Return to Hard Politics: Professor Paul Coyer on Trump's Foreign Policy

The Guarini Institute for Public Affairs hosted a talk by Professor Paul Coyer called U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changing Geopolitical Context on February 5, 2020. Professor Coyer offered a brief overview of the Trump administration’s foreign policy perspective, goals and strategy.

Professor Paul Coyer

Professor Paul Coyer

Paul Coyer is Research Professor at The Institute of World Politics (Washington, D.C.) and Associate Professor at the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr (Guer, France). He has been a contributor to Forbes, Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy, The Washington TimesAzeri Today (Azerbaijan), and the Kyiv Post (Ukraine). Professor Coyer holds an M.A. in Theological Ethics from Yale University, and an M.A. in the History of the International Relations of East Asia as well as a Ph.D. in the History of Sino-American Relations from the London School of Economics.

Trump’s Foreign policy
Professor Coyer argues that the Trump presidency has come at an opportune time. The global return to “old-fashioned” geopolitics has been met by a Republican administration that understands hard politics. Professor Coyer also argues that President Trump has done far more than his predecessors to strengthen the international order. Contrary to the Obama administration, the Trump presidency has strongly invested in rebuilding the U.S. military. Dr. Coyer points to the Russian annexation of Crimea and Chinese operations in the South China Sea as evidence of the fact that the stagnation of the growth of America’s armed forces has emboldened revisionist states to take strategic risks. Coyer also argues that a stronger military increases the credibility behind American threats, which had been lost due to the Obama administration’s anti-war stance.

However, Professor Coyer also points to a stark philosophical distinction between President Trump and his Republican predecessor George W. Bush. The current administration’s foreign policy rationale is rooted in John Quincy Adam’s “Monsters to Destroy” speech of 1821 and its profound anti-interventionist rhetoric. According to Coyer, Trump realized that on the one hand, the international world order is dependent on U.S. economic, political and military power, and on the other, that American intervention abroad must be restrained and judicious. In other words, Trump is rebuilding the U.S. military so that he doesn’t have to use it.

Lastly, Trump’s national security strategy accepts neither the narrative nor the inevitability of the decline of American global influence. The White House has set sight on the strengthening of the American economy so as to reinvigorate the U.S.’s international competitiveness and strategic position. The Trump administration views economic vitality as the basis of national strength and has accordingly engaged in the transformation of the regulatory, tax, education and industrial policy, with the aim of restoring the U.S.’s productive capacity and economic growth.

China & trade war
Professor Coyer argues that the American economy “has aptly weathered the storm” brought by the trade war with China. Xi Jinping’s government, on the other hand, is starting to feel the political pressure of a slowing economic growth. President Trump’s use of sanctions against individual companies and the Chinese economy as a whole has been an instrument to curb the theft of U.S. intellectual property by Chinese companies. The theft of American technological intellectual property alone has cost the U.S. between $250-600 billion.

However, Professor Coyer acknowledges that the growth of the Chinese economy is reshaping the world in fundamental ways. China’s economic power is being used to increase its political influence. The Belt and Road Initiative, a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 that involves infrastructure development and investments in nearly 70 countries, seeks to undermine global U.S. geo-economic influence and expand Chinese dominance over the world. Professor Coyer views the new Chinese Silk Road as a neo colonial project that seeks to build a massive global infrastructure network that will lead to a sino-centric world order.

Professor Coyer attributes a lot of culpability over the rise of the Chinese economy to past American leadership. Since the early 1970s, in an attempt to strategically build a counterweight to the Soviet Union, the U.S. has facilitated China’s rise by convincing the world that the country was a great investment and business partner. America purchased Chinese products, opened the doors for the admission of China into the United Nations and allowed the Asian country into the World Trade Organization. However, this strategic maneuver proved to be short-sighted as China hijacked the American multilateral trade organizations to serve its interests.

Middle East
According to Professor Coyer, the Arab states have shared an overarching concern over the expansion of Iran’s influence in the region. Coyer claims that Obama’s plan for the Middle East had empowered Iran to the detriment of the U.S.’s regional allies and Israeli security. He argues that ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979, the country has been the source of instability throughout the Middle East. The country’s destabilizing foreign policy has been largely conducted through proxies such as Hezbollah. The Trump administration is convinced that the Iranian regime is brittle, and that sufficient pressure will cripple it. Therefore, the White House believes that a policy of containment towards Iran could be feasible and welcomed by the Arab states.

Professor Coyer views the Transatlantic alliance, and overall U.S.-European relations as critically important to the defense of freedom, democratic values, human rights and free markets. More specifically, an area where Euro-American cooperation is of paramount importance is in curbing China’s expansion. Professor Coyer acknowledges the U.S.’s responsibility for not being able to provide a counter offer to the Chinese tech giant Huawei over the provision of 5G networks to Europe’s markets. However, he also views the European acknowledgement of the dangers surrounding the use of Chinese networks, as well as the European commission’s designation of China being a strategic competitor and a systemic rival of Europe, as a step in the right direction.

(Marco Rampoldi)