WASHINGTON, D.C.: America’s closest partners are putting a brave face on Donald Trump’s surprise election win while reaching out to try to shape his worldview and to preserve traditional alliances.
Allies were rattled by Trump’s nationalist campaign rhetoric and by the haphazard way he has approached his first round of calls with world leaders since becoming president-elect.
But they are not panicking. Trump may have no foreign policy experience, but he does not appear to have any deep-rooted ideology either, and seems open to discussion.
And, despite Trump’s threats to tear up trade deals and his vaguely worded calls for warmer ties with Russia, Washington’s closest partners believe a crisis can be avoided.
“The US alliance system is one of the crown jewels of America’s national security,” said John Hannah of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who served as a senior foreign policy adviser to three US administrations.
While Russia and China have increasingly sophisticated militaries, they cannot match Washington’s network of allies.
And, Hannah told Agence France-Presse, any president “should think not once, not twice, but 100 times before taking steps that might undermine or jeopardize” those friendships.
This week, envoys from America’s most important allies in the Pacific and the Atlantic, respectively—Japan and Britain—said they were keen to engage with Trump’s team.
Concerns were raised in Japan during the US campaign when Trump suggested America’s military allies are not pulling their own weight and might be left to face foes on their own.
And Trump’s brutal dismissal of the “terrible” Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal did not bode well for ties with America’s premier friend in Asia.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made TPP a key plank of Japan’s economic policy, and he was the first world leader to rush to meet the US president-elect in New York.
Trump received no briefing from the US State Department ahead of the informal talks, and was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, a business executive with no official role.
But, according to Japan’s Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae, Abe’s team left the meeting reassured that the US-Japan alliance is important to Trump and could even be strengthened.
“I’m given to understand that the president-elect is different when there is a person-to-person talk,” the envoy said, playing down the “high tone” of Trump’s campaign speeches. “We got the impression that he’s a good listener. He listened to a lot of views and tried to digest them.”
So, while the TPP remains a dead letter—“meaningless,” in Abe’s view, without US support—Japan is not ready to abandon the general principle of a multilateral pact.
And once Trump takes office in January and assembles a team of experts to advise him, something may be salvaged.
“I don’t think many Americans read the text of this agreement, to be honest,” Sasae said, at an event promoting the “Value of Strong Alliances” at the Heritage Foundation think tank.
Trump has yet to nominate anyone to act as his secretary of state, and in the weeks since he won the election, he has ruffled diplomatic feathers on several occasions.
Britain, supposedly the proud owner of a “special relationship” with Washington, has found itself embarrassed.
In his first call with Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump—rather than inviting her to Washington—breezily suggested that if she comes over, she should “get in touch.”
And in a stark breach of protocol, Trump suggested on Twitter that the British ambassador be replaced by his euroskeptic friend Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party.
Britain’s actual ambassador, Kim Darroch, nevertheless insists that ties between Trump Tower and Number 10 are off to a better start than they may seem to be on the surface.
Appearing alongside his Japanese colleague, Darroch said May has now spoken twice to Trump and that a formal visit is being arranged for “very soon” after his January inauguration.