Americans didn’t just choose a divisive new president-elect on Tuesday, they voted out the old world order.
The certainties that underpin our current global system – the one in place since the end of the Second World War – are no longer guaranteed after the electoral earthquake in the United States. The West as we know it may be in for radical change once Donald Trump is sworn in as President on Jan. 20.
And the aftershocks won’t stop any time soon.
Mr. Trump won with a campaign during which he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, questioned whether the U.S. still needed the NATO alliance, and declared that other long-time American allies like Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia should no longer get “free” U.S. protection. Mr. Trump has also described climate change as a Chinese plot, and vowed to tear up international trade deals.
The tilting of the world’s axis could be felt as soon as the election result was clear. The Interfax news service reported that Russia’s parliament burst into applause at the news of Mr. Trump’s win. Hours later, German and French leaders publicly struggled to find a way to congratulate a president-elect they clearly never expected to see in the White House, or at a G7 or NATO summit.
Mr. Putin – who did little to hide his preference for Mr. Trump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton (who accused the Russian leader of trying to interfere in the race) – now looks to have been one of the election’s biggest winners. Not only did Mr. Putin gain a U.S. president-elect who openly admires his authoritarian style, he will soon have a counterpart in Washington who has praised Russia’s controversial entry into Syria’s civil war.
Mr. Trump has also suggested he might recognize Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, calling into question Western unity over sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for its actions in Ukraine. “Winter is here,” tweeted Garry Kasparov, a long-time opponent of Mr. Putin’s.
Mr. Putin sent a congratulatory telegram minutes after Mr. Trump gave his victory speech, and made it clear he was hoping for a new relationship between Washington and Moscow. “Russia is ready and wants to restore fully fledged relations with the U.S. It won’t be easy, but we’re prepared to do our part,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks, adding that he was hopeful the two countries could resolve the “burning issues that are currently on the international agenda.”
Others happy to see the axis tilt were populist and far-right figures across Europe, a continent still reeling from the shock of Britain’s June vote to leave the European Union.
Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands’s Party for Freedom were both effusive in their praise of Mr. Trump, seeing the U.S. result as boosting their own chances ahead of elections next year in their countries.
Nigel Farage, a politician who played a leading role in the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, was similarly jubilant. “I hand over the mantle to [Mr. Trump]!,” he posted on his Twitter account. He said Mr. Trump’s victory was an even bigger “political revolution” than Brexit.
Less enthusiastic were those who had come to rely on a predictable U.S. foreign-policy course, based on those post-Second World War alliances.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country is in the midst of an arms race with a rising China, congratulated Mr. Trump and said he looked forward to working closely to “strengthen the bonds” of the U.S.-Japan relationship. But the official Kyodo newswire was less calm, running a headline about a possible “rift” between the incoming Trump administration and Tokyo over Mr. Trump’s suggestion that Japan needed to start paying more for its own defence. (Rival China was also unlikely to celebrate the election result, having been cast by Mr. Trump as a currency manipulator responsible for stealing American jobs.)
South Korea – worried that it may be about to lose its guarantee against North Korean aggression – called a snap meeting of its National Security Council following Mr. Trump’s win.
The EU also called a special summit of the foreign ministers of its 28 member states on Sunday to discuss what a President Trump would mean for the bloc. European Commission President Donald Tusk said the U.S. election result brought “new challenges” to transatlantic relations.
Among the continent’s leaders, the consternation was plain, and the congratulations to Mr. Trump sounded hollow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was clearest in her concern, packing her message to Mr. Trump with caveats about how she hoped the U.S. president-elect would behave.
“Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position,” Ms. Merkel said. “On the basis of these values I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close co-operation.”
Germany’s Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said the election result had been a “huge shock” that called into question the “Pax Americana” that has underpinned international relations since 1945.
French President François Hollande, who said during the U.S. campaign that Mr. Trump’s behaviour “makes you want to retch,” was more understated on Wednesday, declaring only that the Republican candidate’s victory had opened a “period of uncertainty.”
Both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande are members of an old international order that now seems under siege.
Mr. Hollande has almost no chance of winning a second term in French presidential elections due in the spring of 2017 (Ms. Le Pen is expected to be one of two candidates who make it to the second and final round of the vote). Even Ms. Merkel’s 11-year grip on power is at risk next year, with polls showing her Christian Democratic Union losing support as the far-right Alternative for Germany gains.
“After Trump, Brexit and Putin, how much worse can it get?” asked an online headline in the U.K. edition of the Metro tabloid.
Buckle up. We’re going to find out.Report Typo/Error