Donald Trump wants to change the world from the White House. Here’s what he’s said he’d do in a second term

Donald Trump wants to change the world from the White House. Here’s what he’s said he’d do in a second term
  • PublishedApril 6, 2024

From ending the war in Ukraine in a day, to encouraging Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that don’t pay the bills, Donald Trump’s public proclamations on the foreign policy he’d pursue have alarmed allies. 

If he were to win back the White House, he could become a player in two major conflicts, in Ukraine and Gaza.

So what would his approach in those theatres be, as well as to the US’s relationship with China?

Would he honour the AUKUS deal under which Australia is set to acquire nuclear-powered submarines?

And could he and would he make good on the veiled threat to try to oust Australia’s US ambassador Kevin Rudd over his previous criticisms of the former president?

Trump is now the presumptive Republican nominee for the November presidential election. Barring some major upset, he’ll be confirmed at the party’s convention in July.  

What he has said so far about his foreign policy goals is typically characterised by bombast and contradictions, but it matters because there’s now a very real chance he could return to the role of commander-in-chief.

We previously looked at how Trump 2.0 could play out on the domestic front. Now, through his own words, we examine Trump’s plans for the international stage.

Donald Trump pictured with the words: I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.

Trump’s starting point on many of the world’s most seemingly intractable problems is that things would have been different under his leadership.

More than a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine he told CNN the war “would never have happened” if he had been president.

“All those dead people, both Russian and Ukrainian … they wouldn’t be dead today,” he said.

And he pledged, “I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.”

Trump hasn’t spelled out exactly how he’d go about that, but he is arguably already having an impact on the war in Ukraine.

At his behest, his America First allies in congress are blocking the passage of $US60 billion ($91 billion) of US security assistance to Ukraine, which Trump has called “an endless flow of American treasure”.

Two soldiers, with their backs to a camera, operating a large machine outdoors with flames coming out of it
Ukraine says 31,000 of their soldiers have been killed in the war, but Western intelligence says their estimates are much higher. (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Serhii Nuzhnenko via Reuters)

Trump’s suggestion that any money flowing to Kyiv should be in the form of a loan is now gaining some traction.

“We should loan them the money so that if they do make it … they’re against tremendous odds, but if they make it, they pay us back,” he told a campaign rally in Ohio last month.

He called Ukrainian President Zolodymyr Zelenskyy one of the greatest salesmen in history”.

“Every time he comes to the country, he walks away with $50 or $60 billion.”

Trump could also try to persuade the Russian and Ukrainian leaders to strike some kind of deal.

“I would get him [Putin] into a room, I’d get Zelenskyy into a room, then I’d bring them together and I’d have a deal worked out,” he told NBC.

Emma Doyle, a former White House principal deputy chief of staff in Trump’s administration, says he “tends to really believe if you can get everyone in one room, you can start hashing things out”.

“He does see himself as a unique deal maker.”

But Russia expert Brian Taylor, from New York’s Syracuse University, says even if the two leaders agreed to sit down at the negotiating table, it was hard to imagine Zelenskyy ever signing off on ceding Russian-occupied land.

“It’s a territory as large as Switzerland and Austria combined, so I don’t think any Ukrainian politician would agree to that and stay in power.”

Trump has had a complex relationship with Ukraine, stemming from the events that led to his first impeachment trial, sparked by a phone call with the then relatively inexperienced Zelenskyy.

At the same time, he has long seemed to crave Vladimir Putin’s attention and admiration.

Mr Trump has moved on from his famous “best friend” tweet, but continues to publicly praise the Russian leader.

Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013

He described Putin as a “genius” and “savvy” in the wake of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

While it’s unclear how much Putin buys into the bromance, what does seem evident is that any second Trump term is ultimately likely to spell bad news for Ukraine.

Professor Taylor, who authored The Code of Putinism, said a key feature of Trump 2.0 would likely be that the president would not have as many Russia-sceptics in his sphere.

“Back in the first Trump presidency, there were figures like the secretary of state Michael Pompeo, like John Bolton, the national security adviser, several other figures in the US government who had a less favourable view of Putin than Trump did.

“If Trump is elected in 2024, he will surround himself with people who adhere to his worldview and are therefore less hostile to Russia and more sympathetic to Putin.”

Donald Trump pictured with the words: Finish it up and do it quickly

In the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks on Israel, Trump elicited shock and condemnation from both sides of politics for praising Hezbollah’s tactics. 

At the time, with Israel focused on Gaza, the Iran-backed militant group with close ties to Hamas was stepping up attacks on Israel’s restive northern border with Lebanon. 

“You know, Hezbollah is very smart.”

Trump also lobbed barbs at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he appears to have soured on, saying the Israeli leader “was not prepared and Israel was not prepared” for the terrorist attacks. 

