Foreign Policy / Global Security
- 1 Military Conflict in Syria
- 2 Military Activity/Civilian Casualties
- 3 US Foreign Aid and its Impacts
- 4 Trade Issues that Could Result in Loss of American Jobs
- 5 Possible Nuclear Threats
- 6 Regional Instability that Could Possibly Cause Wars
- 7 Alliances and Organizations at Risk (NATO/UN)
- 8 Changing Roles of the State Department and National Security Council (NSC)
- 9 Global Health
Military Conflict in Syria
Until April 6, 2017, Donald Trump had always supported Bashar al-Assad, the authoritarian leader of Syria, in part because Trump believes that he is working to defeat ISIS, and in part because Vladimir Putin supports Assad.Trump has repeatedly supported Russian military intervention in Syria, despite knowledge that Russia has targeted many areas that are not held by ISIS. “Assad is bad,” Trump said. “Maybe these people could be worse.” Referring to rebels fighting Assad.
On September 30, 2015 Vladimir Putin launched the first Russian air strikes to aid Bashar al-Assad who has been waging war on Syrian citizens since 2011. The humanitarian crisis has steadily worsened, especially after Russia began active military support for Assad.The regimes of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad have both committed documented war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war, including:
- Torture and murder of civilians
- Multiple uses of chemical weapons against civilians
- Dropping fire bombs in civilian neighborhoods
- Bombed water supply systems
- Bombing volunteer emergency service centers
- Bombing schools
- Displaced 11,000,000 people from their homes, 5,000,000 have fled the country becoming refugees and 6,300,000 are displaced within Syria. Half of these displaced people are children.
On March 30, 2017 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Turkey and stated "I think the... longer term status of president Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," thus reversing the US policy demanding that Assad be removed from power.On April 4, 2017, and just five days after Tillerson announced the change in US policy regarding Assad, Bashir al Assad ordered a chemical weapons attack on a small village.Radar identified Syrian planes dropping bombs and Syrian helicopters dropping barrel bombs, which dispersed a chemical weapon, the nerve agent Sarin, which attacks the entire nervous system. Then, as victims were being cared for in the remaining medical facilities Syria bombed those as well.
On April 5, 2017 President Trump, having seen graphic images from the attack, reported that he had changed his mind about Assad and Tillerson announced that “steps” are underway to remove Assad. Tillerson also stated that it is very important that the Russian government consider very carefully their continued support for the Assad regime,” thus marking the first time anyone in the Trump administration has challenged Putin and his regime.
On April 6, 2017, the U.S. military fired more than 50 Tomahawk missiles at the al Shayrat Airfield, in an attempt to cause significant damage to Syrian aircraft. Early reports suggest that the Syrians may have scattered their aircraft prior to the bombing, and that Russian allies may have warned Syrians prior to the attack. This action was Trump's first direct military command as President, having previously delegated that authority to his commanders.
Military Activity/Civilian Casualties
The Trump Administration has increased the number of ground troops in action, given the CIA permission to conduct drone strikes, increased military airstrikes, and is seeking a $54B increase in military spending. While planning to cut health, climate change, foreign aid, and domestic programs, Trump will use taxpayer money to further build up U.S. tools of war.
Following an increase in troops to Syria to help retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the U.S. is likely to send up to 1,000 additional ground troops to the country. During the Obama administration, Obama and his Joint Chiefs avoided putting ground troops into action against ISIS/ISIL if other less dangerous options were available. The most common role for U.S. troops was limited to isolated raids or providing training and support for "proxy forces"—armies within countries that were better able to take on fights themselves, with US air support. Furthermore, The Trump Administration has conducted 40 airstrikes in Yemen over a 5 day timeframe, resulting in the deaths of at least 22 civilians. This is more airstrikes than the Obama administration conducted in any single year of civil war in Yemen. Trump has also authorized the CIA to carry out drone strikes, rather than following the Obama policy of leaving that authority to the Pentagon. CIA drone strikes allow the U.S. government to kill people secretly, and will limit the ability of Congress and the public to document and monitor civilian casualties and strike targets.
