Where to from ‘America First’
The western cohesion is eroding. It is constantly weakened by the acts of the current leader of the very power that derives most benefit from its continuation. Although sounding contradictory, it nevertheless is true. Any first year political science undergraduate would easily recognize that it is the United States that benefits most from the continuation of the existing international system, which it helped to create in the first place and kept it running for more than 50 years. Yet, every action and pronouncement of U.S. President Donald Trump since he took over the White House 18 months ago undermines it.
The latest rift within the western countries emerged during the G7 Summit that took place on June 8-9 in Quebec, Canada. The 44th Summit of the seven most developed countries of the world was expected to witness by many a sort of showdown between Trump and his interlocutors as a result of his decision a week before to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from not only China, which accounts for the biggest U.S. trade deficit, but also its traditional allies and partners, the EU, Mexico, and Canada. All the effected countries wowed to respond in kind. The prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was especially candid, which got him a tit-for-tat with Trump over Twitter.
Although Canada wanted to use the summit to promote issues important to the Trudeau administration, such as strengthening the middle class, advancing gender equality, fighting climate change, etc., other countries were not much interested; and Trump’s “America First” rhetoric had ruptured the usual consensual build-up to such summits. With his words and deeds, Trump has torn up the existing consensuses from trade rules to climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
Nevertheless, the leaders arriving in Quebec thought that they had a deal on summit communiqué with bare minimums until the late arriving Trump attacked Trudeau personally and withdrew the U.S. from the consensus before leaving a day early to fly to Singapore to meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un. Before leaving the bewildered leaders behind, he also managed to threaten to cut off trade with countries that treats the U.S. unfairly, and called for Russia’s reinstatement to the summit.
Leaving the G7 in disarray, Trump met with Kim Jong Un on June 12 to sign a Joint Statement, which talked about security guarantees to North Korea, and the establishment of peaceful relations and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with grandiose wording, but without much substance. Besides hyperbole, no clear steps were mentioned regarding the issues at hand. It seemed that, while providing international legitimacy to North Korea that Kim had long been seeking, Trump got his peacemaker image on TV but not much else. Obviously there was no final deal, and not even direct talk on denuclearization of North Korea, but Trump said to the press afterwards that he would gladly and definitely invite Kim to the White House.
Both deepening of the fracture within G7 and the western alliance, as well as travelling untested ground with North Korea are results of Trump’s “America first” policy. Whether it will eventually lead to a new international system with more countries sharing the burden and be equally responsible for its continuation, or would only bring the end of U.S. global leadership with accusations of unreliability as an ally is open to debate. What is certain is that Trump has opened the bottle and let the genie out. We will have to live and see the results. My only hope is that Trump’s sort of unilateralism will not lead to international chaos, worldwide protectionism and trade wars, which would inevitably end in economic depression and eventually real wars if unchecked.