Disruptive President: Trump 2016-20 legacy on US Foreign Policy

With a new man in the White House, GVS looks back at outgoing president's disruptive foreign policy.

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The last four years under President Trump were probably unprecedented in US history for the number of changes made on the foreign policy front in a short period of time. We give a brief overview of major changes undertaken.

Unprecedented withdrawal by the US from international Institutions and treaties

  • Withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership | January 2017.
  • Withdrawal from Paris Agreement on Climate | June 1, 2017.
  • Cancelled major military exercises with South Korea in 2018.
  • Rejected UN’s Global Migration Pact | December 2, 2017.
  • Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) | 2018.
  • Withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council | June 2018.
  • Trump announced the withdrawal of 2000-2500 US troops from Syria | December 19, 2018

Read more: Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia – Book Review

  • UNESCO withdrawal | December 31, 2018.
  • Provided its six-month notice of withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on February 2, 2019 (withdrew | August 2, 2019).
  • World Trade Organization (WTO) – Trump administration refused to approve judges for the panel that adjudicates trade disputes | December 2019.
  • Administration approves plan to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany. Decision was taken without prior consultation with Berlin | June 2020.
  • Withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies, will take effect on | November 22, 2020.
  • Withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), to be effective from | July 2021.
  • Resorted to unilateral tariffs, even imposing them on allies and using dubious legal justifications.

Trump US Foreign Policy legacy


  • Administration used confrontational language against China.
  • Reduced spending on basic research at home, the placement of new limits on the number of skilled immigrants allowed in the United States, and the inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic have made the country (US) less competitive vis-à-vis China.

Middle East

  • Sanctioned the Palestinians.
  • Moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem | May 14, 2018.

Read more: Pakistan: on Palestinian cause more loyal than the King?

  • Recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights | March 25, 2019.
  • Put forward a peace plan officially titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People” that set the stage for Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.
  • Adopted policy that risked sowing instability in the region, foreclosing future opportunities for peacemaking, and jeopardizing Israel’s future as both a democratic and a Jewish state.
  • Helped to bring about UAE-Israel peace deal | September 15, 2020.


  • Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), introducing a new round of sanctions | May 2018.

Read more: Iran and the US confrontation: What can Pakistan do?

  • The killing of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islam Revolutionary Guard Corps | January 3, 2020.


  • The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed which gives India access to advanced communication technology used in U.S. defence equipment and allows real-time information sharing between the two countries’ militaries | September 6, 2018.
  • US threatened India with sanctions after its missile deal with Russia | October 2018.

Read more: Indo-Russia S-400 deal: Implications for Pakistan

  • India and US sign an agreement to “strengthen bilateral security and civil nuclear cooperation” including the construction of six American nuclear reactors in India | March 27, 2019.
  • Trump ends India’s Special Trade status | June 5, 2019.
  • Trump’s first visit to India where he reiterates his offer for mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir | February 25, 2020.
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) signed | October 27, 2020.

Pakistan Key Priorities set out by US Ambassador-designate William E. Todd

  • “in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region”
  • “will actively engage Pakistan on issues such as strategic stability and non-proliferation, carrying a clear message on the threat that nuclear weapons pose to the United States, the region, and our allies and partners”

Read more: “US-China: A new hyphenation driving US-Pak Relations?”

  • “concerned about increasing restrictions on civil society, including the growing harassment and disappearances of journalists without accountability, which undermines the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly and freedoms of expression and association”
  • Advancing human rights, particularly freedom of religion and expression.
  • Increased bilateral trade and investment.
  • Expansion of youth engagement.

Trump’s Overall Agenda

  • “America first” makes clear that U.S. allies come second. Trump’s relentless focus on offsetting the costs of the United States’ overseas military presence has reinforced the corrosive message that U.S. support for allies has become transactional and conditional.
  • Denial of climate change and rejection of refugees and immigrants, and the continued scourges of mass shootings and endemic racism.
  • Trump by contrast to his predecessors, routinely complains that the United States erred by not seizing the Iraqi oil.
  • “obsesses” over bilateral trade balances, on increasing American exports and decreasing imports even though deficits matter little as long as other countries are playing by the rules and the United States can borrow to cover the shortfall.
  • Berates allies for not spending more on their militaries – especially NATO allies on not spending 2% GDP on military expenditure.

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