One of the results of Trump's new military policies is a big increase in the number of civilian casualties. Trump has also sought to reverse Obama-era rules which required "near certainty" that no civilians would be killed before any air strike could go forward. More than 100 (and as many as 200) innocent people may have been killed in a March 17th air strike against ISIS/ISIL in the Iraq city of Mosul. On March 21st, a U.S.-led air strike in Raqqa, Syria resulted in at least 30 civilian deaths. On March 16th, American bombs targeted a mosque where Al Qaeda officials were meeting, and killed 49 people, many of whom were civilians. In January, air strikes in Yemen killed 22 civilians.
Impacts of increased or aggressive military spending/activity include:
- Greater risk to American troops deployed overseas, and a likelihood of increased casualties;
- A reduction of support for other federal services including environmental protection, education, health and housing;
- Increased civilian casualties abroad as the result of more aggressive military tactics;
- Wastes U.S. money by further growing a military budget that far outweighs that of any other nation in the world.
US Foreign Aid and its Impacts
In the budget proposed by Trump, the discretionary spending in the area of State & other development programs takes the second largest overall hit, from the 2017 baseline of 38 billion, down to 27.1 billion in the proposed budget. This is a 29% reduction, which largely targets the United Nations (U.N.). Any climate change initiatives at the U.N. lose all US funding, as well as the proposed budget stating that the US would contribute no more than 25% of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping attempts. The proposed budget makes no deductions or increases to Israel's 3.1 billion dollars of annual military aid. One reason that the United States has had such a positive reputation throughout the world is through its commitment to human rights, democracy, and the health and well-being of our allies. One of the ways that the U.S. supports these fundamental values throughout the world is by providing (or strategically withholding) foreign aid. Foreign aid may be used to support peace and democracy by providing military funding, help developing countries and trade partners advance economically, build education or health infrastructure, serve humanitarian causes, or fight against hunger and disease. Decreasing this aid may lead our allies to form bonds with less humanitarian nations (such as China or Russia), and further destabilize the governments in the Middle East that are fighting against the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL. The cuts in Foreign Aid also come alongside a decreased presence of the US in the United Nations and NATO, which could harm the perception of the Unites States on an international level.
- Military aid to Israel and Egypt to secure and defend our allies in Africa and the Middle East;
- USAID to developing nations in Africa to promote democracy, reduce HIV/AIDS and malaria, increase food security, and build industry and infrastructure;
- USAID to many nations to support health, education, and freedom and equality for women and girls;
- Military aid to Afghanistan and Iraq to help build democracy and prevent the rise of ISIS/ISIL forces from taking power.
Trade Issues that Could Result in Loss of American Jobs
The Trump Administration has talked about changing the way that the U.S. does business with other countries, and has suggested renogiating trade deals and putting high tariffs (or a "border tax") on goods produced in other countries. In the world economy, the U.S. benefits from exporting its products to other countries, and also from importing cheap products into the U.S. This practice allows the U.S. economy to profit when other countries buy our goods, and also lets consumers see savings when goods are produced cheaply in other countries.
The difference between how much we spend for another country's goods and how much that country spends for our goods is known as the trade balance. Trump has taken an aggressive stand towards countries where we have an uneven trade balance, such as Mexico and China, and has suggested adding tariffs to tip that balance in our direction. A tariff, or a "border tax", is a tax that is paid on goods from another country. Putting tariffs on goods makes them more expensive to U.S. consumers. This added cost reduces the incentive for companies to use cheap labor overseas. Under pressure, companies may decide to produce goods in the U.S. instead, creating more manufacturing jobs. Since U.S. labor costs more than cheaper international labor, this new system may (also) make products more expensive. Whether low-cost goods are produced overseas or within the U.S., high tariffs make products more expensive to consumers. Placing large tariffs on other countries could also result in trade wars, where countries respond to U.S. tariffs by putting their own tariffs on U.S. goods, increasing the cost of U.S. products in their own country and making them harder to afford. This can result in a net loss of U.S. jobs, recession, and a slowing of the economy.
Trump has been highly critical of trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and has argued that the signing of NAFTA in 1994 resulted in a large loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico. These agreements set up the framework for free-er and multilateral trade between the countries signing the agreement. These agreements also create strong long-term economic bonds between the countries involved. Trump has withdrawn from TPP and is looking to renegotiate NAFTA. While withdrawing from trade deals may bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs, it could also raise the price of goods, hurt trade relationships with strong trade partners, and push economic allies to more stable relationships with other economies.
