In the face of endless conflict affecting an increasingly uncertain world, widespread concern about international stability and even the threat of war continues to grow. The instantaneous dissemination of news via the internet, leading to a general overload of information, only heightens a sense of permanent unease about imminent disaster, since persistent bad news creates a perception of disorder, confusion and lack of control.
Given the USA’s enhanced influence in the world and its economic and military strength, its capacity and willingness to resolve problems at an international level become crucial in maintaining peace and stability. Most people in the West expect America to take the lead in resolving international crises. However, with the most mercurial and combative President at the helm since the nation became a global power after the Second World War - and, progressively, the leader of the free world - there is genuine alarm on the part of many about the future.
The reduction of international tensions remains essential since the ultimate use of force involving weapons of mass destruction would have overwhelming and widespread effects. As for the Caribbean, we depend on our giant neighbour for our security and prosperity so how the US interacts with others on the world stage matters even more to us than to other countries.
During the first year of his presidency, Mr Trump has been faced with myriad challenges in relation to foreign affairs – for example, North Korea’s nuclear testing, Russian expansionism, China’s growing power and its military activity in the South China Sea, ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism and the Iran nuclear deal. So far, his controversial tweeting has induced concern that US foreign policy is being made on the hoof without proper consideration of complicated issues in an informed and rational manner and without even identifying the nation’s strategic aims beyond his rhetoric about the need to “make America great again”.
Thus, the President’s announcement earlier this week of a National Security Strategy has already been welcomed. It provides a framework for US international relations and describes his administration’s priorities as protecting America’s way of life, promoting the nation’s prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing US influence in the world. He has also stressed America will lead the way vigorously in achieving these overall aims and, while recognising China and Russia as “rival powers”, will confront challenges head-on including the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. But there was no mention of climate change despite its inherent importance to any nation’s economy, though he acknowledged the economy was crucial to national security.
While the key to world peace during the Cold War was nuclear parity between the West and the Soviet Union as an effective deterrent to mutual destruction, perhaps the most pressing issue now facing the President is not only the direct challenge from North Korea as the greatest current threat but also the danger of the spread of nuclear weapons to other rogue states and into the hands of terrorists.
On a broader front, US foreign policy should surely be concerned with preservation of a rules-based and US-led liberal international order that underpins the work of supranational organisations and protects the integrity and sovereignty of the nation-state. Moreover, the importance of so-called soft power - in the shape of America’s values and cultural achievements that contribute to its influence and appeal - should not be underestimated.
Having now identified the US’s national security priorities, the question is how to give them effect. The President’s critics point to his often one-dimensional and direct approach to issues that has been effective in achieving his aims in business matters but may not be appropriate in dealing with other countries.
In the more varied and sophisticated world of international affairs the exercise of diplomacy is required in order to secure the co-operation of others. But, judging from the reported major cuts in the State Department, the Trump administration appears not to recognise its value. This ignores the fact that careful management of relations among independent states by a process of diplomatic negotiation is the accepted method of gaining strategic or tactical advantage without the use of force. Diplomacy involves the tough and hard-headed task of promoting and protecting the interests of a nation by seeking to strengthen mutual interests and reconcile conflicting ones - either multilaterally through the United Nations and other international organisations or bilaterally through resident diplomatic missions and official visits.
Such an approach to the conduct of foreign affairs may or may not be Mr Trump’s preferred way of doing business. But what is certain is that without vigorous and pre-emptive diplomacy (often behind the scenes) the world would be in a permanent state of crisis and thus become an ever more dangerous place.