Trump’s nation state foreign policy risks taking the world back a century to pre-World War powder keg

Clive Webb, Stephen Burman and Doug Haynes discuss how Donald Trump is taking global politics back to the nation state mentality of the second half of the nineteenth century in the latest episode of Trump Watch Sussex

Donald Trump risks marching global politics back more than a century to the tinder-box tensions that ultimately led to two world wars, leading University of Sussex historians have warned.

The US president’s shunning of 20th century alliances in favour of a nation state mentality that dominated the second half of the 19th century could lead to another worldwide conflict, warns Professor Clive Webb in the latest edition of Trump Watch Sussex.

Prof Webb, a professor of Modern American History at the University of Sussex, said: “Trump to me seems to be a reversion to nineteenth century international politics with the pre-eminence of the nation state. He seems to be reverting to what we thought was a lost, closed era of the past that brought about truly apocalyptic destruction and that’s where we seem to be headed again.

"We are seeing the beginning of the end of the post-war liberal international order, you can hear the bells clanging sonorously in the background. For 70 years the United States has been the global policeman and Donald Trump is now throwing in the badge.”

The podcast’s panel of experts said that while the disbanding of NATO remained some way off, the US had lost its exceptionalism and was no longer sufficiently dominant to carry the security and financial burden of international alliances by itself.

In the same edition of the University of Sussex podcast, Professor Stephen Burman warns that a move away from the rules-based world order that operates through global alliances could hugely weaken the UK’s standing on the world stage at a time when it is at its most vulnerable after Brexit.

Prof Burman said that as a diminishing middle ranking power that had removed itself from one alliance in the shape of the EU, the UK will become increasingly reliant on a rules-based system that is sympathetic to their needs as well as building new relationships and strengthening existing ones.

This is a scenario, the University of Sussex professor of American Politics and History says, that lies in fundamental tension to Trump’s America First policy.

Prof Burman said: “There didn’t use to be a contradiction, the rules-based world to put it crudely was established by the United States and we were willing partners because it furthered our interests. Now with Global Britain, we need a rules-based order and his [Trump’s] intention is to disrupt it.”

In the Trumpian world order, the UK will have to repeatedly prove its value to the US President but this may prove difficult with an ever decreasing military capacity.

Prof Burman said: “The relationship with Trump will be ‘what have you done for me lately?’. In the Iraq War, the Afghan war, that era, Britain had more or less unique role to play because we were willing to go shoulder-to-shoulder and put more troops in than anybody else. But the financing, funding [of UK troops] and the capabilities to be deployed has reduced and minimised our role in the eyes of the US military. We don’t have the same kind of military purchase that we used to have and that is what will count if push comes to shove with Trump in the Middle East or in the South China Sea wherever it might be, ‘what can you do for me?’ ‘How can you help me?’ and I’m afraid the UK military capability is seriously in question.”

The Trump Watch Sussex podcast series was launched in the summer of 2017 and is hosted by Dr Doug Haynes, director of the Sussex Centre for American Studies at the University of Sussex, and Dr Melissa Milewski, a lecturer in American History at the University of Sussex.

The podcats is available for free on iTunes. To listen to the latest podcast, released this week, visit iTunes or

Previous episodes focusing on Trump’s relationship with white supremacists, students’ perspectives of The Donald, the balance of power within his cabinet and how Trump uses populism tactics to his advantage are also available.

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Friday, 10 August 2018