It was once conventional wisdom in Washington that the prospect of assuming command of US foreign relations would force Donald Trump to tone down the shoot-from-the-hip style of his campaign.
Instead, undaunted, he has ploughed on as before, breaking diplomatic taboos, trampling on the prerogatives of the sitting president and unsettling America’s friends and foes alike.
As his January 20 inauguration approaches, in a near daily stream of unexpected Twitter outbursts and brief statements from his transition team, he has shaken up several delicate diplomatic dossiers.
On Thursday, Trump launched a solo bid to restart the Cold War arms race, Tweeting: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
His team of advisers scrambled to insist he was not about to reverse Washington’s long-standing but slow-moving commitment to arms reduction and non-proliferation treaties.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Israel spotted a threat: A motion is before the United Nations Security Council to condemn its building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Who does it turn to?
Traditionally, the United States has shielded Israel from UN criticism, but all the signs are that Obama – frustrated at the failure of the Middle East peace process – is tempted to abstain on the latest resolution. In jumps Donald Trump.
At Isael’s request, Trump persuaded Egypt to withdraw the motion from Thursday’s order of business. Four more countries brought it back on Friday, and it was no clear what the United States would do. But Trump has made his own position clear.
“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the UN.”
There can few more delicate relationships in international affairs than that between the two greatest powers, glowering at each other over the Pacific, the United States and China.
For four decades Washington’s stance towards the Asian giant has been determined by the framework agreed by president Richard Nixon on his famous opening to Beijing: “One China.”
So, while Washington arms Taiwan and enjoys treaty alliances with the South East Asian nations that dispute China’s claim on the South China Sea, it does not overtly challenge Beijing’s core interests.
Throughout his campaign, Trump expressed sympathy for the idea of warmer ties with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, while calling for Moscow and Washington to work together to defeat the Islamic State jihadist group.
He has picked a national security adviser and a secretary of state who know the Kremlin strongman personally, and he has attacked US intelligence for daring to suggest that Russian hackers tried to interfere in the US election.
On Friday, his reward came in the form of a “very nice” letter from Putin, suggesting closer ties.