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Why Trump's problems in Washington mean problems for Australia.

By Daniel Steedman - posted Monday, 23 April 2018

Australia's strategic policy has relied upon a strong relationship with the United States. However, an unpredictable President brings an unwanted element of uncertainty at a time of great change in Australia's backyard.

A recent report in the Australian media about the possibility of a Chinese military facility being established in Vanuatu illustrates Australia's strategic vulnerability. Regional power dynamics are changing rapidly. There has not been a time since 1941 where Australia has needed a reliable administration in Washington more. Yet the problems faced by Trump only add to the challenges Australia faces in navigating an increasingly complex security environment.

Here in the United States, it is clear that the president is fighting fires on many fronts. The international and the domestic. This in itself is not unusual. Almost all of his predecessors over the last century faced domestic problems while dealing with long standing, and unexpectedly sudden, issues and crises around the world.


However, in Trump's case it is different. The fires around him have the potential to be far more damaging to the United States. They come at a unique time. Domestic politics in Washington is bitterly divided. Trump's own Republican party is fractured. It lacks cohesion. Especially over Trump's leadership and his conduct as president.

In addition, the post-1945 world order is changing. The primacy of the United States is being challenged as never before. The possibility of a Chinese military base in the south-west Pacific demonstrates this and brings the challenge to Australia's doorstep.

A distracted president has the potential to leave power vacuums which will be filled by others. This is not in Australia's interest.

International challenges: tensions and tariffs

On the international front Trump is dealing with a triad of nuclear challenges, a strategically confident China and a complicated, deteriorating relationship with Russia. Together, and notwithstanding the situation in the Middle East, these constitute some of the most challenging international circumstances faced by a sitting president since FDR.

Should the Trump administration take their eyes of the ball on any of these issues the consequences will be rapid and profound. Perhaps nowhere more so than in the so-called Indo-Pacific region.


Domestic challenges: mired in the swamp

On the domestic front Trump is besieged by the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

This has further divided Republicans, a party already at odds with Trump over some of his policy positions. Some say, including prominent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, that the ongoing Mueller investigation has the potential to create a Constitutional crisis.

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About the Author

Daniel Steedman is a Council Member at the AIIA and a member of the Committee at the Contemporary European Studies Association of Australia. Daniel holds a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours. He is a management consultant and is undertaking a PhD in International Relations.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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