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American Alliances and Coalitions in Trump’s Era

Presidency of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth American president has presented American allies throughout the world with an unprecedented situation.


Presidency of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth American president has presented American allies throughout the world with an unprecedented situation. This is because, in his presidential campaign, he had numerously acknowledged that, if elected, he would abolish alliances and coalitions such as NATO, NAFTA, and TRANSPACIFIC, that he would prevent from free ride by such countries as Japan and South Korea and would stop America from spending hefty amounts of money on the continuation of such alliances. Given the importance of the issue, in this report, an attempt is made to investigate the possible consequences of Trump’s policies on alliances and coalitions and their effects on the region.


Alliance Systems
One of the systems for maintaining order in the international arena is the system of alliances and coalitions. Basically, alliances are formal or implied commitments made for the purposes of security cooperation between two or more countries. The essential characteristic of any alliance is a commitment to providing military support against a foreign actor or actors, if the situation warrants it. Thus, system of alliances, unlike system of collective security, is formed against some countries and these countries are specified in advance. Given this, the main objective of alliances is increased capabilities and the use of these capabilities in the face of possible security threats. Alliances are classified in terms of some components, the most important of which are the following:

  1. In terms of performance range: It is possible to find two types of such alliances as small and big alliances. For example, NATO enjoys an extensive range and functions as an alliance. It includes 28 countries.
  2. Dual-Purpose Alliances. This type of alliance is formed between a country happy with the status quo and another country unhappy with the status quo. Basically, the intention is stopping a country unhappy with the status quo from joining other countries which are also unhappy. For example, through alliance with Russia, Trump intends to prevent Russia from joining other countries unhappy with the status quo such as Iran and thus prevent from a change in world order.

Basically, the formation of alliance systems could be explained based on two paradigms of realism (favored by Trump) and neoliberalism (favored by Europeans). Realism focuses on threats as the main factors leading to the formation of alliances so much so that the coherence of alliances is the result of external threats, whereas Neoliberals emphasize the shared achievement in creating system alliances and believe that even in the absence of threats, alliances may form. Therefore, given these two paradigms, especially Realism, which forms the foundation of American foreign policy, it could be seen that such alliances as NATO are not very effective given that former Soviet Union (as the external threat) no longer exists and there is no conceivable shared achievement.  Thus, Trump sees no need for continuing it. Several factors may bring Alliances to an end such as:

  1. The transformation of the power structure of the international system is one of the main factors which bring alliances to an end.
  2. Changes in the perception of threats and the emergence of potential hegemonies; this holds true about the United States. Trump is perfectly aware of such potential hegemonies as Russia and China and instead of focusing on costly alliances, he has shifted his attention to his rivals. In fact, the main objective of America’s foreign policy is to be the hegemony of the Western Hemisphere and to ensure that no rival hegemony exists in Eastern Asia, Europe and Western Asia. America does not want to have a rival as strong as itself. This has consistently been the National Security strategy of the United States after the Cold War and it is still being pursued by American policymakers. In 1992, in one of Pentagon’s documents which leaked out into the media, it was stated, “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, which could pose a threat to us, as the Soviet Union was. Our strategy should now be focused on preventing the emergence of any potential future global rival”.
  3. Changes in foreign policy and the structure of domestic policy of the members of an alliance; in this regard, it is necessary to note that after Trump has taken office, extensive changes are being made in both foreign and domestic policies of the United States. The president’s attitudes toward the alliances and coalitions suggest that these organizations have incurred numerous fruitless expenses on the US and that US has incurred huge losses by spending money on these organizations to keep them up and running.  Trump believes that members of each alliance must pay their own share. Therefore, he does not see such agreements as NATO, NAFTA and TPP in America’s interests and regards them costly for America.

Eventually, alliances dissolve after achieving their goals, because they are essentially formed “against someone or something”. For the purpose of forming an alliance to achieve a desirable goal, the decision-makers weigh its costs and benefits. The final decision to join an alliance depends on benefits exceeding the costs.  Finally, the coherence of an alliance depends on the relationship between external and internal pressures. When costs exceed benefits, a decision is made to change the alignment. This is similar to the time when Trump took office.


