For­eign pol­i­cy expert James M. Lind­say and his­to­ri­an Mitchell G. Ash dis­cussed the future of Amer­i­can engage­ment in the world. Lind­say is Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions, the most impor­tant think tank for Amer­i­can for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. Ash is a his­to­ri­an of con­tem­po­rary his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na and a mem­ber of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR’s advi­so­ry board. In coop­er­a­tion with the US Embassy in Vien­na, the dis­cus­sion host­ed by Dr. Clau­dia Schwarz, exec­u­tive direc­tor of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR, took place at the Johannes Kepler Uni­ver­si­ty Linz.

Pres­i­dent Michael Strugl made the rel­e­vance of the top­ic for Upper Aus­tria clear: „The Unit­ed States are Upper Austria’s sec­ond largest export mar­ket and the part­ner­ship between Europe and the US guar­an­tees peace in Europe. This coop­er­a­tion will be cen­tral for solv­ing the big glob­al prob­lems of the future. The ques­tion of how the Unit­ed States shape their for­eign pol­i­cy, will indi­rect­ly and direct­ly affect us too”.

„We do not know whether there is a plan or just chaos.” — Mitchell Ash

The US for­eign pol­i­cy under Don­ald Trump is with­out a clear line. „In his pol­i­cy it is not clear what’s planned, and what’s only the result of chance”, said his­to­ri­an Mitchell Ash. How­ev­er, some out­lines for the future direc­tion are clear to the for­eign pol­i­cy expert James Lind­say: „Trump is not an iso­la­tion­ist. But he con­sid­ers the com­mit­ment of the Unit­ed States to a mul­ti­lat­er­al world order based on the rule of law for a mis­take. He favors bilat­er­al treaties between two states, because with them, he is able to bet­ter achieve the inter­ests of the US. He there­fore sees the transat­lantic part­ner­ship also skep­ti­cal”, the for­eign pol­i­cy expert said. For him, the Euro­peans are not inno­cent of this atti­tude: „They call for more voice but are not will­ing to invest in their own mil­i­tary secu­ri­ty”.

„Stay in respect­ful dia­logue with Trump, but stay firm.” — James Lind­say

How to deal with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion best, to achieve good for­eign pol­i­cy results? On this ques­tion, Lind­say had a clear answer: „By meet­ing them with respect, dia­logue and firm­ness”, was his rec­om­men­da­tion. As far as he knows, Trump is sen­si­tive to how peo­ple deal with him. The dia­logue should not be bro­ken despite all the dif­fer­ences. Espe­cial­ly impor­tant for Euro­peans: keep close to the com­mon goals and not get divid­ed. That’s how you can achieve the best results.

Lat­est chal­lenges for US for­eign pol­i­cy are main­ly the ques­tions on North Korea, Syr­ia and Iran, as well as the rise of Chi­na. In the longer term, how­ev­er, the US would have to think more about oth­er devel­op­ments, such as tech­no­log­i­cal progress and its impact on for­eign pol­i­cy; the increas­ing­ly com­plex link­age of the whole world; and the fragili­ty of the glob­al trad­ing sys­tem.

„ ‘Make Amer­i­ca great again’ is an unre­al­is­tic nos­tal­gia.” — Mitchell Ash

For the US expert, the ques­tion of how the lib­er­al and demo­c­ra­t­ic world sys­tem can be strength­ened again, is anoth­er impor­tant area. The his­to­ri­an Ash saw no suit­able vision in sight with Don­ald Trump’s slo­gan „Make Amer­i­ca great again”. „When peo­ple hear that, they think of the 1950s, when the US real­ly dom­i­nat­ed. They for­get that back then the US were respon­si­ble for 50 per­cent of the world’s gross domes­tic prod­uct. This sit­u­a­tion will nev­er come back”, Ash said. What the US real­ly need, accord­ing to the his­to­ri­an, would be a long-term, for­ward-look­ing and pos­i­tive vision of how the US wants to be — and not a back­ward-look­ing nos­tal­gia.

„The North Kore­ans know exact­ly what they want.” — James Lind­say

One of the tough­est deci­sions, Trump has to make, is how the US will deal with North Korea. In the West there is often a wrong idea of the regime in Pyongyang, James Lind­say remarked, „Kim is not crazy and the North Kore­ans know exact­ly what they are doing”. It is clear to them that the US will not inter­vene mil­i­tar­i­ly on the penin­su­la as this would cost enor­mous human sac­ri­fice. The North Kore­an pol­i­cy there­fore aims to break the close mil­i­tary rela­tions between South Korea, Japan and the USA. These two coun­tries see the North Kore­an issue as cen­tral to their secu­ri­ty. But, they too are aware of, that the US does not want to inter­vene mil­i­tar­i­ly — so they will have to look for alter­na­tives to the US secu­ri­ty offer.

„No mat­ter which deci­sion Trump will make. It’s gonna be a tough deci­sion. Because the costs the deci­sion — whether the US will do some­thing or just wait — is enor­mous”, the secu­ri­ty expert Lind­say con­clud­ed.