“Look, Hezbollah are not smart,” Trump’s former vice-president Mike Pence said. “They’re evil, OK?”

While he claims he’ll end the the Ukraine war in a day, Trump initially expressed no such ambitions for the Gaza conflict. 

You’re probably going to have to let this play out,” he said in November.

As the war drags on, his public comments would suggest a possible change in his thinking, or simply that he’s giving out mixed messages.

I think you have to finish it up and do it quickly,” he told Fox last month. 

“We need peace in the world. That would be one of the two things I would do very quickly.”

That Trump hasn’t articulated a concrete plan for achieving peace in the Middle East is not particularly relevant, argues Aaron David Miller, a former State Department negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations. 

“It’s entirely unlikely in January of 2025 that the frenetic pace of this conflict in Gaza is going to be at the same level,” he says. 

“You’ll have a lower-level conflict, in my judgement, which probably will revert to what Israel in Gaza had been like before, except without a Hamas military presence using high trajectory weapons to threaten southern Israel.” 

The Fox interview saw Trump fall back on one of his favourite boasts, that bad things would not have happened in the world had he been in charge. 

Biden is so bad for Israel – they should have never been attacked. If Biden were good to Israel, they would have never been attacked.”

Trump’s signature first term Middle East policy was the Abraham Accords. 

The agreements, which his special advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner helped negotiate, normalised relations between Israel and several Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“If anybody on the other side [of politics] did the Abraham Accords, they would have had 15 Nobel Prizes,” Trump said. “OK. I get nothing.”

Donald Trump smiles at Benjamin Netanyahu during a function at the White House.
Trump has previously called himself “the most pro-Israel president ever”. (AP: Susan Walsh)

Dr Miller says any second Trump administration would be “more or less a repetition of the last go round”.

“It would involve essentially toughening up American policy toward Iran.

“It would focus on getting an Israeli-Saudi normalisation agreement, continuing his fascination with the Gulf – particularly with the Emiratis and with the Saudis – and it would probably represent in many other areas a sort of haphazard laissez-faire approach to a region that is admittedly filled with an extraordinary amount of challenges and dysfunction.” 

Overriding Palestinian concerns and decades of US foreign policy, Trump approved the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, slashed funding to the Palestinians and declared the US no longer considered Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law.

He loved to label himself “the most pro-Israel president ever”.

“A lot of people believe that because of his very pro-Israel actions, in the first term, that he would continue along that course and a second term,” said Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton. 

“I think that’s open to question.” 

The now outspoken Trump critic pointed to the deterioration of the Trump-Netanyahu relationship, and said it was also worth noting that even if he wins in November, Trump will be barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. 

“The views of the pro-Israel community in the United States are a lot less important in a second Trump term than they were in a first Trump term.” 

Donald Trump pictured with the words: Why should we guard these countries that have a lot of money?

Trump has long taken issue with military allies that he says don’t pay the bills.

By that, he means NATO nations that don’t come good on the agreement that all members put 2 per cent of their GDP into defence.

The guideline is designed to ensure nations are adequately funding their own defence capabilities, and not overly relying on other members of the alliance to protect them.

Last year, only 11 NATO member states met that target. This year, 18 are expected to.

Trump recently said he had once warned a European leader that the US would not protect a NATO ally from a Russian attack if they hadn’t met their financial obligations.

“No, I wouldn’t protect you,” Trump said he told the European leader. “In fact, I would encourage them [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel surrounded by G7 leaders looking at Donald Trump
Trump often had fraught relationships with leaders from G7 and NATO countries. (Instagram: bundeskanzlerin)

In March, he defended the comment as “a form of negotiation” to put pressure on those members not meeting the defence-spending guideline.

“Why should we guard these countries that have a lot of money and the United States was paying for most of NATO?” he said.

When asked, “If they start to play fair, America’s there?” Trump replied, “Yes, 100 per cent.”

But John Bolton says he believes Trump is laying the groundwork to pull the US out of NATO.

He says Trump came “within an inch” of pulling out of the alliance during the 2018 NATO summit in Brussels, when Mr Bolton was his national security advisor. He believes he would abandon NATO during a second term.

“I would bet on it,” he told the ABC. “I think that’s exactly what he’s going to do.”

But others say the fact Trump didn’t pull out of NATO in his first term, even if he appeared to come close, suggests he wouldn’t during a second, either.

Emma Doyle, the former Trump White House staffer, believes Trump’s threats are all designed to get member states to increase defence spending and reduce reliance on the US.

“He has been consistent in asking for NATO members to uphold their commitment to reach a 2 per cent funding level,” she says. “I think he makes these comments to try to get an outcome.”

