Uncertainty in Asia: A Taiwan defence blueprint for the Donald Trump era

The election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States on November 9 is expected to bring change — how drastic remains to be seen — to different aspects of U.S. policy, both domestically and internationally. Largely the result of mounting discontent with the U.S. political establishment, Trump’s successful campaign also tapped into a growing segment of American voters who want a U.S. global disengagement.

donald trump

Donald Trump. File photo: Wikicommons.

For U.S. allies worldwide, a possible winding down of the U.S. security umbrella, which has ensured stability in Europe and the Asia Pacific over the past 70 years, will be a source of apprehension. Vulnerable frontier states like Taiwan, whose continued existence as a free, liberal-democratic country next to authoritarian, expansionist and revisionist China is largely predicated on continued U.S. political support and military assistance.

Although the notion that President Trump would undo the entire alliance system that has been at the heart of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II is probably far fetched (among other things his transition team and government system will comprise individuals who are very much in favour of continuing support for U.S. allies) there no doubt exists a possibility that the White House may be inclined to decrease its assistance to small states that are perceived as security freeloaders—in other words, allies that are not pulling their weight in ensuring their own defense due to the expectation that the U.S. would step in should their survival be threatened. Additionally, such perceptions fuel perceptions in a segment of the American public that their country could be unnecessarily dragged into a conflict with a major regional power (e.g., Russia, China, Iran) by a small state whose survival is not of strategic interest of the U.S. Rather than risk such an outcome, the logic goes, the U.S. should abandon those small states to their fate and perhaps get a “grand bargain” with challengers in the process.