- Since the US currently imports many goods from Mexico, any major disruptions to trade policy could significantly raise prices on consumer goods.
- Damaged trade relations with Mexico could hurt the Mexican economy and lead to rises in crime, drug cartels and drug trafficking.
- Trump's plan of implementing tariffs on Chinese goods could create a trade war and seriously hurt US corporations and consumers.
- U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may push crucial allies such as Japan, Vietnam and South Korea into long-term economic ties with China instead of the United States.
- Trump's focus on bringing back U.S. manufacturing jobs could be short-circuited by coming automation in industrial work, and could deflect resources from more sustainable practices like education and retraining.
Possible Nuclear Threats
Some reports have suggested that Trump has an unusual interest in the nuclear capabilities of the United States: he reportedly asked about weapon readiness during the transition period, has spoken about revitalizing and even growing U.S. nuclear capabilities, and spoke to Russian President Putin about reversing non-proliferation treaties. Despite Trump's interest in U.S. nuclear capabilities, and an expressed concern about nuclear war, the President has been reckless in his handling of nuclear proliferation throughout the world.
Although nuclear weapons have only been used twice in the history of the world, their destructive power at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was devastating. During the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia following WWII, scientists were able to develop even more powerful nuclear weapons, some of which have the power to destroy huge populations and pollute land and water for years to come. Trump's lack of interest in disarmament could have big consequences in a global environment where more anti-American countries have nuclear capabilities than ever before. Of the 9 countries that have nuclear capabilities, three have alliances or interests that could easily conflict with those of the United States: China, Russia, North Korea. (Pakistan also has nuclear capabilities, but is currently considered to be a U.S. ally.)
The US began deploying a missile defense system in South Korea in response to North Korean missile launches. This defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, is capable of disarming enemy missiles while in the air, essentially "shooting a bullet with another bullet." The THAAD system also has powerful radar capabilities that could detect missiles launched in the entire region. The system would not be effective against a rapid-fire missile attack, or missiles deployed underwater via submarines. The deployment of this system was originally promised to South Korea by the Obama administration, but the Trump admin moved up the deployment from July to March in response to North Korean missile tests.
Regional Instability that Could Possibly Cause Wars
The Trump Administration has weakened the State Department, fired career diplomats with expertise on foreign governments, and repeatedly insulted foreign leaders. These behaviors would be problematic in peaceful times, but some regions of the world are showing instabilities that could lead to war. The Trump Administration's aggressive and inconsistent attitudes toward unstable nations could lead to war, causing military casualties, high costs to taxpayers, and global conflict.
- Since Trump took office, North Korea has carried out a series of missile tests and has made aggressive gestures towards Japan and South Korea. While these weapons tests and aggressions were also standard during the Obama administration, weapons capabilities in these tests have suggested that North Korea is getting closer to being a nuclear power, which would threaten U.S. allies.
- Following post-missile test tensions, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley quickly suggested that the U.S. would not open diplomatic talks with the North Korean government.
- In addition to tensions with the U.S., North Korea has also had a diplomatic crisis with Malaysia, further adding instability in the region.
- Trump has stated that he thinks North Korea is the biggest threat facing the U.S. and has already deployed anti-missile defense shields in South Korea.
Implications: War with North Korea could be devastating to crucial U.S. allies in the Asia/Pacific region, and could even escalate to a nuclear conflict.
- China has been building and claiming small islands in the South and East China seas, many in international waters or territories of other countries such as Japan. Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson and Trump have already repeatedly pledged to protect these territories, upsetting China's diplomats and state press.
- Trump began his presidency by questioning the One China policy, a move that angered the Chinese goverment. One China is a policy that has been traditionally respected by the U.S. government. This policy suggests that China and Taiwan are part of "One China," in spite of the fact that Taiwan has its own democratically elected government. The U.S. has had trade relations with Taiwan for years, but has deferred to China's preference for the One China policy, until Trump quickly destroyed it by taking a diplomatic call from the Prime Minister of Taiwan after his inauguration.
