By November 9th, we will probably know the name of the next president of the USA. As the polls are not decisive, the statistical probability of Trump winning is a real one. The negotiating profile of incumbent American presidents is instrumental to the behaviour of “the country with the greatest influence on the planet”, on a range of issues, ranging from global challenges like climate change, to regional trouble spots like Syria and North Korea.
The negotiating behaviour of leaders is illustrative of the way they perceive the world and exerts a great impact on the conduct of the nation they lead. In this context, Trump’s negotiating style is dramatically different to that of Obama's. It is, therefore, worthwhile to take a closer look, as, in the case that he wins, the USA is bound to engage in conduct that the world is not used to. As explained below, the ramifications of this conduct could be anything between the notable and the dramatic for the world as a whole, and Europe in particular.
There are two broad types of negotiating behaviour which define the conduct of individuals as well as organizations. These are the “co operative” and the “competitive” types. Nobody falls entirely into one or the other extreme. Most people find their negotiating behaviour tending more or less towards one or the other.
Donald Trump's profile reflects a case of extreme competitive behavior. This conclusion is drawn from deeds and statements relating to negotiating issues. Since the ‘80s, and the publication of his book, “The art of the deal”, he has made clear his views about how negotiations should be handled:that one should always negotiate from a position of power. In this light, it will be very interesting to watch Trump’s handling of the Syrian crisis. His negotiating profile is not determined solely by a book he wrote almost thirty years ago. It is mainly defined by his views on contemporary regional conflicts. The relationship of the US with Iran is a telling example. Trump’s negotiating strategy would more than likely be as follows: He would state his terms and give the Iranians one week to accept them. If they failed to do so, he would double the international sanctions against them every week, until they eventually gave in.
On the issue of illegal immigration to the US from Mexico, he has repeatedly declared that he will build a wall along the border that will solve the problem. Further, he has been very consistent in committing himself to make Mexico pay for the construction. When the Mexican president made a statement that his country would never pay for it, Trump’s reaction was that the wall “just got ten feet taller”. Putting the ineffectiveness of his views aside, the above two examples (Iran and Mexican wall) show that he ignores a fundamental principle of state diplomacy. Irrespective of the final result, negotiations must ensure that all parties involved will get to save face-that even the defeated side will be able to sell a lousy agreement to its internal audience.
Trump carries similar views on nearly all issues pertaining to international affairs. So what effect will such a new player have? First, the USA will be called to handle the reactions of Russia and China, as it is certain that both will be neither impressed nor likely to give in to such behaviour. Remaining in the realm of the non-friendlies, one cannot rule out extreme reactions from nations that are not controllable and which have or are close to achieving nuclear capabilities. Such nations are North Korea and Iran.
Co-operation with allies will not be a walk in the park either, due to Trump’s tendency to impose his will on practically every subject. Complex diplomatic manoeuvring, which will be required in all certainty, will become more difficult-if not impossible. Therefore, deadlocks will multiply and open wounds around the planet will not heal, or will do so very slowly. In turn, this will result in more armed conflicts around the world. Apart from the loss of combatant and civilian lives, the obvious consequence (among many others) will be the increased flow of refugees away from conflict areas, towards the attractive west, be it Europe, North America or Australia.
Moreover, it is not certain that all allies will be willing to fall in line with Trump’s choices, decisions and preferred course of action. This may be translated into opportunities for other heavyweights such as Russia and China to enhance their influence in various places around the globe. Therefore, despite the fact that Trump’s campaign motto is, “Lets make America great again”, his election may prove to have the exact opposite effect:the shrinking of US influence globally.
If Trump gets elected, all hope to avoid the above ramifications will fall on the US political system (especially the US Congress) and the diplomatic establishment. On the one hand, these two entities are likely to attempt to smooth out or even negate Trump’s adversarial style, continue to protect international bonds built over decades of hard diplomatic work, and remain loyal to the strategic orientation of the country. On the other hand, one should never underestimate the momentum of a newly elected US president. It is therefore possible that we might witness an internal institutional conflict between the Congress and the diplomatic establishment on the one side, and the Presidency on the other.
Trump’s negotiating profile indicates specific consequences for US international relations. These are not going to be positive or pleasing for most of us. Let's hope that the future will not have to be the judge of the accuracy of the above analysis.