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Isolationism and its Consequences for Conflict Prevention

Isolationism and its Consequences for Conflict Prevention

At this year’s Foreign Policy Association Lecture on Conflict Prevention Richard G. Lugar, former Republican senator from Indiana, discussed the issues revolving around the United States’ global leadership. Could Donald Trump’s “America First” isolationism, professed during his electoral campaign, decrease the U.S.’ role in the world, and ultimately its security?

Since World War II the United States has been an essential factor in preventing conflict in different parts of the world. In Europe, U.S. security guarantees and its commitment to the NATO alliance has offered stability to the continent for over 70 years.

Consequences of Trump’s foreign policy

America’s leadership has been for decades an issue that support by both Democrats and Republicans. The Trump administration seems intended on reducing U.S. footprint globally, at the risk of lessening Washington’s ability to prevent conflicts.

Indeed, Senator Lugar argued that: “The people of the United States and most countries of the world will become poorer and will have to endure more frequent conflict. Solutions to threats that impact us all, including climate change, extreme poverty and hunger, communicable diseases, nuclear proliferation, cyberwarfare, and terrorism will be almost impossible to solve.”

Trump’s foreign policy goals, at times simplistic or reactive, do little to increase the welfare of U.S. citizens. The current administration has conducted a series of ad hoc policy decisions and failed to promote existing alliances and America’s leadership within international institutions.

The use of military power characterized by the recent missile strikes in Syria not only went against Trump campaign platform but also demonstrated the administration’s preference for the use of force over diplomatic action. Senator Lugar acknowledged the necessity of a military as a deterrent against aggression but also pointed out its weaknesses: “we cannot bomb our way to security”.


On trade, Trump has been declaring that America has been taken advantage of by other countries. The loss of jobs, particularly in manufacturing, has been mostly caused by innovation in mechanization and information technology.

After accepting that industry jobs are not likely to return anytime soon, the main challenge remains to deal with these economic dislocations. Senator Lugar stresses the importance of helping retrain workers and connect them to new jobs rather than attempting to isolate a nation from international trade competition.


On immigration, Trump’s administration policies “have been designed for ostentatious symbolism rather than for maximizing U.S. security… wasting both American resources and international good will” contended Senator Lugar.

Senator Lugar offered an example of the adverse effects of recent policies decision. Discussing the ban on entrants to the U.S. from Muslim countries, Lugar judged the policy “the most obvious recruitment tool against the United States since Abu Ghraib.” The senator went on to say that: “The ban has been a steep net loss to U.S. national security.”

Alliances network, stability and development

Trump has created ambiguity about America’s commitment to its European NATO allies. Although it is fair and important to demand greater contributions from some Allied countries, the U.S. should assert its commitment to NATO Article V if the event of a conflict with any of the NATO countries.

This pledge to defend any country member of the alliance has been the main deterrent against the breakout of another major war in Western Europe. In addition, The US navy has ensured freedom of navigation and the respect of international waters around the world.

Senator Lugar concluded by noting some of the positive effects of U.S. involvement had in global stability and development:

“We have helped to rehabilitate enemies like Germany and Japan, and we initiated co-operative threat reduction to help the former Soviet Union protect and destroy the very nuclear arsenal that was once pointed at us. We have helped countries such as South Korea move from extreme poverty to impressive prosperity through our assistance and protection.”

Full transcript of lecture: Andrew Carnegie Distinguished Lecture on Conflict Prevention with Senator Richard G. Lugar

Are you interested in attending the Foreign Policy Association’s next lecture?

What: Foreign influence operations and counterintelligence
Who: William Evanina, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and Charles McGonigal, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Counterintelligence Division for the New York Field Office
When: Tuesday, May 9, 6pm to 8pm
Where: Baruch College
William and Anita Newman Conference Center, Room 750 Baruch College Library
151 E 25th Street
New York, NY

Please click here for more information.



Loic Burton

Loic P. Burton is an analyst at a private intelligence firm. He previously worked as a researcher at NATO Parliamentary Assembly. His areas of interest range from Russian contemporary security issues to political risk in developing countries. He holds a Master in International Relations from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a BA in Economics and Political Science from New York University.