Dangers of a doctrine of patriotism

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The speech President Trump gave before at the United Nations General Assembly this past week highlighted a new “doctrine” that will, if executed, prove defeating for the United States security strategy. The speech gave a clear statement of the ideological underpinnings of White House foreign policy, in the acerbic declaration that “we reject the ideology of globalism” and “we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

This doctrine gives a normative framework to much of his policy decisions to date. The Trump administration has turned its back on much of the edifice of international order, from key free trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership and North American Free Trade Agreement to the Paris climate accord and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

{mosads}The ideas in his speech go beyond the rhetoric of “America First,” in which Trump has claimed he can strike a better deal for the United States. Trump expressed a political philosophy that security and prosperity can only be achieved by individual countries accountable only to themselves, if necessary with walls between them, not by international institutions. The America envisioned in his speech will not only save its pennies on United Nations peacekeeping and foreign aid, but will also control all its political decisions without compromise, from immigration to human rights.

The United States has long had a complicated relationship with the international order. It built the post World War II international order, with the United Nations at its core, to preserve global peace and stability. But it also refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, always looked askance at the International Criminal Court, and did not allow respect for sovereignty to slow its invasion of Iraq.

Whereas American policy was always sought to manage that tension, between supporting and ignoring the international order, Trump’s speech has openly declared that the balance has shifted. But this “doctrine of patriotism” threatens Trump’s own security policy. His national security strategy declared that the United States was now in the throes of great power competition with China and Russia. China has proven itself the most potent challenger, and disengaging from the structures of international order would only concede more ground to Beijing.

The United States benefits from established international institutions because they have locked in American power. This gives the United States an advantage. China is rising in all dimensions of national power, but this rise is not reflected in global institutions. China has tried to strike out on its own, establishing new institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, from which the United States opted out even before Trump, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These cannot compare to organizations such as the International Monetary Fund or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which are supported by the United States, but these dynamics may change if Trump scales back.

China clearly understands the critical role that international institutions play in its global competition with the United States. That is why Beijing now participates in almost as many institutions as the United States, and why President Xi Jinping has pointedly committed to increasing the financial contributions China makes to the United Nations. Active participation in international institutions also gives the United States the power to set agendas, efficiently shape the policies of other countries, and shape the way states interact with each other.

There are many key areas where norms of appropriate international behavior have yet to be solidified. If the United States does not take its customary leading role in shaping those norms, China will. Internet governance is just one such issue. China wants international institutions like the United Nations to allow governments to have complete control over their own internet. If the United States wants to continue to shape the rules of the road for the internet and data handling across borders, it must commit to and act within international institutions.

The “doctrine of patriotism” also damages American power indirectly, by making it less attractive to allies and potential partners. Washington has managed to convince other countries over the past seven decades that it is in their interests to partner with the United States. In Asia, the forward deployed American presence at reliable fixed bases in Japan and South Korea has long maintained regional stability. While American forces in Japan have never been used in armed defense of the Japanese homeland, they were used as a deterrent against Russian expansionism into Asia, and are now being used against China for the same purposes.

The fact that China attempts to undermine the American alliance system should be proof enough of the critical roles of these alliances in the competition with Beijing. In Asia, as in Europe, the United States calculated that bearing the burden for regional security would repay it in the form of political influence and global stability, both of which would be at risk in a doctrine of patriotism laid out by this president.

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a Jeane Kirkpatrick scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University. Arzan Tarapore is a nonresident fellow who is focused on military studies at the National Bureau of Asian Research and who previously served with the Australian Defence Department.

Tags Diplomacy Donald Trump Global Affairs Government United Nations

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