How can the US collapse from within

US foreign policy"The Europeans have a lot more to lose than the US"

The incumbent US President Donald Trump made an early statement on globalization and made it unmistakably clear that from now on the motto "America First" would apply. In the meantime it has almost been forgotten that it was the USA who, since the Second World War, established a system of order in the western world based on the principles of democracy, market economy and multilateralism and on institutions such as NATO, the International Monetary Fund (WTO ), the World Bank or the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Gatt for short.

Stephan Bierling, professor for international politics and transatlantic relations at the University of Regensburg, has in his current book "America First - Donald Trump in the White House" among other things with the US foreign policy.

(AP / Alex Brandon) Trump's China policy - playing with fire
The US President has his back to the wall with his corona policy, said Hardt (CDU) in the Dlf. He tries to collect points in his own ranks through a hard line against China. But that is dangerous.

Barbara Weber: What is your main US foreign policy takeaway when considering Donald Trump?

Stephan Bierling: Trump took over the country in a difficult foreign policy situation: the rise of China, the aggression of Russia, mistakes by the USA such as the Iraq war have weakened the USA and have also melted down domestic political approval of foreign policy, an aggressive or interventionist foreign policy. Trump is, so to speak, the embodiment of this turning away from the world, this turning away from intervention as we saw it under Obama, as we saw it under Bush. And he wants to use isolationism and unilateralism to make America a powerful nation on the planet again.

The political scientist Stephan Bierling from the University of Regensburg (Deutschlandradio / Stefan Obermeier)

"With Trump everything has a business character"

Weber: But this also means that he concludes bilateral agreements or, if we turn a glance to the Middle East, then comes to cooperation - current example of the Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel. How do you judge that? He's celebrating that as a historic breakthrough?

Bierling: With Trump everything has a transactional character, i.e. a business character. He treats well those states that come to meet him, especially economically, and badly those that he believes are ripping the US off the table. We see that in the Middle East too. His first trip abroad took him to Saudi Arabia, on the one hand because Saudi Arabia is an old ally that Obama has not treated particularly well, and on the other hand because Saudi Arabia is the largest arms buyer in the United States. What developments we are currently seeing is positive overall. Of course, the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and two small Arab states is good, but this is basically just the culmination of long-term development.

Both sides, Israel and the Arab world, see Iran as the great challenge, the great threat and are terrified of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. And that's why this cooperation comes about. However, Trump did not win the big prize - that would be the establishment of the relationship between Saudi Arabia, the Arab leading power, and Israel. And he left the fate of the Palestinians behind in this whole deal.

Weber: So that means we are further away than ever from a two-state solution?

Bierling: It was more or less pushed into a drawer by Trump. Basically he supported Netanyahu's annexation plan, which is now back on hold. But basically, as with previous peace treaties, the Palestinians can see themselves as ignored.

"Germany pursued a" Germany-First "policy

Weber: Sometimes, I think, or do you get the impression that the EU is being ignored a bit? Actually, the EU and, above all, Germany belong to the traditionally friendly states with the USA - even if Obama has already called for higher defense spending. Now there are massive economic tensions. From your perspective, what has changed in recent years?

Bierling: Traditionally, the American-European-Germans were the closest relationship that both nations had outside of their state or state system. But that relationship basically cooled off with the end of the Cold War. We saw that under Clinton, we saw that under Bush, we saw that under Obama. Trump is taking the whole development to an extreme. It shows America is turning away from Europe. There are new sources of fire in the world. The Middle East has primarily preoccupied Bush and Obama. Basically, Trump is now mainly exposed to the rise of China. That basically changes the structure of world politics. Trump is following something that has basically been in place for a long time. But of course - otherwise Trump wouldn't be Trump - he goes one step further, verbally, in confrontation, in polarization, and of course in many points he brought a completely new perspective and also brute rhetoric into this relationship. But he is not wrong on every point.

The Europeans - especially the Germans - have also pursued a policy in the last 20 years that has basically failed to prepare for worse times. On some issues, think of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, the Germans basically pursued a "Germany-First" policy, beyond our Eastern European partners and beyond our allies.

Nord Stream 2 prevailed against our European partners

Weber: So the Ukraine or, for example, Poland?

Bierling: Ukraine, the Baltic states, Poland, they are all absolutely against this pipeline, which we pushed through against our European partners out of economic interests. There are areas of tension here where it would be far too easy to hold Trump solely responsible. That was not handled well in Berlin and Brussels either.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin - an interesting relationship between two very different leaders (AFP / Yuri Kadobnov)

"A weakness for dictators corresponds to his personality structure"

Weber: I also find the relationship between Trump and autocrats like Putin, Kim Jong Un and Erdogan remarkable. Let's stay with Putin, with whom he probably met alone at important meetings, contrary to all diplomatic customs, only with a Russian interpreter. How is that to be assessed? Isn't that really unique?

