When Donald Trump takes the presidential oath of office on Friday, he will have the chance to shape a new foreign policy path for the United States with both China and Russia. (DREW ANGERER/Getty Images)
At noon on Friday in Washington, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. He enters office at a time of dynamic change, not only in U.S. political and economic life but also in the structure of the international system. At this point, how Trump plans to manage and channel changes underway within the United States is somewhat clear, at least in its broad strokes. By comparison, how his administration will approach foreign policy — whether it will follow through on some of Trump's less orthodox suggestions — is unknown. There is, as yet, no Trump Doctrine. There are threads of a worldview, and there is an understanding that Trump is not bound by the same ideological commitments as his immediate predecessors. That means that while Trump will face many of the same political, institutional and geopolitical constraints as outgoing President Barack Obama, he will face them differently and, perhaps, achieve very different ends.
Of the many unanswered questions surrounding foreign policy under Trump, few are more significant than the future of the U.S. relationships with Russia and China. For all its social and economic difficulties, Russia remains a major military power and a key force in the affairs of the world's most strategically significant regions: Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. China has likewise entered a period of economic and political uncertainty marked by slowing economic growth and a political centralization effort under President Xi Jinping. But China has the world's second-largest economy and boasts military forces that are growing increasingly capable. Though China is both much weaker and far more geographically constrained than the United States, it is the only country outside America with a plausible path to regional hegemony in the not-too-distant future. How the Trump administration engages these countries will have important implications for such pressing issues as European fragmentation, the future of NATO, the emergence of a new political order in the Middle East, America's role in the Asia-Pacific and, not least, the fates of the current governments in China and Russia.