Officially, Trump’s promising to “evaluate” NATO if re-elected.

In a campaign video entitled ‘Preventing World War III’, Trump last month said: “We have to finish the process we began under my administration of fundamentally evaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission“.

Donald Trump pictured with the words: I want China to do great.

Despite persistent rocky relations between their two countries over issues ranging from human rights to spy balloons, Trump has no issue praising China’s president, Xi Jinping.

“I like President Xi a lot,” Trump told Fox News this week. “He was a very good friend of mine during my term.”

In fact, Trump’s previous term in office began with a trade war with China, resulting in the estimated loss of almost 300,000 American jobs. Trump slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods, and Biden has kept them in place.

“I want China to do great,” Trump said in this week’s Fox interview. But when asked about a report he was considering a new flat 60 per cent tariff on all Chinese imports, Trump said: “No, I would say maybe it’s going to be more than that.”

He insisted, “It’s not a trade war.” But it shows Trump wants to continue to be, and be seen as, a tough protectionist when it comes to China.

A report from Washington’s Brookings think tank says whether Trump wins the election or not, “America’s economic policy toward China will likely grow tighter, rather than looser”.

But Trump would aim for a more full-scale “decoupling” of the two countries’ economies, the report says.

“Trump would favour broad-based decoupling and would be willing to tolerate high costs in pursuit of such a goal, whereas Biden likely would focus on targeted de-risking in areas of the economy that have national security or human rights nexuses.”

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping shake hands while standing in front of the flags of their respective nations.
Donald Trump says he got along well with Xi Jinping as president.(Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)

Joe Hockey watched US-China relations go downhill as Australia’s ambassador to the US during the trade war that marked Trump’s first term.

“Whether it’s Biden or Trump, I see relations [with China] continuing to deteriorate,” he says.

“That’s going to remain a significant challenge for Australia. We have to navigate that really carefully.”

Taiwan remains a major point of contention in the relationship. US officials have warned China could invade Taiwan by 2027, and while the US does not formally support Taiwan’s independence, it considers it a “key US partner in the Indo-Pacific” and provides it with military support.

Neither Trump nor Biden have explicitly said they would send troops to defend Taiwan if it were invaded.

When asked on Fox, Trump said: “I won’t tell you now because that would really jeopardise my negotiating ability with China.”

John Bolton argues it’s “very doubtful” Trump would defend Taiwan, based on his attitude while Bolton served as his national security advisor.

“I remember on many occasions sitting in the Oval Office, he would hold up one of his famous Sharpie pens and he’d point to the tip of it and say, ‘That’s Taiwan’,” Bolton says. 

“Then he’d point to the huge resolute desk in front of him and say, ‘That’s China’.

“And to a person who sees the world in dollars-and-cents terms, or square footage as a real estate broker, there wasn’t any doubt which he thought was the priority.”

Donald Trump pictured with the words: If he's at all hostile, he won't be there long.

When the populist UK politician-turned-broadcaster Nigel Farage interviewed Trump last month, it briefly appeared as though he might tap into the former president’s views on the AUKUS pact.

Farage’s meandering question on GB News began with mention of the defence deal between the US, Australia and UK, but wound up homing in on Kevin Rudd’s previous criticisms of Trump.

“I heard he’s a little bit nasty,” Trump said when it was put it to him that Australia’s current ambassador to the US had previously labelled him “destructive” and “a traitor to the West”.

“I hear he’s not the brightest bulb.

“If he’s at all hostile, he will not be there long.”

The comments made for dramatic headlines, but viewers were left none the wiser as to what Trump makes of the AUKUS agreement, under which Australia is set to purchase up to five US nuclear-powered submarines beginning next decade.

The Heritage Foundation’s Mandate for Leadership, a blueprint for a new conservative leader drawn up by the influential think-tank, makes no specific mention of AUKUS in its almost 900 pages.

The document does however talk of encouraging US allies to take “far greater responsibility” for their own defence.

“Burden-sharing,” the document states, should be “a central part of US defence strategy”.

Australia and Japan are named among countries in the Asia-Pacific that should be encouraged to spend and collaborate more.

“I think he’ll [Trump] be supportive of it,” Joe Hockey says of AUKUS.

“Australia purchasing the Virginia class subs and Australia investing more than 2 per cent of GDP in defence will be warmly received by Donald Trump.”

Hockey’s successor as Australia’s representative in Washington, Arthur Sinodinos, agrees.

“We are contributing to the defence industrial base in the US, as well as the UK. So we’re more than paying our way,” he says.

Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton is less convinced.

“I’m not at all sure that ‘Mr Art of the Deal’ would think AUKUS is such a good idea – it would depend on what the political lay of the land was when the question was put in front of him.”


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