Política Internacional

Why is the world a more dangerous place? Three scenarios for Trump’s tenure, by Cristine Zanella and Edson Neves Jr.

Previously to this text, we indicated two hypotheses suggesting that the world is a more dangerous place with Donald Trump in the presidency of the United States (ZANELLA, NEVES JR., 2017). In this second part, we start from the premise that the hypotheses raised by us are plausible and we outline three possible scenarios that could emerge from an international context in which military conflict is more likely.

By identifying potential choices and trajectories of Trump’s foreign policy, we assume the risk of neglecting constructs and processes that are not obvious or even information whose access is exclusive to the agents of the current US administration. Complementarily, we can also be influenced by the constant conjuncture changes, by the emotional reaction that the prospect of Trump’s campaign promises implementation evokes and, finally, by the profusion of events characteristic of our times. However, it is our understanding that such difficulties do not invalidate this exercise, because the driving forces we believe to be among the most substantive are part of the analysis.

For its prospective nature, scenario analysis is a controversial field of study, but it is useful for supporting public and private policy development, and also for bringing the International Relations studies closer to the practical needs of governments and corporations. All in all, a scenario analysis seeks firstly to provide narratives about likely paths that both public and private organizations can take based on few elements: (i) the characteristics and statements of the leaders; (ii) the capacity of the advisory body to guide, formulate and execute the resolutions taken; (iii) the commitments, objectives and identity assumed by its leaders/organization; (iv) the supporting and adversarial political forces; and (v) the relative power of the organization and the context in which its actions are taken. Secondly, scenario analysis considers the impacts and responses to the measures taken, as well as the reformulations proposed by the organization and leaders (NEUMANN; OVERLAND, 2004; HAN, 2011; HERMANN, 1990). In the scenario analysis exercise presented here, these variables corresponding to the process of formulation and execution of Trump’s foreign policy are considered, as well as potential reactions, obstacles and setbacks arising from his initiatives.

Given the multiple variables to be considered and in view of the high degree of openness of the current international system, it is possible to indicate some scenarios in which the US foreign policy would be quite influential.

Scenario 1. Considers that the Trump government neither initiates nor intensifies any military intervention. Instead, it follows strictly the electoral economic path presented in the “making-America-big-again” plan via industrialization and generation of employment and income. In this scenario, it is possible to foresee what we call a “tax blackmail”, consisting in the threat that if corporations do not return or maintain their production plants in the United States, tariff and non-tariff barriers will be imposed to hinder the entry of their products into the US market. In such circumstances, we envisage a series of difficulties for the current administration: how to change the course of a highly globalized economy, in comprehensive terms, encompassing finances (one with intense fluxes in stock exchanges and investments), industries and trade (internationalization of production and services)? How to persuade an economic elite to produce nationally, with more costs, and not to take advantage of the global value chains? Such changes would have a substantial impact on what we know as globalization and they would face harsh resistance, even from those who supported Trump’s election. The way out could be coupling a moderate tax blackmail – we have some evidence pointing to it in these early days of government – with a radicalization against minority groups with fragile or non-identification with the current administration (the non-voters). Measures in this complementary line of action can already be seen, such as the more restrictive immigration laws and the more difficult access to citizenship by marginalized social sectors, with consequences for other countries and transnational actors. The legitimacy of the president’s economic policies in this case would be more artificial than real because it would be based on modest industrial growth articulated to restrictions on access to citizenship for sectors considered non-electors: for instance, immigrants, black population, women, and LGBT individuals. Finally, the war, in this scenario, would not be an immediate option, but we should consider a high degree of internal social tension due to marginalization and social inequality. At least domestically it is possible to imagine conflicts arising. Comparatively, Obama’s choice for re-industrialization, only timidly obtained, was less aggressive for betting on the development of new productive areas of the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, such as scanning / automation, robotization, big data, internet of things, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, hypersonic propulsion, advanced manufacture, clean energy, biomedicine, and space conquest. (MOREIRA JR, 2016). In short, Obama followed historical systemic tendencies characterized by the overcoming of crises through innovation and reformulation of the productive base.

Scenario 2. Considers that the domestic impact of the economic plan does not achieve the expected results and the military would be accessed, even if associated to other countries and timely and territorially limited. In this scenario, it is possible to think on some lines of action: the development of a military coalition against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could be an alternative; a less viable second option would be to embark on a new round of the war on terror including Qaeda-affiliated movements in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia; and third, the less reasonable and riskier path, the establishment of a coalition against a single Middle Eastern country, such as Iran, or a South Asia one, such as Pakistan (if the Indo-American partnership currently developing comes to succeed). Under these circumstances, the interests of the US military industry, a sector that still retains much of its factory assets located in the United States, would be added to the moderation of the domestic economic transformations mentioned in the first scenario. Such an option is not beyond President Trump’s horizon, which we can conclude from his request to the Secretary of Defense and to the Pentagon for studies on the reform and expansion of the Armed Forces and on a possible war against the Islamic State (LAMOTHE, 2017). The option for an international alliance against the Islamic State and allies (with potential membership of Al Qaeda affiliates) would have the dual function of inducing the war economy and articulating an alliance with Russia and, eventually, China, in order to improve US international relations. Due to the public opinion appeals and ISIS radical political acts, the Islamic State seems to have the potential to serve as that common enemy against whom international forces could unite to fight. Further positive effect for such combination of forces would be the convergence with Russian foreign policy in Syria and and the Chinese support due to its concern with terrorism, extremism and separatism – issues that this country faces in its eastern borders. The third alternative – a coalition against an instable Asian country, currently Iran or Pakistan, for instance – would generate more pronounced reactions from China and Russia and certainly would not have UN Security Council approval. If this last option comes to be the road taken, it is likely to come very close to the third scenario, presented below.

