World politics have never been in flux, as it has been during the last few weeks. Thanks to one single individual – Donald Trump, analysts are finding it difficult to explain the contemporary political developments. How can one explain Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, and now disassociating from the G-7 summit statement at the last minute?
Trump’s G-7 Disaster
What happened at Quebec last week with the G-7 summit should be a new low even for Trump. It is not only what had happened during the summit, and the discussions within. Any summit is likely to face challenges; especially the one such as G-7, with diverse countries from both parts of the Atlantic Ocean.
There were serious issues that were needed to be focussed by the G-7 countries; when Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada decided to host the summit in Quebec, he would have never expected that there would be a personal and undiplomatic attack from his neighbour. And what Trump did through his twitter is not acceptable for any decent diplomatic engagement.
It all started even before the G-7 summit, with the issue over tariffs. The Trump slogan “making American great again” has resulted in the US pursuing a protection regime, leading to the imposition of new tariffs. From Canada to China, the US has imposed a series of tariffs, with an objective to protect its domestic economy.
In May, there was a showdown with China on the issue of new tariffs, and Beijing countering the American efforts with China’s own. The same thing happened with some of the other countries as well, including Canada.
What was discussed inside the summit may have been cordial, but the statements that got published in the media says a different story. While responding to the issue of other countries not agreeing to reduce their tariffs on the American items, Trump was quoted saying: “Well, if they retaliate, they're making a mistake. We're like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing. And that ends.”
Are the other countries robbing from the American piggy bank? The language is indeed insulting. But, nothing could be more insulting than those statements he made against Trudeau. Calling the Canadian Prime Minister, the host of the G-7 summit as “very dishonest” and “weak”, Trump’s tweet further deteriorated, when it said: “There is a special place in heaven for @JustinTrudeau.”
Perhaps, with Trump, it is the end of diplomatic niceties, as we have been taught and practised.
The G-7 Summit Over, with newer problems
What was Trump’s endgame at the Quebec summit? What was he trying to achieve? And what has he accomplished in reality?
Later, after the G-7 summit, Trump has also tweeted: “Fair trade is now to be called fool trade if it is not reciprocal… Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on trade anymore. We must put the American worker first!”
Perhaps, he wants rest of the world to reduce tariffs on the American goods and intends to place the American worker first. These are legitimate objectives; but how far will a country go to achieve its objectives, especially, when the other countries also want to do the same?
Trudeau is right. He also has to protect his own interests. So would be France, Germany, UK and Japan. Tariffs have always been a tricky issue at the global level, in any negotiation. Until now, the developed countries, especially the G-7 was playing tough with the developing countries. The latter was at the receiving end, with less bargaining power. Trump’s rude push seems to have divided the G-7 within on the issue of tariffs.
Thus the first significant issue arising out of the G-7 Quebec summit will be the coherence of the countries that are part of the grouping.
The second major issue that the G-7 summit highlights would be the growing difference between the US and the rest. Until now the primary focus has been between the Atlantic allies, primarily referring to the US difference vis-à-vis the European allies – especially, Germany and France. Now the Quebec summit will underline another harsh truth – not everything is well within the allies on the west of the Atlantic.
Canada and the US share a long history. It is just not the long border (that is known for its open nature), but also economy, family, values and foreign policy goals. Trump seems to have shaken everything that forms the foundation of US-Canada relations with his undiplomatic tweet. Trudeau’s response was not harsh, but not subtle either. He said: “As Canadians, we are polite, we’re reasonable, but also we will not be pushed around.” He also said in a statement, “I have made it very clear to the (PS) president that it (imposing tariffs on the US goods) is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do.” Clearly, there is a sharp divide, unless plastered fast and well, it is bound to harm the US-Canadian relations across the board.
More than US-Canada relations, Trump’s response highlight the differences between the trans-Atlantic partners. A group photo taken during the summit that is getting a lot of attraction in the social media says it all, with Trump sitting alone with folded hands, and other leaders (with Merkel, Macron and Abe visible) talking to him.
Never since the end of the Second World War, the trans-Atlantic allies have been politically this far and evident to rest of the world.
The differences between Europe and the US have been expanding exponentially during the recent months. The Paris Summit on Climate Change started it all; Iran and Russia perhaps made it into a full circle. While Trump walking out the Paris Summit was history by now, Iran and Russia are contemporary stories that are still developing.
Just before the summit, Trump wanted to get Russia back into the G-7 fold. He said: “You know, whether you like it or not - and it may not be politically correct - but we have a world to run and in the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in.”
Europe, especially the leading countries – Germany and France, seems to have a harsh view on Russia. Angela Merkel has been quoted to have stated that unless there is progress in Ukraine, Russia cannot be readmitted into the group. The other countries have forced Russia out, ever since Moscow invaded Crimea in 2014.
Ukraine is not the only problem between Europe and Russia; there are a series of pressing issues between the two. Perhaps, Trump didn’t understand the faultlines, or probably did not want to understand it. Apparently, he thought he could bulldoze it through.
Outside Russia, Iran is another major problem between Europe and the US. Especially Germany and France have made a substantial investment in Iran. The nuclear agreement that Iran signed in July 2015, referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was not just between Tehran and Washington. It included China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany and the European Union. Following the 2015 agreement, French and German industries including Airbus and Volkswagen have invested substantially in Iran.
When the US decided to break the JCPOA, it was a unilateral decision. All other countries are opposed to the idea. Not only Trump wants the other countries to follow suit, but also is willing to impose sanctions – if they refused to. This is nothing short of bullying other nations into submission after the US unilaterally withdrawing from an agreement, which was signed by it.
Outside Iran nuclear deal, Trump’s decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem was also not liked by the European allies.
So, are we moving to a new world disorder, engineered by Trump?
The issue is not just between the G-7 and the US. It is about the more significant world order, norm-based and rule-based. Rest of the world has been accusing China of breaking the rules, but the destroyer in chief appears to be Trump and the US.
Connect with the 12 June summit meeting that Trump will have it with Kim Jong-Un. Will the US force rest of the world to follow suit on whatever Trump agrees or disagrees with Kim when they both meet in Singapore?
Is Europe, attempting to pursue an independent foreign policy, outside the US? What will Trump do further, if gets isolated in Europe?
Also, connect the above with what China is doing silently. On the one hand, Beijing is going ahead with its One Belt One Road plan and building economic institutions. China has also been quietly pushing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which also held its summit recently. Except for India, rest of the SCO countries have approved China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the just concluded summit. China’s economy is more significant than most of the G-7, except the US. India is also likely to beat some of the G-7 countries.
May be as the Chinese would say - we are living in interesting times!