The world still has to wait for Donald Trump to flesh out the details of his foreign policy. Based on comments he’s made so far, Russia and NATO are likely winners and losers in the Trump era: Russia because of the U.S. president-elect’s praise for President Vladimir Putin, and NATO because Trump thinks “free riders” are forcing the United States to pay more than its share to maintain the alliance.
Ahead of Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, here are the three “winners” and three “losers” you might not have expected.
Mexico’s former foreign minister bemoaned Trump’s election as an “unmitigated disaster” for Mexico – and he may be right. Trump demonized Mexico during his campaign, promising to force America’s neighbor to pay for a new border wall, ban Mexican immigrants from wiring remittances home, deport millions and renegotiate or end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The day after Trump’s election the Mexican peso fell to an all-time low against the dollar. It’s easy to see why. Slapping 35 percent tariffs on many goods from Mexico – something Trump promised to do during the campaign – might easily throw the Mexican economy into recession. Outlawing remittances would cause a rise in poverty, and deporting millions could cause crime and unemployment in Mexico to soar.
Japan could lose out on two fronts under Trump. First, the president-elect cast doubt on his commitment to the Japanese-American alliance during his campaign, when he said Tokyo should be forced to pay more of the costs for American troops based in Japan – and hinted he might withdraw American troops from the country if it did not. He also derided the alliance as one-sided, arguing that if “Japan gets attacked, we have to immediately go to their aid,” and “if we get attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us.”
Trump also promised to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during his first day in office. The TPP, a signature initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was signed by 12 countries including the United States in February. While Abe just pushed the TPP through Japan’s legislature in the hope it gives a boost to Japanese exports, Trump has called it a “disaster.” Although Trump’s views on some issues appear malleable, given the central role opposition to free trade played in his campaign it’s likely that the TPP is dead – something that could cause substantial long-term losses for Japan.
A tiny Indian Ocean island chain whose highest point is only eight feet above sea level, the Maldives may suffer the greatest loss from Trump’s win. The Indian Ocean has already submerged parts of the chain, and the entire country is expected to disappear by the end of the century. The Maldives won’t vanish during a Trump administration, but Trump’s claim that global warming is a Chinese hoax, his appointment of a climate change skeptic to oversee his Environmental Protection Agency transition team and his contradictory statements about whether to pull out of last year’s landmark Paris climate agreement does not bode well for the Maldives’ long-term fate.
Trump’s campaign positions align perfectly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a top adviser said that Israel’s West Bank settlements are “not an obstacle to peace” and – most importantly from the Israeli government’s perspective – Trump condemned the Iranian nuclear agreement that Israel had so vociferously opposed. On top of that, a Trump campaign document described Israel’s record-sized $38 billion U.S. military assistance package as “a floor not a ceiling” for aid.
Egypt and Turkey
Given Trump’s obvious affinity for strongmen and distaste for nation building, it’s no surprise he seems drawn to Egypt’s authoritarian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. After a meeting with Sisi in September, a Trump campaign statement thanked Sisi for his “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism,” invited him to Washington if Trump won and promised his administration would be a loyal ally – all without mentioning Sisi’s less than sterling commitment to democracy (or apparently without mentioning Trump’s campaign statements about curbing Muslim immigration to the United States). The fact that Sisi was the first foreign leader the president-elect spoke to after his big win only further demonstrates that Egypt looks set to be a winner from Trump’s victory.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also seems set to benefit from Trump’s election. Trump praised Erdoğan’s crackdown on political opponents after July’s failed coup in Turkey and also derided the possibility of criticizing Erdoğan for civil liberty violations. Even better from Turkey’s perspective, Trump adviser Flynn wrote an election day op-ed blasting Fethullah Gülen – the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Ankara accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt – as an Islamic extremist undeserving of American safe haven.
European Far Right Populists
While Europe largely reacted to Trump’s election with shock and dismay, there was one exception: European right wing populists. Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described Trump’s win as “fantastic news,” the head of France’s National Front congratulated "the free American people" and UK Independence Party head and chief Brexit promoter Nigel Farage – who actively supported Trump during the campaign – visited Trump Tower with a big smile on his face to meet Trump after his win.
It’s not hard to see why Europe’s populists are excited. For one thing, populist parties in Holland, France and Germany all hope Trump’s win serves as a model for their own electorates in their elections this year. Moreover, Trump’s influential new chief White House strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon – Trump’s former campaign chief and head of the so-called “alt-right” media platform Breitbart – reportedly admires Europe’s right-wing anti-immigrant nationalists.
To be clear, it is still very early to draw firm conclusions about what Trump’s foreign policy may entail, and Trump will likely discover that governing imposes constraints that campaigning does not. Indeed, the Trump team is already talking back some of his foreign policy promises regarding Israel and a border wall while also facing pushback from Congressional leaders regarding his planned rapprochement with Russia and desire to align with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime to fight Islamic State.
Despite the inevitable compromises the president-elect will need to make, though, one thing is clear: For better or for worse, Trump will surely shake up the existing geopolitical order in unpredictable ways.
(Correction: An earlier version of this column mistakenly characterized Russia as a "loser" in the Trump era, in the first paragraph.)