Think Tank (1/2020)
(L-R): Dr Bates Gill, Dr Adam Garfinkle (moderator) and Prof Michael E. Brown


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US Foreign Policy in a Time of Turmoil at Home and Abroad
09 Jan 2020

RSIS held a Distinguished Public Dialogue on 9 January 2020 at the NTU@one-north. Prof Michael E. Brown, Professor of International Affairs at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and Dr Bates Gill, Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University, shared their perspective on the trajectory of US foreign policy in the run-up to this year’s highly polarised presidential elections. Both speakers are current board members of RSIS.

Three areas of particular interest were discussed, (i) the impact of a highly divisive domestic political environment on US foreign policymaking, (ii) an evolving international order, and (iii) its implications for Asia.

As the 2020 election heats up, the present US administration’s erratic foreign policy behaviour will likely continue, said Dr Gill. At the same time, US economic policy is easier to predict, given President Donald Trump’s desire to buttress a growing domestic economy by striking more trade deals, said Prof Brown.

In the security realm, developments are harder to gauge. Although again, Mr Trump’s desire to be re-elected in November could see him make some symbolic foreign policy/national security “victories”, he added. The danger, however, is of the US government being drawn into escalatory skirmishes overseas such as in North Korea and Iran.

More broadly, as the world is moving towards an international order defined by spheres of influence and great power competition, small and medium-sized countries will have to look after their own interests in different ways, said Dr Gill.

As such, traditional US allies in the Asian region such as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, have had to take steps to shore up their self-defence capabilities. They also seek deeper engagement with other superpowers such as China in the security sphere, as a counterweight to American hegemony.

On the escalating US-Iran tensions, Prof Brown said that if Iran’s ruling regime persists in developing nuclear weapon capability, a greater crisis could be in the offing, and a substantial attack on Iran by the United States could not be ruled out.

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