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Energy 11 July, 2017 9:00 am   
Editorial staff

PISM: U.S. policy towards Russia is a continuation of Obama’s approach

Trump used the opportunity of his visit to Poland (6 July) to give his most important foreign policy address since taking office—and the first one outside of the United States. The speech helped dissipate some doubts surrounding the substance of U.S. foreign policy. Still, the country’s policymaking process is marked by internal tensions – writes Bartosz Wiśniewski, analyst at the Polish Institute for Foreign Affairs.

Why was Warsaw picked as the location of the speech?

Since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. president has used Warsaw as a stage to deliver foreign policy speeches outlining U.S. priorities in Central Europe. In 1989, George H. W. Bush presented his administration’s ideas for economic assistance to Poland and Hungary. Later, this plan was extended to the whole region. In 1997, Bill Clinton sealed the decision to implement the first eastward NATO enlargement. In June 2001, George W. Bush spoke about Central Europe’s possible contribution to furthering the vision of “Europe whole and free”. In 2014, Barack Obama praised the achievements of Poland’s transformation and the United States’ contribution to it. Trump, in turn, has written the next chapter in the history of U.S. presidential visits to Poland. The speech was delivered in front of the Warsaw Uprising monument, a symbol of Polish perseverance in the fight for freedom.

What is the significance of the speech in light of Trump’s visit to Europe?

The speech was rich with references to the record of Polish-U.S. relations, but its scope was much broader. Trump’s elucidation of U.S. interests in Central Europe, including strong support for the Three Seas Initiative, signifies the continuation of a strategy set in motion in the late 1980s and geared towards building “Europe whole and free”. Trump used the Warsaw leg of his European trip to lay the groundwork for his talks during the G-20 summit in Hamburg. Trump’s clear indication of the U.S. role as the leader of the West was prologue for his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has openly questioned his administration’s commitment to the values underpinning the transatlantic community. In Warsaw, Trump also offered some hints about the future course of U.S. policy towards Russia.

What are Trump’s ideas for the future of transatlantic relations?

As expected, Trump reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the security guarantees under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. He took note of steps taken to strengthen deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank. At the same time, Trump reiterated the U.S. insistence on the need for increased European contribution to common defence—both in financial terms and with respect to the “will to act”. It marked a continuation of the policy of both the current and past U.S. administrations. Finally, Trump underlined the role that a “strong Europe” plays in cohesion of the West. However, it is unlikely to end speculation about Trump’s attitude towards European integration. He specifically referred to “nations of Europe”. 

What pointers about U.S. policy towards Russia did Trump include in the speech?

Trump called on Russia to end its actions aimed at the destabilization of Ukraine and to halt its assistance to “hostile regimes” in Iran and Syria. References to threats to the West, such as propaganda and cyberwarfare, can be interpreted as indirectly aimed at Russia, even though Trump declined to provide an unambiguous answer to the question about Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. However, the contrast to some of Trump’s earlier public statements was clearly visible. To date, open formulation of differences between United States and Russia was left to other figures in Trump’s administration. U.S. policy towards Russia is increasingly the continuation of the Obama administration’s approach. The prospect of a breakthrough in the relationship is becoming more distant, but has not been ruled out altogether.

Is U.S. foreign policy becoming more coherent?

The Warsaw speech was an attempt to combine two rival approaches to the formulation of U.S. foreign policy, both represented in the Trump administration. References to the transatlantic community, calls for the unity of the West, and an emphasis on values common to “free nations” reflect the influence that Trump’s national security advisor, H. R. McMaster, is wielding on programming U.S. policy. At the same time, identifying the most important challenge facing the United States in terms of “defence of civilization” as the threat from terrorism and extremism testifies to the important role of the Strategic Initiatives Group in Trump’s advisory milieu. The foreign policy of the Trump administration will continue to follow a middle way between these two approaches.

Source: PISM