After the recent G7 summit in Quebec, there can no longer be any doubt that theÂ West is in crisis. Yes, âWesternâ countries have often pursued divergent foreign policies (as illustrated by theÂ Iraq War), and âthe Westâ is itself a vague concept. But it is one that rests on a set of common ideological pillars, which are now crumbling under the weight of US President Donald Trumpâs âAmerica Firstâ agenda.
Trump and his coreligionistsâ incessantÂ slanderingÂ of allies â âwe cannot let our friends take advantage of usâ â is leaving its mark. Putting aside his apparently unconditional support for Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump seems prepared to destroy the essential strategic understanding that the US has long maintained vis-Ã -vis its allies.
Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for the US toÂ refuse to signÂ a joint G7 communiquÃ©. Nor would anyone have thought that an American administration could attack a Canadian leader using theÂ languageÂ that Trump and his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, recentlyÂ directedÂ at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
After his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore, TrumpÂ insistedÂ that he has a âgood relationshipâ with Trudeau. Yet he hastened to add that he also has âa very good relationship with Chairman Kim right now.â Suggesting that US relations with these two leaders are comparable is not just clumsy; it is absolutely foolish, and reflects a chilling lack of perspective on Trumpâs part.
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If bad manners were the only issue with the Trump administration, we could all rest easier. But that administration is also pursuing concrete policies that are undercutting Americaâs most important alliances. The US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and the European Union made reaching a consensus at the recent G7 summit all but impossible.
Trumpâ tariffs will hurt not only foreign exporters, but alsoÂ US workers and firmsÂ in sectors that depend on steel and aluminum inputs. Yet Trump seems impervious to facts and economic logic. To justify his self-defeating policies, he cherry picks isolated cases such as Canadaâs high tariffs on dairy products, presenting them without anyÂ context, while overlooking the fact that AmericaâsÂ weighted average tariff rateÂ is actually higher than that of the EU, Japan, and Canada.
While the G7 summit was descending into mutual recrimination, another highly significant meeting was taking place on the other side of the world. In the Chinese city of Qingdao, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization â comprising China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan â was holding its annual summit. And as the Communist Party of Chinaâs main official newspaperÂ took pleasure in noting, the encounter between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin was far more cordial than the one between Trump and the other G7 leaders.
Understandably, Trump drew additional fire at the G7 summit when heÂ suggestedÂ that the group readmit Russia, which was kicked out after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Still, he was touching on something that can no longer be ignored: the excessive compartmentalization of geopolitical clubs. The fragmentation of global governance is likely to prove increasingly unfavorable to Western interests. Rather than recede toward isolation and diminished influence on the world stage, Western leaders should expand the scope and scale of cooperation in the search for solutions to global problems. To that end, they should promote forums for dialogue â such as the G20 â that bring together todayâs major powers.
But Trumpâs conciliatory approach toward Russia faces tall hurdles. Putinâs foreign policy has become increasingly hostile to Western security arrangements, and Trumpâs relationship with the Kremlin has given rise to serious concerns, domestically and internationally. This has been exacerbated by his arrogance toward Americaâs European allies.
To be sure, afterÂ some hesitation, Trump did affirm his commitment to NATOâs mutual-defense clause last year. But that doesnât mean tensions have dissipated: Trump has continued to demand that other NATO members increase their military spending. What Trump doesnât seem to understand is that such spending increases would go not toward theÂ NATO budgetÂ or towardÂ payingÂ America for its protection, but rather toward enhancing each countryâs ownÂ defense capabilities.
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In fact, the EU has already established the so-calledÂ Permanent Structured CooperationÂ to increase security and defense resources and use them in a collective â and thus more efficient â manner. The Trump administration should welcome such measures. And yet it seems toÂ respond with skepticismÂ to every joint initiative that the EU launches.
During the 2016 US presidential campaign, TrumpÂ supportedÂ the United Kingdomâs bid to withdraw from the EU. Since taking office, his administration has not hesitated to weaken the bloc whenever it can. Just a few days ago, Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany,Â saidÂ that he is working to âempower other conservatives in Europeâ â a clear departure from diplomatic protocol. Of course, the Europeans whom Trump and Grenell would support are not really conservatives, but reactionaries. Their goal is to reverse the progress that we Europeans have made in advancing our shared project.
Trump evidently feels more comfortable when he can engage with other countries bilaterally. It is little wonder that the EU â a bastion of multilateralism â is not to his liking. But Europe and America have always been most successful when they have supported each other, while operating within a framework of institutions based on shared norms. Trumpâs preference for a divide-and-rule strategy produces a game that will create only losers, beginning with the West and ending with the world at large.
âRepublication forbidden. Copyright: Project Syndicate 2018 The Western Crack-Up