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What Does the World Expect of President-elect Donald Trump?

The next U.S. Administration faces a complicated, volatile world. A distinguished panel of Wilson Center experts on Russia, China, the Middle East, and Latin America had a spirited conversation on the foreign policy expectations and challenges confronting the next President of the United States.

Date & Time

Nov. 15, 2016
11:00am – 12:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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The Takeways:

“The realities of campaigning are one thing. The cruel and unforgiving realities of governing, of keeping this nation prosperous and secure, are another.” The Woodrow Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller made the case for caution and prudence as world leaders and analysts begin predicting what Donald Trump’s presidency will mean for the world beyond America’s borders.

In an event on November 15, Miller and other Woodrow Wilson Center program directors and scholars, dove into the treacherous work of analyzing international expectations for Trump’s foreign policy in a discussion moderated by CNN's global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Key Questions

  • Will President-elect Trump assert American leadership in the world ­or buckle-down on isolationism? Trump’s “make America great again” promise was silent on promoting American values abroad, noted Robert Daly, Director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.
  • How will liberal norms hold up on the global stage during a Trump presidency? Preserving a world order based on liberal norms requires an “[American] administration that’s willing to be consultative and cooperative,” Daly claimed. “If those dispositions do not emerge, we are going to see other nations, China, Russia, Turkey, moving in,” presenting an illiberal alternative set of norms.

Two of Trump’s clearest foreign policy positions throughout the campaign were his fierce opposition to NAFTA and the Iran deal. Yet Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute, predicted Trump won’t be able to follow through on his promise to drop out of NAFTA. Congressional approval would be required – and nearly impossible to secure considering the dire implications for the American economy. As for the Iranian nuclear deal, its fate remains uncertain. Trump will have to determine whether or not to abandon transactional diplomacy to try to curb nuclear capabilities and favor instead more ambitious transformational policies, explained Robert Litwak, Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and director of International Security Studies.

Regarding Trump’s international reception, Mexico’s government, for starters, is pragmatic about the need to engage with the American president – no matter how combative his rhetoric – considering that it would impossible to disentangle the Mexican economy from the United States. The Mexican peso has begun to stabilize and even inch up since the election, indicating a degree of optimism in Mexico.

However, other Latin American economies could more easily recover from the loss of American trade. With the TPP effectively dead and a president-elect promoting protectionist policies, Latin American countries will increasingly integrate their economies and pursue trade relationships with Asian countries without American involvement, according to Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America Program. “Recent elections in Brazil and Peru have reaffirmed the value of open markets and the costs of protectionism,” Arnson said. “They’re saying the U.S. is turning its back on those principles” – a disappointment that is nudging them to look East.

The Chinese leadership will adopt a cautious, “wait-and-see approach,” forecasts Robert Daly, refuting other predictions made in recent days that China will “test” Trump as soon as he gets into office. Daly believes Chinese leaders already discounted as empty campaign rhetoric Trump’s statements about China raping the United States and engaging in currency manipulation. Furthermore, Trump’s victory reinforced two major Chinese narratives about the United States, Daly claims, “First, American democracy is failing, and this seemed like a good example of that because it seemed so comical and uncontrolled. And second that the United States is in long-term decline.” Yet, China is still acutely aware that its own economy is slowing down and that it relies heavily on its economic and trade relationship with the United States, hence its gentle approach.

In Russia, many citizens greeted news of America’s new president with celebration. “There was an initial wave of triumphalism, parties in Moscow, people toasting the victory as if it was their victory,” according to Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute. But he predicts the excitement is superficial as it will soon become evident that “there was no force in the American election advocating for Russia’s interests. It doesn’t solve any problems for Russia.” The biggest question for Russians is whether American sanctions will continue, but since they still haven’t delivered hoped-for changes in Russian politics, they are likely to be lifted, regardless of the new administration, Rojansky asserts.

In addition to Mr. Putin, General Sisi and Mr. Erdogan will likely consider themselves beneficiaries of the new administration, according to Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Fellow, considering the widespread perception that Trump “likes strong foreign leaders and is unlikely to push governance, political reform, and human rights as a central tenant of American foreign policy.” Rojanski, too, raised doubts about whether Trump, as president, will “proceed to reinforce the notion of a liberal world order.” Yet the simple fact of his highly unexpected electoral vicotry “and the fact that nobody bought and delivered this election with a bow on top, but the people spoke, indicates the American electoral system is robust and healthy,” Rojanski adds. In the coming months, the speakers will be taking note of Trump’s appointments for key positions as better indicators than campaign promises of what lies ahead.

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Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

Latin America Program

The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action.  Read more

Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The Kissinger Institute works to ensure that China policy serves American long-term interests and is founded in understanding of historical and cultural factors in bilateral relations and in accurate assessment of the aspirations of China’s government and people.  Read more

Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more

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