United States: Trump's first 100 days - a serious cause for
Published in SUNS #8450 dated 26 April 2017
Penang, 24 Apr (IPS/Martin Khor*) -- This week, Donald Trump will mark his
first hundred days as US President. It's time to assess his impact on the
world, especially the developing countries.
It's too early to form firm conclusions. But much of what we have seen so far
is of serious concern.
Recently there have been many U-turns from Trump.
Trump had indicated the US should not be dragged into foreign wars but on 6
April he attacked Syria with missiles, even though there was no clear evidence
to back the charge that the Assad regime was responsible for using chemical
Then his military dropped what is described as the biggest ever non-nuclear
bomb in a quite highly-populated district in Afghanistan.
Critics explain that this flexing of military might be aimed at the domestic
constituency, as nothing is more guaranteed to boost a President's popularity
and prove his muscular credentials than bombing an enemy.
Perhaps the actions were also meant to create fear in the leaders of North
Korea. But North Korea threatens to counterattack by conventional or nuclear
bombs if it is attacked by the US, and it could mean what it says.
Trump himself threatens to bomb North Korea's nuclear facilities. With the two
leaders being so unpredictable, we might unbelievably be on the verge of a
As the Financial Times' commentator Gideon Rachman remarked, there is the
danger that Trump has concluded that military action is the key to the
"winning" image he promised his voters.
"There are members of the president's inner circle who do indeed believe
that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a "first
strike" on North Korea. But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion,
he may reach for the nuclear trigger first."
The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says the most frightening
nightmare is of Trump blundering into a new Korean war.
It could happen when Trump destroys a test missile that North Korea is about to
launch, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul (population:
He cites Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea,
as estimating that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1
trillion in damage.
Let us all hope and pray that this nightmare scenario does not become reality.
This may be the most unfortunate trend of the Trump presidency. Far from the
expectation that he would retreat from being the world policeman and turn
inward to work for "America First", the new President may find that
fighting wars or at least unleashing missiles and bombs in third world
countries may "make America great again".
This may be easier than winning domestic battles like replacing former
President Obama's health care policy or banning visitors or refugees from seven
Muslim-majority countries, an order that has been countered by the courts.
But the message that people from certain groups or countries are not welcome in
the US is having effect: recent reports indicate a decline in tourism and
foreign student applications to the US.
Another flip-flop was on NATO. Trump condemned it for being obsolete, but
recently hailed it for being "no longer obsolete", to his Western
allies' great relief.
Another note-worthy but welcome about-turn was when the US President conceded
that China is after all not a currency manipulator.
On the campaign trail, he had vowed to name China such a manipulator on day 1
of his presidency, to be followed up with imposing a 45% tariff on Chinese
Trump continues to be obsessed by the US trade deficit, and to him China is the
main culprit, with a $347 billion trade surplus versus the US.
The US-China summit in Florida on 7-8 April cooled relations between the two
big powers. "I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going
away," Trump said at the summit's end.
The two countries agreed to a proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to have
a 100-day plan to increase US exports to China and reduce the US trade deficit.
For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.
But it is by no means off altogether.
Trump has asked his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prepare a report within
90 days on the US' bilateral trade deficits with its trading partners, and
whether any of them is caused by dumping, cheating, subsidies, free trade
agreements, currency misalignment and even unfair WTO rules.
Once Trump has the analysis, he will be able to take action to correct any
anomalies, said Ross.
We can thus expect the Trump administration to have a blueprint on how to deal
with each country with a significant trade surplus with the US.
If carried out, this would be an unprecedented exercise by an economic
super-power to pressurise and intimidate its trade partners to curb their
exports to and expand their imports from the US, or else face action.
During the 100-day period, Trump did not carry out his threats to impose extra
tariffs on Mexico and China.
He did fulfil his promise to pull the US out of the TPPA but he has yet to show
seriousness about revamping NAFTA.
A threat to the trade system could come from a tax reform bill being prepared
by Republican Congress leaders.
The original paper contains a "trade adjustment" system with the
effect of taxing US imports by 20% while exempting US exports from corporate
If such a bill is passed, we can expect a torrent of criticism from the rest of
the world, many cases against the US at the WTO and retaliatory action by
Due to opposition from several business sectors in the US, it is possible that
this trade-adjustment aspect could eventually be dropped or at least modified
considerably. In any case, as the new US trade policy finds its shape, the
first 100 days of Trump has spread a cold protectionist wind around the world.
