Background on the candidate’s statements, positions, and record on diplomacy, global development, and U.S. international affairs programs.
President Donald Trump has defined his foreign policy around his “America First” mantra centering on reducing U.S. trade deficits and rebalancing burden sharing within alliances, saying he is “not a globalist” and adding that “I want to help people around the world, but we have to take care of our country, or we won’t have a country.”
His Administration repeatedly supported budget requests calling for deep cuts of American diplomacy and development programs. On a policy level, the Administration launched signature global development initiatives to strengthen America’s investments in development finance and women’s economic empowerment around the world.
On U.S. global leadership:
- Addressing the 2017 World Economic Forum In a major international speech as president, he told the world that “America First does not mean America alone” stating that “I will always put America first, just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first.”
- In launching his Administration’s National Security Strategy in 2017, President Trump sought to “restore respect for the United States abroad and renew American confidence at home.” The Strategy centered on the theme of great power competition – often naming China and Russia – and framed its worldview through the lens of “growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world.”
- Describing “sovereignty” as a guiding foreign policy doctrine, he told the United Nations General Assembly “we must protect our sovereignty and our cherished independence above all.”
On resources for diplomacy and global development:
- President Trump and his Administration repeatedly proposed cutting funding for the State Department, USAID, and other diplomatic and development agencies by as much as 32%. His former OMB Director Mick Mulvaney described the Administration’s first budget proposal as a “hard power budget” and “not a soft power budget.”
- President Trump has been largely critical of U.S. foreign assistance, raising sharp questions on the role the U.S. should play on the global stage, saying that “the United States is the world’s largest giver in the world, by far, of foreign aid. But few give anything to us.”
- Under his Administration, the State Department and USAID focused on modernizing foreign assistance to achieve greater development outcomes. A key element of this approach was the launch of USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance, aimed at strengthening “the ability of partner countries to sustainably support their own development agendas” and “work toward a time when foreign assistance is no longer necessary.” Another was a concerted effort to increase private sector engagement in addressing key development challenges.
- In 2020, the U.S. brokered historic agreements – which became known as the “Abraham Accords” – that established or reestablished diplomatic and economic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. These agreements represented the first between Israel and an Arab country in 25 years.
- Seeking to bring “peace to the Middle East” and stop “endless wars,” President Trump stated that the Abraham Accords were “a result of our bold diplomacy and principled realism, we achieved a series of historic peace deals in the Middle East. He added that “The Abraham Accords opened the doors to a future of peace and harmony, not violence and bloodshed. It is the dawn of a new Middle East, and we are bringing our soldiers home.”
- President Trump also engaged directly in direct nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – meeting with him 3 times between 2018 and 2019 – and became the became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea.
- President Trump focused on the renegotiation of trade agreements as one of his Administration’s top priorities. This included the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
On global development priorities:
- Trump’s Presidential Administration launched several signature global development initiatives aimed at increasing development impacts and “promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world.”
- The Administration played a leadership role in enhancing America’s development finance capacity and launching the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation with the goal to “make America a stronger and more competitive leader on the global development stage.” In addition, the President Trump signed the BUILD ACT into law in 2018 with strong bipartisan congressional support, which will double the new agency’s finance capacity.”
- The Administration also prioritized global women’s economic empowerment. In 2019, President Trump established the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, led by Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, to empower 50 million women worldwide by 2050 through a series of U.S. government activities, public-private partnerships, and dedicated funding. Building on the bipartisan Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act, signed into law in early 2019, President Trump stated that “investing in women helps achieve greater peace and prosperity for nations.”
- The Administration also prioritized the promotion of international religious freedom, rallying world leaders to the cause at two State Department ministerials and promoting assistance “to protect religious minorities from persecution and atrocities.”
On global health:
- During a COVID-19 White House Task Force briefing, in response to a question on U.S. support for efforts to combat global health epidemics including HIV/AIDS and malaria, President Trump stated, “we have to keep doing that…That’s humanity.”
- Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump placed a hold on all funding to the World Health Organization. Claiming it had mismanaged efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic and that American taxpayers pay the majority of WHO funding, he said “with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible.” This paved the way for the Administration to announce its withdrawal from the WHO.
- In May of 2019, the Administration released its Global Health Security Strategy calling for a “whole-of-government approach” to combat “biological threats and pandemics.”
- On global health partnerships, the Administration stated it “strongly supports the Global Health Security Agenda… to accelerate progress addressing infectious disease threats” and reaffirmed support for the strategy at the GHSA Ministerial meeting in November of 2018.
- The Administration launched PEPFAR 3.0 focused on controlling the HIV epidemic and signed into law the PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018 to reauthorize this landmark program for an additional five years. At the same time, the Administration’s budget requests called for substantial cuts to global health programs.
On the U.S. global competition with China
- Throughout his presidency, President Trump prioritized the challenge of great power competition and sought to aggressively confront China “to protect American security and prosperity.”
- As outlined in the President’s 2017 National Security Strategy, the Administration stated that “China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.”
- In a speech in May 2022, President Trump – reiterating his “America First” foreign policy – stated that the U.S. wants an “open and constructive relationship with China,” however, “achieving that relationship requires us to vigorously defend our national interests.”
- Trump deployed tariffs in trade negotiations, most notably with China, as leverage to help protect domestic American industries as well as address his concerns over trade imbalances.
- Launched during the Trump Administration, the Prosper Africa Initiative sought to demonstrate the superior value of transparent markets and private enterprise, in contrast to predatory financial and political efforts by China and Russia in the region. In support of Prosper Africa, the U.S. Government has helped close 1,100 deals between the United States and African nations and generated $65 billion in new exports and investments across 49 countries since 2018 when Prosper Africa was created.
- Throughout his campaign and presidency, President Trump often pressed America’s allies and partners to step up in burden sharing, stating that “The United States will not be taken advantage of any longer” and threatening to renegotiate traditional alliances like NATO.
- In his inaugural address, he said that the United States would always “seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”
- Calling on NATO to boost its defense spending, President Trump addressed NATO members in Brussels in 2017 declaring they “must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations” as an issue of fairness to America and its taxpayers.
- In his farewell address, President Trump reiterated, “NATO countries are now paying hundreds of billions of dollars more than when I arrived just a few years ago. It was very unfair. We were paying the cost for the world. Now the world is helping us.”