Implications: War between the United States and China would be a massive and well-funded war, would draw our allies into hardship, and would have significant long-term impacts on the future of U.S. GDP.
- Trump and Tillerson's rhetoric on Chinese development in the South China Sea could lead to armed conflict between the US and China.
- In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump suggested that he had no clear preference for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, a view that falls to the right of even Netanyahu's government in Israel. This marks a significant change in U.S. policy.
- Trump's ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has suggested moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, which would inflame tensions with Palestine and the Muslim world and limit the possibility of a two-state solution, which Friedman has said will not happen under a Trump administration.
- Friedman's hard line on Israeli aggressions in the West Bank—he believes that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, prohibited by treaty, are legal—breaks with US precedent, and could lead to a rise in aggression in the region.
Implications: Conflict between Israel and Palestine, or even Domestic unrest within Israel, would harm the United States' most prominent ally in the Middle East and would set back the prospect of a peace agreement in the middle east. A war between Israel and Palestine could also renew and heighten religious tensions in the region.
Alliances and Organizations at Risk (NATO/UN)
Members of the Trump Administration, including President Trump, have threatened to diminish the U.S. role in NATO and the U.N., or withdraw from these alliances completely. The global power of the United States is not just a result of its strong economy or the strength of its military. The ability of the U.S. to promote humanitarianism worldwide is also a result of its military and peacekeeping alliances, and the country has far less global influence acting alone than when acting with the backing of its many allies throughout the world. Our alliances are important not only because of their military or aid-based actions, but also because of the perception of their strength and unbreakability. The Trump Administration's negative talk towards global alliances has already weakened the perception of these organizations, and has already empowered enemies of the alliances. The Trump Administration has taken more transactional approach to these organizations, describing them as a waste of money with no clear financial benefit, and has argued against having to reach a consensus with our allies when making deals with other countries. In 2015, U.N. contributions represented .0007% of the U.S. budget, and NATO common expense contributions represented .0001% of the U.S. budget.
United Nations (U.N.)
The United Nations (U.N.) is the largest and most effective peacekeeping organization in the world. Its missions include protecting human rights, providing humanitarian aid, upholding international law, promoting sustainable development, and maintaining peace and security. The UN has 193 member states, but 5 of those hold outsized power on the organization: China, France, UK, Russian Federation and the United States. Of these 5, the U.S. is general seen as the most powerful player (and the U.N. is even located in New York), though Russia and China often invoke veto powers when trying to stop major initiatives led by the U.S. and its close allies. The U.N.'s Security Council is a highly effective body for diplomatically solving crises that could lead to war. The U.N.'s humanitarian outreach programs include UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the U.N. refugee agency. The U.N. also plays a role in enforcing key treaties, and calling attention to (or even prosecuting) human rights violations. The U.N. is funded through dues and voluntary contributions, and in 2015 the U.S. made the maximum possible contribution, 22% of the total U.N. regular budget. The next largest contributor in 2015 was Japan, at approximately 10%, followed by Germany (~7%) and France (~6%). The Trump Administration has threatened to severely cut U.S. funding of the U.N. general fund and has signaled negativity towards the bureaucracy and multilateralism of the organization. Since many foreign aid initiatives are carried out through the U.N., proposed cuts to the U.S. foreign aid budget will directly cut U.S. contributions to U.N. humanitarian missions. For more information on those cuts, see Foreign Aid.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (or NATO), a 28-member military alliance built after WWII, is the most powerful military alliance in the world. This organization plays a strong role in tying together the U.S., Canada and Europe. For the first phase of its existence, NATO focused on fighting against Cold War Russian aggression. After 9/11, NATO invoked its “mutual defense” clause for the first time, and U.S. allies immediately came to the aid of the U.S. in the fight against terrorist organizations in Afghanistan. NATO alliance troops continue to be the backbone of the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Contributions to NATO are mostly made through each nations commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. The Trump Administration has threatened to withdraw from NATO if other countries do not quickly meet their defense spending commitments.
Changing Roles of the State Department and National Security Council (NSC)
The Trump Administration has reorganized foreign policy responsibilities in ways that give more power to the President and his inner circle and less power to experienced diplomats. The Trump presidency has broken with all modern precedents by not taking advantage of the huge amount of foreign policy experience in the State Department. The State Department is one of the oldest departments within the Executive branch of government, and has been responsible for carrying out the President's foreign policy around the world. Much of this department is made up of career employees, who spend years making relationships within their assigned countries, and building up knowledge about how the U.S. can best achieve its goals in those regions.
