The World Contemplates a Second Trump Administration

From a Wall Street Journal story by Stacy Meichtry, Austin Ramzy, and Bojan Pancevski headlined “The World Is Contemplating a Second Trump Administration”:

The U.S. presidential election is more than a year away, but allies and adversaries around the world have already begun to contemplate—and even plan for—the return of Donald Trump to the White House.

For many foreign capitals, the possibility of a second Trump administration is a source of anxiety. Allies from Paris to Tokyo regard Trump as an erratic leader with little interest in cultivating long-term ties to counter Russian and Chinese expansionism.

Others, including Beijing and Moscow, see potential benefits from Trump, whom they view as a transactional leader who might be willing to strike deals to ease tensions in hot spots such as Ukraine and Taiwan, according to analysts. Nationalist and populist politicians also voice support for Trump’s ambitions.

Policy makers and politicians were reluctant to make public statements that might rile the current administration or an incoming one. But officials interviewed by The Wall Street Journal did share their thoughts about what a Trump return to the world stage would mean for geopolitics.

Among the most widespread fears is that Trump would spark a global trade war. The candidate has threatened to impose fresh tariffs on all goods imported into the U.S.—hitting friend and foe alike—a move that risks sowing divisions in trans-Atlantic relations in a time of war.

Trump has also threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that his former national security adviser John Bolton recently described as a near certainty if he is elected again.

Some governments are moving to lock in military assistance to Ukraine to strengthen security there in case a newly elected Trump scales back U.S. support. Members of the Group of Seven wealthy nations are trying to reach bilateral agreements with Kyiv to provide weapons that meet NATO standards.

“There’s a strong possibility Trump might be re-elected,” said Benjamin Haddad, a French lawmaker from President Emmanuel Macron’s party. “It forces us Europeans to read the writing on the wall and take more responsibility.”

With Russia digging in for a long fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin is waiting out the Biden administration in the hope that Trump, if elected, would back away from helping Kyiv. U.S. support for Taiwan could waver under Trump, according to analysts, if Beijing dangles concessions on trade.

“Trump values U.S. allies less, and Beijing therefore expects that U.S. alliances and coalitions would fray and ease pressure on China,” said Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Those scenarios send a chill down the spine of allies in Europe and the Pacific.

The Biden administration has worked to corral allies in Asia, deepening military cooperation and helping mend relations between Japan and South Korea. And Washington has sent billions of dollars in arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, allowing Kyiv to hold its own on the battlefield against Russia.

French officials have been warning European allies that the possibility of Trump’s return requires the continent to significantly expand arms production, from artillery to missile defense systems, so it can supply Ukraine on its own.

Eastern European countries and France are also pushing allies to admit Ukraine into NATO, a move that would significantly raise the stakes with Russia by providing Kyiv with security guarantees.

“We’ve been lucky with Ukraine to have an American administration that helped us,” Macron recently told Le Point magazine. “Can we let Ukraine lose and Russia win? The answer is no…We have to hold out over time.”

Military expenditures are rising across the continent, but Europe has struggled to wean itself off American hardware. Macron was blindsided when a German-led coalition announced plans to spend billions of euros on a program to buy Patriot missile systems from the U.S., snubbing a rival system developed by France, Italy and the U.K.

Macron has long been skeptical that President Biden’s election in 2020 signaled the end of the Trump era, according to Biden. Biden has recounted arriving at his first G-7 summit as president, declaring to his peers: “America’s back.” Macron replied: “For how long?”

Trump has vowed to impose sweeping new tariffs, stating in a recent interview that he would set an automatic 10% tariff on all foreign imports to the U.S.

“When companies come in and they dump their products in the United States, they should pay, automatically, let’s say a 10% tax,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business. “I do like the 10% for everybody.”

Economists were quick to warn that Trump’s proposal could ignite a global trade war and raise prices for U.S. consumers. The White House slammed Trump’s comments, saying Biden strongly opposes the plan.

Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is focused on forging channels of communication in an effort to avoid the experience of 2016, when Trump’s election took world leaders by surprise. The government of Angela Merkel, who was then chancellor, struggled to gain access to the White House as Washington aimed a barrage of tariffs at Germany and other countries in Europe. Relations between Trump and Merkel quickly soured.

Leading members of the three parties of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition have been jetting across the Atlantic ever since they took power in late 2021, meeting with GOP officials and Trump confidants. A key Scholz aide, Wolfgang Schmidt, has made regular visits to Washington, forging links with key Republicans. In September, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will embark on a 10-day visit to the U.S., including an extended visit to Texas, a GOP bastion, to familiarize herself with the party.

Some governments welcome the possibility of Trump’s return. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who maintains a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and opposes Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, has said on numerous occasions he hopes Trump wins the next election, even as Trump’s legal woes have mounted. “Keep on fighting, Mr. President! We are with you,” Orban wrote in a recent social-media post.

For China, Trump was the leader who ignited trade tensions with the U.S. while a Biden presidency held out the prospect of a return to the previous era of relations, when many U.S. policy makers supported free trade in the belief that it would liberalize China.

But Biden maintained much of his predecessor’s tough policies toward Beijing. Tariffs remained in place. Restrictions on Chinese technology companies expanded, including a U.S. ban on sales of advanced semiconductors and chip-making equipment to China last year.

“On policy substance, even though Trump kicked off the trade war, it was Biden that implemented policy more effectively and was able to bring in important allies that Trump had alienated,” said Mary Gallagher, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan.

South Korea and Japan this year turned the page on years of historical quarrels, allowing for deeper military coordination with Washington.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol forged a personal bond with Biden during an official state visit in April to the White House and on a recent trip to Camp David. That contrasts with Trump, who criticized Seoul for not paying enough for the roughly 28,500 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea. Trump even suggested a troop drawdown.

Yorizumi Watanabe, a former Japanese diplomat, said he expects support for Trump to rise in Japan if he moves decisively to calm tensions with China. “When all is said and done, we need a strong American president.”

In the Middle East, the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia are weighing whether their push to establish diplomatic ties have a better shot with Biden in office or Trump. While leaders in both countries have had chilly relations with Biden, they are wrestling with the possibility that the Democratic president might be better positioned than Trump to broker a pact.

Trump remains broadly popular with the Israeli public and aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which bills itself as the most right-wing and religious in the country’s history. But Trump was critical of Netanyahu after the prime minister congratulated Biden on his 2020 victory.

In an interview this summer, Netanyahu praised Trump, but he declined to say whether he had been in close contact with him. “I think he did things that were superb for Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said. “So I value that.”

Iran is moving to release U.S. detainees in a bid to gain access to around $6 billion in oil revenue. The money, which was effectively frozen in South Korea under U.S. sanctions, is being transferred through Switzerland to Qatar for possible release to Iran.

This month, Iran moved four U.S. citizens from prison to house arrest, the first step in a hoped-for prisoner release agreement between Tehran and the Biden administration. Trump as president withdrew from the 2015 deal that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions. He ratcheted up sanctions on Iran and criticized the release of frozen Iranian funds by the Obama administration.

Securing the funds is now a key objective for Tehran, a visible signal to ordinary Iranians that the regime is seeking to improve the country’s troubled economy, said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. “They’re trying to get as many concessions as they can out of the Biden team,” he said.

Dion Nissenbaum, Sabrina Siddiqui, David S. Cloud, Laurence Norman, Timothy W. Martin and Chieko Tsuneoka contributed to this article.

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