to achieve cooperation from North Korea, the U.S. is now looking to coax China into ramping up the pressure on what has been called the rogue state.
“We have tremendous trade deficits with everybody, but the big one is with China…And I told them, ‘You want to make a great deal?’ Solve the problem in North Korea. That’s worth having deficits. And that’s worth having not as good a trade deal as I would normally be able to make,” said Trump in a Wall Street Journal interview last week.
Yet, many officials argue there are reasons to keep trade and issues regarding North Korea separate when dealing with China. Decades of U.S. policy have been focused on sending the message that this issue is one of global stability, not economics.
“We had made a pretty big point of making it clear that we weren’t willing to sacrifice our domestic economic interests for the sake of some foreign policy issue,” said Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative under Obama. “We should be careful about ‘paying’ China—in terms of standing down on economic issues—for doing what is in their interest already. Conceivably, they’d prefer not to see instability and military escalation on the Korean Peninsula.”
The fear is that this would open the U.S. up to similar foreign policy moves by other countries who want to have a better economic relationship with the U.S. For U.S. allies, it could also make you question if your interests might be traded away for a better deal with a larger foreign power.
This willingness to change decades of policy could also impact how the U.S. under Trump deals with other potential hotbed regions, particularly the Middle East, where instability has increased as Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Additionally, Iran is also on a quest for nuclear capabilities, but unlike Korea, the recent 2015 nuclear agreement has cleared a path for them to reach those ambitions, abet at a slower pace. Internationally, however, Iran is still struggling to take a place at the table, as it remains labeled a state sponsor of terrorism. Russia, however, hopes that the U.S. is not quick to pull the trigger on military action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters he hopes “there will be no unilateral actions like those we saw recently in Syria and that the U.S. will follow the line that President Trump repeatedly voiced during the election campaign.”
The U.S. under Trump is clearly willing to use force as he feels it necessary. How this will impact North Korea and Iran remains to be seen.