InternationalVolume 13 Issue # 16

Global peace comes last in America First policy Shahid Hussain

The recent sacking of several key officials by US President Donald Trump indicates a hawkish foreign policy, which will harden with the passage of time. An administration, where everyone is on the same page, marks a serious blow to the future of the Iran nuclear deal, a full-blown trade war with the European Union and an increase in global conflict.


Experts fear Trump’s flawed policy towards the Middle East could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region and the possibility of the nuclear arms race will unnerve European leaders, who have urged him to retain the Iran nuclear deal, which imposed strict restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in return for relief in sanctions. The US has already signed a whooping $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in May last year and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has set out plans for his country to develop nuclear weapons if Iran starts making them in the event of a collapse of the international nuclear deal signed in 2015. The EU signatories to the deal – UK, France and Germany – want to retain it, but are willing to discuss a supplementary memorandum that would seek to contain Iran’s ballistic missile programme. Iran insists its ballistic programme is separate to the deal. Trump has given a May 12 deadline to the EU to come up with revisions to the deal, or the US will pull out, reimposing harsh economic sanctions and provoking a full scale crisis with Iran.


According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, “With Trump’s confrontational stance on issues such as the Korean Peninsula and Iran, we are likely to see an unfiltered Trump going forward. The risk of this approach is his policy likely will become more hawkish and confrontational. There likely will be an increase in global conflict and fewer calm voices sitting around the table.” Quoting experts, it said, “It will lift the shackles off Trump and allow him to behave more Trump-like. Several of the individuals, who have been let go tried to keep Trump from being himself and wanted to restrain his deeper impulses. Trump chafed under that approach and is bringing in people who agree with his hardline and confrontational manner. The new staff is not likely to restrain Trump, but rather enable him.”


The recent decisions to fire top officials come from two factors: first, Trump is feeling more comfortable in managing his own presidency, and second, he wants to pursue policies that are more hardline to satisfy both his own policy priorities and energize the Trump base heading into election season. This means a greater outlet for hawkish voices on Iran, North Korea, trade issues, immigration, and other key policy areas. From the campaign and his first year in the White House, Trump at least likes to talk about using military force. If all of his advisers on foreign policy think the same way, or start talking the same way to stay in Trump’s good graces, that likely means a hawkish turn for U.S. foreign policy. However, some analysts say Trump is not particularly well-versed in foreign policy issues. “Trump is not someone who came to office with a lot of background in foreign affairs and foreign policy except to the extent that it related to his business ventures. It means he doesn’t have a lot of independent knowledge to use when it comes time to evaluating different options or proposals about international relations,” they say.


The abrupt dismissal of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was seen as a hardening of the Donald Trump’s America First policy and an attempt to please Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have been frustrated by his even-handed response to their dispute with Qatar. And when Saudi Arabia and its Emirati allies imposed an embargo on Qatar in June, Trump immediately took Saudi Arabia’s side while Tillerson criticised the Saudi ambush and tried to broker a solution. Last week, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman warned that his country would develop nuclear weapons if Iran makes them after a possible collapse of the international nuclear deal. “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he told a news channel. Saudi Arabia wants to build two nuclear stations as part of its medium term programme to end its dependence on oil. It plans to build 16 civil nuclear stations over 20 to 25 years to generate 16gigawat nuclear energy.


Saudi Arabia is the world’s second biggest importer of arms; nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago. The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between the two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports.  Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia. France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter. ”The Middle East, a region where in the past five years most countries have been involved in conflict, accounted for 32% of global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled between 2013 and 2017 and in the five-year period before it. The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were the main recipient countries. The UK exported nearly half of its arms to Saudi Arabia, which has increased its imports by 225%,” the report said. In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran did not even make the list of the 40 largest importers – only accounting for 1% of arms imports to the region. Iran, which is under an international arms embargo, spends a fraction of what its Arab neighbours spend on weapons, instead relying on proxies and soft power to advance its policies.


In 2015, an abrupt formation and announcement of a 34-state Islamic military coalition by Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism shocked the whole world. Leaving out Shia Iran, Syria and Iraq and sketchy details of its working, the alliance was feared to threaten peace in the Muslim world by promoting sectarianism. It was suspected the coalition was formed at the behest of the US. Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting for dominance in the region. It has created opportunities for enemies of the Muslims to exploit the situation. If the two Muslim countries cannot resolve their differences amicably, they should, at least, scale down the tension. It would have stopped the US from making the biggest arms deal. The money could have been spent on the welfare of the Saudi people. The weapons are also being used by Muslims against Muslims.


Muslim leaders must understand that the US has long changed it policy to fight with Islam. It promotes infighting among Muslims. For Donald Trump and the US, only Islam is the problem and extremism and terrorism are related to it. The fact is that the US is directly responsible for terrorism in the Muslim world, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria and Yemen. It was the US that created and funded al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. However, it were Muslim rulers who allowed the US to interfere in their countries.


The Shia-Sunni conflict has existed for centuries and it cannot be resolved, but both sects of Muslims can adopt a policy of co-existence for the greater cause of humanity. The sectarian strife between the two countries affects all Muslim countries of the world. Saudi Arabia, being home to the two holiest places of Islam, has a greater responsibility to save Muslims from conflict. It should sit with Iran to resolve issues, otherwise enemies will continue to exploit their differences to occupy their resources.