Scenario 3. Considers a possible failure of internal economic measures (protectionism, industrialization attempt and social marginalization) and the impossibility of engender an international coalition against radical groups or countries due to the resistance of the internal political opposition and great powers interested in the region. This would be the worst scenario for the Trump government. In this context, on the one hand, the measures sought in the election are frustrated due to popular disapproval and political opposition. On the other hand, it becomes impossible to resort to a military path due to the government inability to negotiate internationally. If domestic and international political failure and economic pressure does not remove President Trump from power through impeachment, he will be likely to have two lines of action. The fastest one would be renunciation, given the unmanageable conditions of his administration. A second way out would be to convince the lobbies directly or indirectly linked to the Military Industrial Complex and part of the national political class that a military adventure somewhere, with high intensity and defined period, would be feasible from a military and financially profitable point of view. Defense companies would be encouraged to increase their respective industrial parks located in the national territory, by equally increasing demand due to the war and also to close joint ventures or other international partnerships in regions considered unsuitable to maintain their activities (where the potential opponents could be find). This option – the one of the greatest rupture among the presented ones – points to an equally intense reaction of the international community, with the creation of alliances against the American interventions, the weakening – if not deactivation – of the UN Security Council, the reorganization of the commerce and international financial flows, and the emergence of other multilateral political concerts. On the domestic sphere there are important considerations if this path is taken. It is a totally open question if the United States would be able to sustain an enduring war against a moderate-sized adversary without greatly extenuate its economy and without demanding an excessive personal and financial tribute (recruitment) from the population. On this last point, it is worth to remind that the US military abolished conscription after the Vietnam War in the 1970s. In order to maintain an intense conflict for a longer time than the last interventions in Afghanistan (in five weeks US removed the Taliban from power), and in Iraq (in three weeks Saddam Hussein was overthrown from power), additional troops and taxes would be needed to sustain war efforts. Such a scenario tends to be more exhausting for the United States if the chosen opponent is able to offer resistance for a longer period.

In this text, we did not intend to present all the possible scenarios for Trump’s administration, but only those which are linked to our general understanding, sustained especially in the first part of this text. In other words, our central argument is that, with Trump in the United States presidency, the world becomes a more dangerous place, in comprehensive terms: the probability of international conflicts started as a way out to activate a stagnated economy, an outcome either ascribed to an international protectionist competition, or still stemming from unsolved tensions likely to overflow across borders under the form of military conflicts.


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HERMANN, Charles F. Changing Course: When Governments Choose to Redirect Foreign Policy. International Studies Quaterly, vol. 34, n. 1, mar. 1990.

LAMOTHE, Dan. Trump re-ups criticism of United Nations, saying it’s causing problems, not solving them. Washington Post. 27 Jan. 2017. Available on: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/01/27/draft-executive-order-shows-how-trump-wants-to-grow-the-u-s-military-significantly/?utm_term=.8eb69f8bc927&gt;. Access on: 8 Jan.2017.

MOREIRA JR., Hermes. A política de inovação do governo Obama como estratégia de recuperação econômica e manutenção da liderança internacional. Oikos, vol. 15, n. 2, p. 21-35, 2016.

NEUMANN, Iver B.; OVERLAND,  Erik F. International Relations and Policy Planning: The Method of Perspectivist Scenario Building. International Studies Perspectives, n. 5, p. 258 – 277, 2004.

ZANELLA, Cristine K.; NEVES JR., Edson J. Why is the world a more dangerous place? Two hypotheses on Trump’s foreign policy. Mundorama – Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais, 09 fev. 2017. Available on: <http://www.mundorama.net/?p=20297&gt;, Access on: 19 fev. 2017.


Cristine Koehler Zanella. Lecturer in International Relations at Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU/Brazil)  (cristine.zanella@ufrgs.br).
Edson José Neves Júnior. Lecturer in International Relations at Vila Velha University (UVV/Brazil)  (edson.neves@uvv.br).

How to cite

Cite this article as: Editoria, "Why is the world a more dangerous place? Three scenarios for Trump’s tenure, by Cristine Zanella and Edson Neves Jr.," in Revista Mundorama, 11/04/2017, https://mundorama.net/?p=23481.

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