Future of Alliances and Coalitions

Shared responsibility has always been a sensitive issue for the United States. Therefore, by dissolving alliances and agreements, the US intends to delegate the responsibility and the costs of providing security to its allies, if necessary. Instead of spending huge amounts of money on providing security for its allies, its efforts are directed toward facing potential hegemonies and possible rivals and if the need arises, it develops friendly relationships with its rivals and enemies to contain them.

In this regard, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have an important position in Trump’s future foreign policy. On the one hand, he tries to prevent Iran from forming an alliance with Russia and China and to bring Russia and China on board. On the other hand, by exercising nuclear deterrence policies, he tries to keep a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia in West Asia, and between South Korea, Japan and North Korea in East Asia.

In a report published last year, the think-tank “American Enterprise” advised the American administration “to act against the coalition between Russia and Iran following the nuclear agreement and while calling the behavior of these two countries as a ‘behavour of attrition’ against the United States, claimed that Iran and Russia are trying to confront the US and its allies in future in Western Asia. Therefore, it pointed out the need for America’s preparedness for an all-out coalition in future”. This institute has called on the US to take timely and suitable action to prevent Iran’s and Russia’s behavior of attrition and the coalition of these two countries against the US and its allies in the Middle East. It said, “Although Russia and Iran are suspicious of one another and this has stopped the promotion of their common interests based on reducing the influence of the US in the region, nevertheless, America needs to be cautious about this alliance so it does not transform into an all-out alliance. This is the coalition of unequals and Putin is a smart man”. In addition, Rex Tillerson expressed his views on this same issue and said, “The posture which Russia has taken represents a threat to the US and the current American leaders have been weak in dealing with Russia. It is necessary to enter a dialogue with this country and hold it accountable for its behavior. In addition, it is necessary to take all measures to contain Iran”.

Therefore, it is likely that new alliances will form in the Middle East and Asia to keep the balance between the forces. For example, formation of an alliance between India and the United States to confront China and also formation of a selection of Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt to confront Iran or reaching out to Russia and blackmailing this country to ease tensions and to revitalize are not far-fetched.

IRI and the Future of Alliances in the Region

Given the adoption of new policies by the American Administration against the alliances, we must expect new alliances in the region, which are planned by the US.  This could change patterns of friendship and enmity in the region, which, in turn, could clearly affect economic, political and even military relationships in the region. Military contracts between the US and Saudi Arabia worth billions of dollars, new military contracts between the Europeans and Arabs, British return to the region and a suggestion for the creation of a buffer zone in Syria by America, are all indicative of changes in military and security balances in the region.

America and Britain are trying to transform the region into a cache of ammunition and to change the balance of power in the interests of Arab-Israeli axis by making friendly relationships between Arabs and the Zionist regime. Friendly relationships between Arabs and the Zionist regime and implementing two-state solution in the occupied territories mean that by delegating the responsibility of providing security to its partners, America can get rid of free ride by some regional countries and can incur less cost to confront Islamic Republic of Iran and public opinion in the Islamic world.

In fact, new alliances impose new policies and options on countries against which the alliances have been formed. At first look, the alliance between Arabs and Israel seems unlikely. However, given the recent developments in the regional order, it seems feasible. Therefore, the West is contemplating the behavior change on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran by imposing multilateral economic sanctions, raising the cost of governance by the Islamic Republic of Iran, preventing from increased military power and advancing ‘influence project’.


When accepting the Republican nomination, Trump said: ” Americanism, not Globalism, will be our credo”. Analysts believe this means that the president elect does not believe in American Peace Movement and does not regard the betterment of the world as his duty. Rather, by adopting a realistic approach, he tries to ensure the interests of his own country. Therefore, by striking a balance between rival countries, he tries to keep the balance in the region so that he would have to pay less for this responsibility and if the need arises, he will make changes in alliances which produce no benefits for the United States and may withdraw from them.


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