Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Present at the Destruction

| June 06, 2018

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, one of the main architects of the American led global system of institutions, rules and alliances after World War II, aptly described this era in his memoirs as “Present at the Creation.” Observing the US role under President Donald Trump, one is inclined to describe it as present at the destruction.

The postwar order that American leadership helped to create was based on multilateralism, liberal trading rules, alliances among democracies, support of European unification and the principle of cooperation among nations while at the same time serving American interests. Donald Trump considers the world to be a jungle without rules, a zero-sum environment where everybody is on his own. Under the motto of “America First” central elements of the postwar order are being challenged or destroyed.

The Trump Administration rejects the multilaterally implemented principle of free trade that had been the basis of the extraordinary growth of the world economy and the dramatic reduction of poverty and instead pushes for a return to bilateral deals, mercantilism, barter trade and protectionism. The US withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, reopened the NAFTA agreement, imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports (which hurt allies in particular) and is further undermining the core of the trading order, the WTO, by bringing the dispute mechanism essential to its functioning to a halt.

Deeply alarmed Western partners of the US find themselves allied to a China that is posing as a protector of free trade although they, not unlike the US, are troubled by the reality of illiberal Chinese practices.

On the two burning global issues of climate change and migration the Trump Administration is in total retreat from international responsibility. Exiting from the Paris Accord Trump takes the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases out of a global agreement, negotiated and signed by the US. By withdrawing from the negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration and harshly opposing   immigration and refugees, America under Trump abstains from a constructive approach to a problem that will profoundly affect global stability in the years to come.

In the political and security realm Trump has abandoned decades of support by Republican and Democratic administrations of European unification as a central element of transatlantic policy and openly supported Brexit, which weakens both Britain and the European Union. His open questioning of the assistance commitment under Article V of the NATO Treaty rattled the Allies, and although the Pentagon’s measures strengthening European defense somewhat reassured them, these actions did not assuage the doubts that America’s commitment to European security is still part of the American national interest as it had been in the past.

But no action has had and will have a more destructive impact than Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran. The JCPOA, an unprecedented triumph of years of diplomatic efforts by the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany as well as the EU, achieved an Iranian commitment to halt any programs that could lead to a nuclear weapon. The agreement did not nor did it intend to address other objectionable elements of Iranian policy such as support of terrorist groups, which Trump used as a pretext to cancel the entire agreement. Neither a European offer to deal with those elements (with apparently 90 percent of a draft agreed upon) nor the personal efforts of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel could stop Trump from breaking the agreement. The consequences are likely to be grave, further destabilizing an already volatile region, undermining the non-proliferation regime and creating unprecedented strains in the American-European relationship.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Present at the Destruction.” METRO U.N., June 6, 2018.

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