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Trump versus tradition: a former Ambassador’s perspective on emerging foreign policy

Derek Shearer, former Finnish Ambassador, spoke at Boise State on Tuesday, March 7 about the foreign policy President Trump is developing.

Shearer’s presentation was largely focused on soft and hard power policies, centering on Trump’s affection for the latter—a slight divergence from past U.S. presidents. Hard power policies, in contrast to soft power policies, is a country’s military and economic might, according to Shearer. It is military action and the influence of the economy on the global stage. Though powerful, it isn’t exclusively effective.

In Shearer’s eyes, President Trump’s decision to not assemble a board of advisors while running for president, his use of social media, his vaguely isolationist “America First” campaign and his apparent taste for hard power policies—using military or economic force—make him different.

“America’s influence doesn’t rest solely in our military power or our economic power—it’s our culture, it’s our history, it’s our values,” Shearer said. “It’s the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, welcoming immigrants. It’s our freedom of the press, our investigative reporters. It’s our jazz and rock ’n’ roll, (and) our fusion of cultures.”

Trump tends to place more value on the nation’s military and economic power, rather than its cultural power, according to Shearer. This has been exemplified in the President’s proposed budget, which increased army funding and minimized funding for soft power institutes, such as the State Department.

Associate Political Science Professor Justin Vaughn and Director of the Center for Idaho History and Politics, invited Shearer on behalf of the organization, and acknowledged the role Trump’s budget is playing in his affection for hard power policy.

“You can tell what a politician cares about by what they put in their budgets,” said Vaughn.

The State Department—which would experience serious budget cuts—issues cultural programs such as the Fulbright Scholars program and the Peace Corps. These entities are very popular in their host nations, according to Shearer.

Awaiting potential cuts alongside the State Department are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. While nothing is set in stone yet, Trump’s budget would leave the United States’ military well-funded.

As stated by Shearer, this generosity toward the armed forces is due to Trump’s high regards of accomplished military officials. This attraction is reflected not only in his budget, but in his appointments as well.

“(Trump) values (military) people, and the kinds of things they do. He doesn’t value diplomats, and he doesn’t value the kinds of things that diplomats do,” said Vaughn.

Past presidents have blended hard and soft powers throughout their terms, according to Vaughn, but Trump has no interest in this mix.

Trump’s appointments and proposed budget may seem worrisome to some Americans, but Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Allen pointed out the necessity of hard power policy in foreign policy.

“Military and economic power often can set the stage for both negotiation and the effectiveness of other tactics, like soft power,” said Allen. “The capacity for military strength can buy a state a seat at the bargaining table and to be taken more seriously as a party.”

The use of economic or military force in international policy can prove useful, but as stated by Shearer, it cannot be the only tactic used—there must be a delicate balance of hard and soft powers.

In issues regarding the Middle East, Russia and climate change, Shearer cited the near impossibility of reaching resolutions solely by military or economic intervention.

“The idea that there is a hard power—or military solution—to most of our foreign policies is an illusion. There are no easy, simple answers using hard power,” Shearer said.

In accordance with this, Vaughn offered a metaphor of using a stick to get one’s way in an argument. Vaughn said if someone is doing something the other disagrees with, they can’t use brute force to assault the other with their stick in an attempt to make them agree.

“(The use of force) is only one tool in your tool box, and probably not the tool you want to use all that often,” Vaughn said.

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