World trembles at a Trump presidency

March 19, 2024 22:16

The world is trembling at the prospect of a second presidency by Donald Trump. He and President Joe Biden are neck and neck in the polls, with most giving Trump a narrow lead.

The outcome could be catastrophic for the European Union and other Western countries, because Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and end U.S. military aid for Ukraine. Lobbying by him alone has prevented the House of Representatives from passing a US$60-billion aid bill which Ukraine regards as essential for its war against Russia.

He would end the policy of global engagement followed by every president, Democratic and Republican, since Franklin Roosevelt brought the country into World Two in December 1941.

We must go back to 1920 and the election of Republican President Warren Harding to find a similar policy of isolation. He won the election on the promise of staying out of global affairs, imposing tariffs on imported goods, limiting immigration and focussing on internal problems.

Under him, the U.S. chose not to join the League of Nations, even though it had been the first country to propose an institution to work for global peace. This isolationist policy lasted for 20 years.

In the 1940 election, both candidates – Democrat Roosevelt and Republican Wendell Wilkie – promised voters that they would keep the country out of the wars that had broken out in Europe and Asia.

But Roosevelt’s mind was changed by the rapid advances of the Nazi military in Europe and the persuasion of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, launched without a declaration of war, enraged the American public and gave Roosevelt the trigger to join Britain and the other Allied power. He had great public support.

The U.S. military fought in large numbers in both Europe and Asia. With the Cold War against the Soviet Union and China, it established alliances and bases over much of the world.

According to the Department of Defense, as of September 2023, the U.S managed over 4,790 military sites around the world, covering 27 million acres and with over 228,390 military personnel stationed abroad.

The countries with the highest number of U.S. troops were Japan (53,000), Germany (35,000), South Korea (24,000), Italy (12,400), and the United Kingdom (10,000) and Bahrain (3,500).
Since 1945, all have benefitted greatly from the “Pax Americana” which has protected them from any major conflict since the Korean War ended in 1953.

They are among the countries trembling now, especially Japan and South Korea. They are facing China, a nuclear power and the world’s second largest military power which is growing rapidly every year.

In June 2020, Richard Grenell, Trump’s former ambassador to Germany said Trump was "very clear" that he wanted to bring US troops home from South Korea, Japan and other allies, stressing that Americans were "tired of paying too much" for the defence of other countries.

If this happened, would Japan and South Korea decide to develop nuclear weapons?

Trembling too are the leaders of Ukraine and the European countries that support it. Since Russia’s invasion, the U.S. has provided more than US$75 billion in aid to Ukraine, far more than any other country. Now, thanks to Trump, this aid has stopped.

So the only world leader waiting impatiently for a Trump victory is Vladimir Putin. He will use the full power of his cyber operations on social media and the Internet to help Trump win.

Unable to defeat Ukraine that has enjoyed European and American support, Putin believes that he can win if the U.S. withdraws its aid. Russia has so far lost more than 300,000 dead and seriously wounded in its invasion – 430,000 according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

Putin will continue the war at least until the election on November 5 and is willing to tolerate this level of death.

For Beijing, the impact of a Trump presidency is unclear. He has threatened to impose tariffs of 60 per cent on Chinese imports, which would have a devastating effect. But no-one knows if he will do this. Domestic opposition in the U.S. would be very strong.

His threat to withdraw the U.S. military from abroad would be welcome in Beijing, which is eager to become the dominant naval power in the Eastern Pacific.

And people in Taiwan fear that such a withdrawal might persuade Beijing that a Trump presidency was the time to attack their island, because he might choose not to defend it, like Ukraine.

The vast majority of the world is praying for a Biden victory.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.