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US foreign policy will be dominated by “realpolitik in a fragmented and insecure world” after the elections

The United States of America will become more isolationist, face less consensus and a more fragmented geopolitical environment in which the practice of realpolitik will dominate policy in a way that hasn’t been seen since before World War I.

This is the conclusion of Ambassador Francisco Seixas da Costa and Professor Jaime Nogueira Pinto who spoke at a debate on “The Next Presidential Elections in the USA – the Impact on Portugal and the World”, organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce in Lisbon (AmCham) on Thursday last week.

Moderated by journalist André Macedo, Nogueira Pinto explained why a Republican candidate like Donald Trump as a political outsider had achieved so much support in the United States.

He said that the success of Trump could be explained by globalisation and its causalities among the American public’s middle and lower middle classes who have been adversely affected by it through unemployment and low salaries.
People were disenchanted with the traditional ruling elite in the USA and were prepared to pay more to have their goods made in the USA and not in China.

The demographic profile of the USA had changed too, with 30% of the population now made up of ethnic groups which would prove decisive in the elections.

The world had become “fractured and unpredictable” unlike the time during or after the Cold War, with new powers arising and a Russia that demanded to be respected and wanting to recover her position in the world after the humiliation of losing the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The aftermath of the elections would be complicated for the Republican party too, he said, which is “divided and reconciliation will not be easy”.

Whoever won the elections, it would be “difficult for consensus to be found on foreign policy because divisions in internal policy in the United States are so profound”.

The problem of Europe

The question for the European Union was if Hillary Clinton would follow Barrack Obama’s policy of relative disinterest in Europe, which is politically weaker following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.


While admitting that Portugal was not high on the United States’ agenda in the 21st century, as geopolitically aligned with the Western World Portugal could not afford to create surprises in pursing its own interests with China and Angola. Seixas da Costa summed up Portugal as a faithful ally of the transatlantic relationship with various bilateral relationships.


It was agreed by both commentators that Russia’s position had changed for the worse over the past decade and had become unpredictable, with Russia now wanting to be partners in the Middle East where there was an emerging zone of confluence of powers.Ambassador Francisco Seixas da Costa said that there was a serious lack of symmetry in the relationship between Russia and the West and that Russia had become “a more frightening entity” than it had been in the past.

The Middle East

Seixas da Costa believed that Hillary Clinton would win the elections and that her big challenge would be the Middle East and the question of “how the United States would claw back the confidence of Israel and Saudi Arabia”; and the relationship with Turkey, which on the one hand is a key member of NATO, but on the other hand is a regional power with its own regional agenda and an interest in the future of Iraq, Syria and the position of Iran.

Jaime Nogueira Pinto said that the Middle East would “never be the same” after the USA’s experiment at democratisation during the Bush and Obama administrations.


Ambassador Seixas da Costa said that Hillary Clinton has given signs that the USA considers Asia as “central for its foreign policy” and it would be interesting to see how its relationship would develop with China and the various allies it had in Asia given that Japan and South Korea were likely to rearm over the problem of North Korea.

In conclusion, both commentators agreed alliances would be volatile, that Hillary Clinton was a liberal internationalist while Donald Trump was national isolationist and that Europe was isolated and fragmented with low growth and divided by questions such as the single currency, the migrant crisis and Brexit. Either way, United States’ policy would in future be dominated by national factors at home and a policy of realpolitik abroad.


Photo: From left: António Comprido (BPCC), Dr. Jaime Nogueira Pinto (speaker), Sofia Tenreiro (AmCham), Ambassador Francisco Seixas da Costa (speaker) and André Macedo (moderator).