On another issue, the icy winds have quickly turned into action, and caused
Trump has moved to shred Obama's climate change policy. He proposed to cut the
budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate
climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal
The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its
standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan,
which was the centrepiece of Obama's policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The plan would have shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, stop new
coal plants and replace them with wind and solar farms.
"The policy reversals also signal that Mr Trump has no intention of
following through on Mr Obama's formal pledges under the Paris accord,"
said Coral Davenport in the New York Times.
Under the Paris agreement, the US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by
about 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.
"That can be achieved only if the US not only implements the Clean Power
Plan and tailpipe pollution rules but also tightens them or adds more policies
in future years," says Davenport.
She quotes Mario Molina, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from Mexico, as
saying: "The message clearly is, we won't do what the United States has
promised to do... They don't believe climate change is serious. It is shocking
to see such a degree of ignorance from the US."
Will the US pull out of the Paris Agreement?
An internal debate is reportedly taking place within the administration. If the
country cannot meet and has no intention of meeting its Paris pledge, then it
may find a convenient excuse to leave.
Even if it stays on, the new US delegation can be expected to discourage or
stop other countries from moving ahead with new measures and actions.
There is widespread dismay about Trump's intention to stop honouring the US
pledge to contribute $3 billion initially to the Green Climate Fund, which
assists developing countries take climate actions.
Obama had transferred the first billion, but there will be no more forthcoming
from the Trump administration unless Congress over-rules the President (which
is very unlikely).
Another adverse development, especially for developing countries, is Trump's
intention to downgrade the importance of international and development
In March, Trump announced his proposed budget with a big cut of 28% or $10.9
billion for the UN and other international organisations, the State Department
and the US agency for international development, while by contrast the proposed
military budget was increased by $54 billion.
At about the same time, the UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien urgently
requested a big injection of donor funds to address the worst global
humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, with drought
affecting 38 million people in 17 African countries.
The US has for long been a leading contributor to humanitarian programmes such
as the World Food program.
In future, other countries will have to provide a greater share of disaster
assistance, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
"The US is turning inward at a time when we are facing these unprecedented
crises that require increasing US assistance," according to Bernice Romero
of Save the Children, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.
"In 2016 the US contributed $6.4 billion in humanitarian assistance, the
largest in the world. Cutting its funding at a time of looming famine and the
world's largest displacement crisis since World War II is really unconscionable
and could really have devastating consequences."
Trump also proposed to cut the US contribution to the UN budget by an as yet
unknown amount and pay at most 25% of UN peacekeeping costs.
The US has been paying 22% of the UN's core budget of $5.4 billion and 28.5% of
the UN peacekeeping budget of $7.9 billion.
Trump also proposed a cut of $650 million over three years to the World Bank
and other multilateral development banks.
The foreign affairs community in the US itself is shocked by the
short-sightedness of the Trump measures and 121 retired US generals and
admirals urged Congress to fully fund diplomacy and foreign aid as these were
critical to preventing conflict.
The proposed Trump budget will likely be challenged in the Congress which has
many supporters for both diplomacy and humanitarian concerns.
We will have to wait to see the final outcome.
Nevertheless, the intention of the President and his administration is clear and
And instead of other countries stepping in to make up for the United States'
decrease in aid, some may be tempted to likewise reduce their contributions.
For example, the United Kingdom Prime Minister Teresa May, in answer to
journalists' questions, refused to confirm that the UK would continue its
tradition of providing 0.7% of GNP as foreign aid.
This has led the billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates to warn that a cut
in UK aid, which currently is at 12 billion pounds, would mean more lives lost
Besides the reduction in funding, the Trump foreign policy approach is also
dampening the spirit and substance of international cooperation.
For example, the President's sceptical attitude towards global cooperation on
climate change will adversely affect the overall global efforts to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to global warming.
With one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a
disbeliever that climate change is man- made and could devastate the Earth, and
no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so,
other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise.
The world would be deprived of the cooperation it urgently requires to save
itself from catastrophic global warming.
[* Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for
developing countries, based in Geneva.] +