Bierling: Yes, nothing like that has ever existed in American diplomacy or in democracy at all. Of course, this is usually recorded, because this information is of course very important for the entire cabinet or for the secret services or even for the parliaments. The fact that Trump does not do this and, so to speak, maintains a special relationship with Putin bypassing the knowledge of his own most important advisors, gives rise to all kinds of speculation. He definitely has a weakness for authoritarian dictators. This partly corresponds to his own personality structure. In America, too, he would like it best if he could govern by all means. He once said that Article 2 of the Constitution basically gives him the opportunity to do whatever he wants. In this respect, he admires people like Putin and Erdogan. He cannot overturn America as quickly as these two can overturn their systems. But there is also a certain envy of how these authoritarian rulers control their domestic politics.

"Trump has made himself almost completely subservient to the Republican Party"

Weber: That doesn't always happen to the delight of his party. The Republicans see it here with horror at what, I don't want to say secret diplomacy, is being practiced between Trump and Putin.

Bierling: What Trump succeeded in, and we as political scientists didn't really have it on our bill - because we always believe that America has enshrined these checks and balances, these weights and counterweights, as a central constitutional principle. But Trump has partially undermined it by taking over the Republican Party and making himself almost completely subservient. There are a few exceptions; and you address one of them quite correctly. That is Russia policy. Some figures like John McCain or now Mitt Romney have emerged in Russia policy; both presidential candidates in 2008 and 2012, clearly against Trump. And here the party follows him only to a very limited extent.

"No real understanding of strategic change"

Weber: The world order is currently changing. Power relations are shifting. How does Trump react to the global challenger China?

Bierling: Trump actually has no real understanding of strategic change, of large-scale megatrends that have been manifesting themselves in politics for ten to 15 years now; exactly with the two players you mentioned, but especially with the newly promoted China. He basically reduces this conflict to the trade deficit that the Americans run in trade with Beijing. And he basically makes that the sole touchstone of the relationship between the two nations. And that is of course not enough, even if that is a massive problem, but it basically singularizes a problem area and makes it all the more difficult to formulate a concerted strategic response from the USA, but also in conjunction with the Europeans, for example, to the Chinese.

Donald Trump's relationship with Xi Jinping is also ambivalent - despite all anti-China rhetoric (AP)

"Germany has saved its military to pieces"

Weber: If you were to risk a glimpse into the future now, are we nearing the end of the Pax Americana, i.e. the US claim to have a decisive influence on the world order? And what would that mean for Germany and the EU?

Bierling: Indeed, America was the guarantor, let's put it this way, of this new liberal order that we established after 1945 and that the Americans upheld. Europe, and especially Germany, have benefited most from this; from American free world trade, from the low tariffs, but above all from the American security guarantees. If that collapses, the Europeans, and especially the Germans, have a lot more to lose than the US, which is still protected by two great oceans and has no dangerous neighbors. It is easier to imagine and enforce a desire for isolation there than in Europe. That said, we are basically down with the US withdrawal; on our own with their non-defense or very limited defense of this liberal world order. And we find out that we are not well prepared to take on international responsibility. Germany saved up its military. It has repeatedly sabotaged the role that our European neighbors assign to us time and time again - to play an important role in the EU's foreign policy - let's just take our pipeline business with the Russians again. And as a result, we find ourselves in a very difficult situation in this new world and actually find ourselves trapped between the USA and China and basically can hardly influence international developments independently.

America has always been an "empire of attractiveness"

Weber: On the other hand, it could be, and the prognoses indicate that one day China will replace the USA as the world's great power?

Bierling: Economically, they are relatively close. Politically, it will be very difficult for them, for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, the Americans simply have, and nobody can take that away from them, this very extraordinary geographical location: They are protected by these two oceans, they do not have to deal with neighbors. That will always be a problem for China, the one with India, the one with Japan, the one with Russia, the one with many smaller states that have neighbors that are not so easy to subvert that you cement yourself as a hegemon in your own region.

The second is that America will of course remain present in the Far East. They have expanded their troops there, they will oppose this aggressive expansion policy of the Chinese, especially in the South China Sea. And thirdly, the Chinese simply lack the openness, the attractiveness of the values ‚Äč‚Äčthat have always made America what it is. It was never just the American empire that was imposed, but an empire of attractiveness, invitation, values, culture. China cannot really use that as a rival due to its very limited charisma.

And in the end: The Americans always had and still have large alliance systems. That is perhaps what distinguishes them most dramatically from China, which apart from North Korea and Pakistan actually have no one who supports them unreservedly internationally. Americans have treaties with 60 nations around the world for their security. And if Trump had played it wisely, or his successor played it wisely, it could mean that the Pax Americana will remain much more stable and powerful than we can imagine at the moment.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.