Now that Donald Trump has been declared president-elect of the United States of America, pundits and commentators have been re-reading the ‘100 day plan’ that he issued in October.
Unsurprisingly, it is long on slogans and headlines and short on detail, including costs.
One aspect of that plan has already raised several red flags for Pacific island leaders, including President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands: a pledge to cancel ‘payments’ to UN climate change programs and redirect the money to domestic water and environmental infrastructure.
Whilst it is unlikely that the US Treasury will ask the UN to give back monies that have already been transferred, this would indicate that pledges of future support are squarely in the line of fire.
Elsewhere in that plan is a commitment to remove restrictions on energy projects, paving the way for further extraction of fossil fuels.
This will come as a blow to many in our region, including former president of Kiribati Anote Tong, who has previously advocated for a global moratorium on new coalmines.
And in terms of ‘unsigning’ executive orders of President Obama, one that may be on the hit list is the one that saw the USA ratify the Paris Agreement. If that were to happen, it would be a significant blow to several Pacific island countries whose leaders provided global leadership as that agreement was negotiated.
The plan, as was the majority of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, is very much focused on domestic issues with foreign policy meriting little mention beyond the dismantling of free trade and national security issues.
This seems to indicate a lack of curiosity about what happens elsewhere in the world, unless and until it has a direct effect on American soil.
This has significant implications in terms of the established world order and geo-strategic relationships. Whilst these might be things that small countries such as ours can’t necessarily influence, make no mistake that if the incoming administration starts throwing rocks into those ponds, we will be caught up in the ripples that follow.
The USA is (whether we like it or not) at the heart of the rules-based order that frames international trade, diplomacy, security and development. Global behemoths such as the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) are subject to lots of criticism from all sides of politics and much of it is justified.
But if they were to be undermined by a withdrawal of US engagement and financing, we wouldn’t just lose the stuff we don’t like – the good things would go too. And we don’t know what else there is to fill the gap.
During the campaign for election, Donald Trump had little to say about foreign aid but he has said that he thinks aid (including humanitarian aid) should be directed to those countries that are ‘friendly’ to America.
In addition, he has stated that he feels there is a need to redirect some of the foreign aid budget to domestic projects. This is the ‘charity begins at home’ trope beloved of people such as Australian senator Jacqui Lambie.
In this part of the Pacific, bilateral aid agreements with the USA are not very prevalent. But raids on the US aid budget may have an impact on work done by multilateral organisations, such as the UN. In addition, the USA is a participant in the Pacific Islands post-Forum dialogue and contributes to the support of regional organisations via that mechanism.
At a conference in Canberra during September I discussed with colleagues the likelihood that Pacific regionalism would become much more focused on security in the next five to ten years. I believe that one of the reasons for Australia and New Zealand being so supportive of the expansion of membership to include French Polynesia and New Caledonia is so that France can help with the costs.
Previously, Washington’s commitment to underpinning the security guarantee that Australia provides for our region was not in doubt. But as of Wednesday, that—and a whole bunch of other things—is open to question.