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Trump's America: the ordinary superpower

Transatlantic affairs / DISCUSSION PAPER
Giovanni Grevi

Date: 13/06/2017
This paper reviews the main developments in US foreign policy since January 2017 and assesses the prospect of a structural shift of America’s global role. After four months in office, the Trump administration has not triggered a revolution in US foreign policy but it is shaking up the status quo. While there is evidence of both a nationalist and a pragmatic track in the behaviour of the new administration, the former seems to engulf and overshadow the latter. The president defines American national interests more narrowly than his predecessors, sees international relations as predicated on power politics and strength, and takes an ad hoc transactional approach to external affairs. On the other hand, the realities of interdependence and power balances will put Trump’s nationalist and unilateral instincts to the test. How this administration may react to sudden external shocks and crises remains unclear. Beyond the tension between nationalism and pragmatism, this paper argues that Trump’s foreign policy can be seen as another stage of a larger structural shift of the US’ role in world affairs. This is the possible shift from the US seeking to exert a global leadership role informed by liberal values and founded on alliances and multilateral commitments – the ‘exceptional’ superpower – to performing more like an ‘ordinary’ superpower – one still invested in global affairs but more selective in its engagement and more focused on core national interests.

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