Trump has mostly chosen to work without the advice of the State Department and has proposed cutting the State Department budget by 29%. Trump has failed to fill the vast majority of appointed positions open in the State Department and has signaled that he may not fill many of these positions at all. Long-term State Department employees have reported little to no contact with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Tillerson himself has been excluded from important meetings with leaders of other countries. Meanwhile, many of Trump's meetings with foreign leaders have been attended mostly by his personal staff, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump and ex-Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon. Ivanka Trump, Kushner, and Bannon have no government or foreign policy experience prior to January 20th, 2017. Since much diplomacy is based on tradition and consistency, the inexperience of Trump's foreign policy team could lead to uncertainty and instability in our long-term global relationships.
The National Security Council (NSC) is the President's closest group of advisors on issues of national security, which includes both military security and trade policy. The National Security Council is led by the National Security Advisor, which is one of the most sensitive roles within the government. Trump has already experienced one scandal in the NSC when his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign after lying about speaking to Russian agents during the presidential campaign. Flynn later revealed that he had also been working as a foreign agent for the Turkish Government while receiving security briefings. Trump created another NSC scandal by inadvertently appointing Chief Strategist and ex-Breitbart CEO/radio host/movie producer Steven Bannon to the NSC. Bannon is known for being a white supremacist and conspiracy theorist who wants to "destroy the state"--a goal which is directly at odds with the goals of the National Security Council. On April 5th, 2017, Bannon was removed as an official member of the NSC. He stated that his goal had been to "de-operationalize" the NSC and that he had completed that task. He still maintains the highest level of security clearance and may still attend meetings as a non-member. Under President Trump, the National Security Council has already been infiltrated by at least one foreign agent and is regularly attended by advisors who have publicly discussed working against the government's interests.
By proposing cuts to foreign aid and failing to quickly appoint many essential government positions, the Trump administration is in danger of making the U.S. and its allies more vulnerable to global health threats. The US plays a major role in global health funding and the U.S. government’s support is essential in the fight against diseases such as Malaria and HIV. U.S. aid accounts for 75% of all spending on disease research and the U.S. is the largest annual donor to global health efforts. The U.S. provides these donations through bilateral initiatives (donations made directly from the U.S. to another country), multilateral arrangements (treaties and agreements between multiple countries), and through organizations such as the U.N.. These investments have achieved impressive results worldwide They have helped the US build diplomatic and economic partnerships, reduce instability, promote development, and strengthen trade, and are among the best examples of U.S. moral leadership.
The proposed budget put forward by the Administration could impact global health. The budget calls for a 5.8 billion budget cut (about 1/5 of the current contribution) to the National Institutes of Health, who mostly do research, including on the impact of climate change on health.Theproposed budget seemed to maintain current commitments to PEPFAR and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and Malaria (albeit without mentioning numbers), stating the fight against HIV as a priority. However, projected cuts to the State Department, USAID and the United Nations (possibly including the World Health Organization), key players in global health, would affect the fight against HIV and diseases in general as well and budget documents supplied by the White House to Congress at the end of March 2017 called for a $242 million cut in the contribution to PEPFAR despite previous statements. The proposed budget also calls for an elimination of the Fogarty International Center, which builds partnerships between U.S and foreign health research institutions. Congress members, including leading Republicans such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have expressed their opposition to such cuts.
The Trump Administration has also suggested changes in the policy and politics of foreign aid. The reinstated “global gag rule” bars funding to all organizations that provide abortions or abortion referrals worldwide, even if they do so with their own funds. This could make it harder for health workers around the world to continue to work effectively in women's health. For example, in the fight against HIV, women and girls are among the most impacted populations, and this rule could restrict access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.  By reinstating the "global gag rule" the Trump administration has demonstrated that its wars against women's health and reproductive rights go beyond a domestic agenda.
Legislation that Supports Equity and Justice
Important bills in Congress related to global health that should be supported:
- SB 210 would permanently repeal "the Global Gag rule".