BERLIN – Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States, and in his inaugural address he made it clear to the assembled US establishment that his administration does not intend to pursue business as usual. His motto, “America first,” signals the renunciation, and possible destruction, of the US-led world order that Democratic and Republican presidents, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, have built up and maintained – albeit with varying degrees of success – for more than seven decades.
If America abandons its role as the leading economic and military power and moves toward nationalism and isolationism, it will precipitate an international reordering, while also changing the country itself. Rather than being a hegemon, the US will become one great power among many.
Since the end of World War II, the US has been the engine of global free trade, so a move toward protectionism, or an attempt to either reverse globalization or harness it for narrow national interests, would have immense economic and political consequences worldwide. The full implications of such a shift are largely unpredictable; but we all know – or should know – what happened the last time the world’s leading powers turned inward, in the 1930s.
The alliances, multilateral institutions, security guarantees, international agreements, and shared values underlying the current global order might soon be called into question, or rejected altogether. If that happens, the old Pax Americana will have been needlessly destroyed by America itself. And with no obvious alternative framework to replace it, all indicators point to turbulence and chaos in the near future.