Foreign policy and international relations are vital topics that often seem too abstract to capture the attention of American voters. But with President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban tied up in court, and news of rocky encounters with world leaders, global issues are dominating the headlines.
Four of UMass Boston’s faculty experts analyzed the early days of Trump’s foreign policy at a Tuesday roundtable co-sponsored by the McCormack Graduate School and the College of Liberal Arts. The event followed last week’s domestic policy discussion.
Leila Farsakh, an associate professor of political science specializing in the Middle East, analyzed Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations and refugee resettlement from any country.
“The ban really concerns seven countries that are not of major interest to the United States,” including several that do not present major security concerns, Farsakh said. “It’s just a way of saying ‘we’re doing something against these Muslim countries.’”
She also suggested cultural tensions may have played a larger role in the ban than did security concerns.
“The issue of Islamophobia is going to be a key issue in international relations and domestic politics,” Farsakh said.
Stacy VanDeveer, professor of conflict resolution, human security, and global governance, said the nascent Trump administration has not demonstrated the consistency and predictability that is coveted by other nations.
“Imagine negotiating one-on-one with your partners or your parents or anyone else, and they constantly change both what they believe, what they say they are for or against, and what they say you said. And that is the situation in which we find ourselves in international security politics and trade politics," VanDeveer said.
Maria Ivanova, director of the Center for Governance and Sustainability and the Global Environmental Governance Project, said despite Trump’s early impulsiveness, the United States has a strong incentive to maintain its participation in international institutions such as the United Nations and the Paris Agreement.
“These institutions that govern our interstate relations were created by this country in its own interests. It really was the United States that created the United Nations,” she said, arguing that the UN helps preserve global order and also provides billions in economic benefits to New York, where it is based.
As for the climate-change accord reached last year, Ivanova said there’s “strong pressure” not to pull out of the deal.
“The Paris agreement committed the United States to an energy-efficient, low-carbon economy that is in the interest of everybody," she said.
Sripad Motiram, associate professor of economics, said this election drew attention to some issues underemphasized in presidential politics.
“I’ve never seen immigration and trade become such hot topics in the U.S. election,” Motiram said.
Whatever a voter’s political preferences, Ivanova says the recent political turmoil gives Americans an opportunity to re-engage in civic life.
“The strongest and the most durable force is apathy, and we have been lulled into apathy and complacency as consumers for a very long time,” she said. “And I actually see the silver lining in the outcomes we have witnessed recently, because we now have the opportunity to become citizens again.”