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After the G7 – the Turnaround in American Politics Takes Shape

After the G7 – the Turnaround in American Politics Takes Shape
 Michel Duclos
Special Advisor and Resident Senior Fellow - Geopolitics and Diplomacy

Termination of the nuclear agreement with Iran in early May, introduction of new commercial tariffs, the chaotic G7 summit in Charlevoix and finally the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un: perhaps the  sequence of events which might one day crystallize Donald Trump’s foreign policy. 

Of course, there had previously been decisions to leave the Paris climate agreement, to denounce the transpacific free trade treaty or to renegotiate NAFTA. There had been various stormy meetings with allies too, but now, a new level was reached in Washington's defiant attitude towards the rest of the world and in the deterioration of the transatlantic relationship. 

  • On the JCPOA, the Americans are not content to just leave the agreement as they did for the climate, this time they are looking to twist the arms of Europeans and other countries so that they stop trading with Iran. 
  • On the trade front, the US administration has moved from threats to the implementation of hostile measures while challenging the World Trade Organization (WTO). 
  • And with the G7, Mr Trump has gone beyond limits to show contempt for both America's historic allies and the mechanisms of international cooperation

“Trump sees hereditary dictator, America's enemy in a more favorable light than Canadian Prime Minister."

The show of contempt has been underlined by the Singapore summit, where Mr Trump sees the  hereditary dictator,  America's enemy, in a more favorable light than the Canadian Prime Minister.  President Trump now seems to have found his style in foreign policy: he shamelessly expresses whatever goes through his head, he ignores the strong historical ties and the content of his files, he personalizes everything to the extreme. He only trusts his instinct and believes that in the end, everything is settled by personal contacts at the highest level.

The one person who can rejoice in the crystallization of Trumpian diplomacy, is President Putin.  In reluctantly going to Quebec, Mr Trump wanted Russia to be reintegrated into what was previously the G8. It never occurred to him that Russia was not really a market economy, nor was it a large economy, let alone a democracy. He fails to see that Russia was expelled from the G8 because it invaded the Ukraine and annexed Crimea. As for Mr Putin, he clearly showed that he was not particularly keen to regain his place among the most advanced economies, instead he was in a seaside resort in southern China, where the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit - China, Russia, four Central Asian states and, more recently, Pakistan and India - was meeting. Mr Rouhani, the Iranian President, was the guest of honor at the summit. Unlike the implosion of the G7, everything went smoothly in the world at OCS. Mr Xi took the opportunity to reinforce his commitment to an open international economy. Mr Putin and his colleagues supported the nuclear agreement with Iran and called for peace solutions in the Middle East.

"Mr Putin has much to celebrate. Mr Trump has begun a process of weakening the institutions that have made the Western world strong."

However, we should not attach too much importance to the SCO, the main purpose of which is to manage the potential rivalries of its members. As with the BRICS meetings (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) a few years ago, the SCO served in this case to highlight the limits of the G7, which has become, to use the expression, to hit the nail on the head, the G6+1. Beyond this episode, however, Mr Putin has cause to rejoice. Trump began a process of weakening the institutions that have made the Western world strong. As the Financial Times wrote, a G7-1 is likely to be a G0 in practice, given the pre-eminence of the US economy in the Western world. In addition, a knock on effect of the G7 disaster can be expected on Western security institutions. A NATO summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 11 and 12 July. How will President Trump behave there? Now that he has tasted the intoxication of a summit with a dictator, isn’t the prospect of a meeting with Vladimir Putin more or less inevitable? Trump's policy extends beyond Obama's policy of withdrawal from its responsibilities in the world, but more brutally and by adding a reversal against U.S. allies: "You will be less protected, you will have to pay more, and we do not rule out getting along with our traditional enemies rather than with you.

Without really having to do any work, the Russians now see their traditional dream of decoupling Europe from the US come true. In Asia, Mr Trump's policy may in fact have even more profound effects than on the Old Continent. Mr Xi's China is a very different animal from Mr Putin's Russia.Strategic thinking circles in Washington, believe that the Russian logic is to contest the international order, whereas the Chinese would prefer to operate within it: they are indeed certain of being able to become the dominant actor in a near future. This analysis has its limitations. For example, by projecting its soft power through its "silk roads", China is in fact imposing its own rules to the game, without considering those of the Bretton Woods institutions. 
In the daily practice of its foreign policy, there is no indication from China, despite the rhetoric of its leaders on trade and climate, that it is prepared to assume a share of responsibility for the world's major problems in line with its economic power. Above all, in its own region, China is clearly seeking to establish a zone of influence and is increasing its military capabilities considerably to that end. The lesson that will be learned from the Singapore summit by Japanese, Taiwanese and even South Korean leaders - as well as by many others in Asia - will be that the US security guarantee becomes more elusive, and the threat of a Chinese hegemony becomes more real.

"So far, European leaders, each in their own style, have tried to 'manage' the challenge posed by Mr Trump's policy by a'flattery' strategy."

But won't all this be counterbalanced by a severe confrontation between China and Trump's America? We can actually doubt it. Chinese leaders are capable of defusing the escalation of tension with Washington on the commercial front. They have many assets to do this, as we witnessed with the ZTE case, the Chinese company that the American president, at his discretion exempted from the sanctions that his circumvention of American laws justified. They will be all the more encouraged because, precisely, their interest is to fully exploit the geopolitical opportunities offered by the reversal of American policy. Their game could therefore be to resist Trump by finding a modus vivendi, or a series of modus vivendi, with him.

Until now, European leaders, each in their own style, have tried to "manage" the challenge posed by Mr Trump's policy by using a "flattery" strategy (towards the President) as they say in Washington. The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Abe, had zealously practiced the same approach, even on the golf greens. The day after the G7, they must surely realize that they have largely failed. Only the South Korean President, Mr Moon, seemed to have scored points in this “flattery” register, since the Singapore meeting initially fulfilled his wishes. However, it seems that the results of the summit with Kim do not correspond at all to what he expected. It is urgent that America's allies and friends completely re-think their approach to Trump, first of all by becoming aware of the extent of the reversal that the President of the United States is printing on the fundamentals of US policy in the world. They would be wrong to speculate on the possibility - real, of course, but not certain - that ropes of recall, on the internal level perhaps even more than on the international level, will limit the forces and impulses of the current head of the White House. As The Economist rightly notes, it is possible that the new American line will at least initially achieve apparent success. Europeans in particular should see in the new context not an additional element of the existential crisis they are collectively going through, but a compelling reason to overcome it. If Europe needed a reason to exist, in an era of disillusionment among its peoples, Donald Trump has just offered it.

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