The recent Hamburg G20 Summit was yet another setting where all eyes were on Trump. And in contrast to recent Summits, journalists, especially American journalists, had all eyes focused laser-like on the German Summit and in particular on the first public meeting of President Trump and Russia’s President Putin. It was all great spectacle!
Fortunately, I had the good luck to have the opportunity to sit down with with Janice Stein, the founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs to assess the liberal international order following the Hamburg G20 Summit. Janice and I had the chance to examine Trump’s actions: to evaluate the impact on allies and adversaries, Trump policy in the Middle East, North Korea and of course Trump’s behavior with Putin.
Come and listen to this Global Summitry podcast with Janice Stein, Episode 13, in the continuing series on ‘Shaking the Global Order: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump.’
So, I was struck almost immediately by the headline in the Atlantic blog on the Hamburg G20. It turns out that the post was by my good friend Tom Wright from Brookings. The headline – “The G20 is Obsolete”. Just as I thought but so soon after Hamburg!
Tom’s defense – when I caught him – he didn’t write the headline, which I suspect is perfectly true – but really. At least a protest!
My only immediate reposte -“you had better hope not” that is at least with respect to the conclusion. Now, Tom generally edges to the realist side when examining the liberal internationalist order, but I was surprised by the vehemence. Take this line:
But the divisions in the G20 run far deeper than frustration with Trump: The body itself is a vestige of a world that no long exists.
Whoa. That’s strong!
I suspect we’ll hear, once the dust settles a little on the chaos of the G20 Hamburg Summit, a litany of allegations that the Hamburg Summit reveals the irrelevance of the G20 in the Age of Trump. Au contraire my ‘ill-observant friends’.That is certainly not the conclusion one should draw from this most recent G20 Summit, even in the ‘Age of Trump’.
There is likely to be varying views of the progress arising from the Hamburg Summit. Our colleague Jonathan Luckhurst at Rising Powers in Global Governance posted a blog titled, “Hamburg G20 Summit Reaffirms Decentralizing Global Authority”.
We are beginning to understand the consequences of an ‘America First’ leadership of the Global Order. And to just about any observer of it, it isn’t pretty. As we wait here today for President Trump’s announcement on the Paris Accord – and whether he pulls the United States officially out or not –the US is surely out at least for the next four years.
The retreat of US leadership from the Liberal international order continues. Maybe the most startling recent statement actually comes from two Trump officials. In an opinion piece in WSJ assessing the success of Trump’s first overseas trip to the Middle East, to NATO and to the G7 in Italy, H.R. McMaster, the White House national security advisor and D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, described the America First view of the Global Order:
The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.
Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy is only very slowly being revealed. But this week will see an important addition. On Thursday and Friday President Trump will be meeting China’s President Xi Jinping. This meeting represents a crucial first meeting of the leaders though we have seen Secretary of State Tillerson in Beijing recently. But Tillerson remains an enigma and it is not at all clear that he has the ‘ear ‘ of President Trump. This week we will see Donald Trump at the center of American foreign policy making with arguably the most relationship in the global order.
We have been working hard at the Global Summitry Project to chronicle and evaluate the impact of Trump on the Liberal Order. Much of our effort can be seen at the Oxford’s journal, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance. The Journal is a partnership of the Munk School and the Rotman Management School. I am one of the Senior Editors there. We have just launched a new podcast series – ‘Shaking the Global Order: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump. Our first podcast episode, this an interview with Rory MacFarquhar a former Obama official, has just appeared. In celebration of the series, we have added the podcasts to iTunes and Soundcloud. Also, take a look at our analysis of Trump foreign policy: “Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy that its impact on the Liberal Order” that just recently appeared at the OUPBlog,
Where will Trump take the United States? And where will he take the Liberal Order? It remains an open question. Former Prime UK Minister, Tony Blair writing recently in the NYT about the politics of the centre and the challenges and pressures being experienced to both centre right and centre left parties raised the key issue:
The question is, will this be a temporary phase, perhaps linked to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and Sept. 11, and will politics soon revert to normal, or has a new political age begun?
With the change in US Administrations we face possibly the most dramatic change in US foreign policy since the end of World War II. The global leader has seemingly become the rogue seeking dramatic change in the Liberal Order the US has as much or more responsibility for over the last seventy years plus.
As has quickly become clear, however, we do not know if President’s Trump rhetoric of the campaign will be followed by actions matching the rhetoric. There is some reason to think that his and his administration’s actions will not match some of the more highly nationalist expressions of his ‘America First’ rhetoric. One need only look at Trump’s early statements and actions on China – phoning the Taiwan President, then questioning the ‘One China Policy’ only to reaffirm the policy in a call with China President Xi Jinping – to raise questions even doubts over the election rhetoric. But even without dramatic foreign policy actions it is not hard to see Trump and his Administration as possibly the greatest challenge to the Liberal Order that any of us have witnessed.
I will be periodically examining US foreign policy, and the policy toward the Liberal Order it and by key actors -supporters and detractors alike – hoping to assess the impact of the policies and actions on the Liberal Order. The first entry is the piece I was invited to post at the US-China Focus website. There will be others. In addition, as Senior Editor of Oxford’s Global Summitry: Politics, Economics, and Law in International Governance, I intend to post a series of podcast interviews with experts and former officials on: ‘Shaking the Global Order: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump’. I will back to you on additional posts and the podcast series.
Image Credit: abcnews.go.com
It is evidently a result of the distemper of our immediate circumstances – brought on by President-Elect Donald Trump about to become President of the United States – that my colleagues are not unreasonably contemplating alternatives to the current Liberal Order. Being apocalyptic is in; optimism out. As my Cornell colleague and political economist friend, Jonathan Kirshner recently wrote in an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
And so the election of Trump will come to mark the end of the international order that was built to avoid repeating the catastrophes of the first half the twentieth century, and which did so successfully — horrors that we like to imagine we have outgrown. It will not serve us well.
We have lost, we are lost. Not an election, but a civilization. Where does that leave us? I think the metaphor is one of (political) resistance.
So it appears just about everyone has joined in. There are of course insightful views of the current global order from some of my IR colleagues, including but not limited to by Thomas Wright at Brookings or Joe Nye at Harvard. But it would appear that many others have joined in as well. And it is understandable. The rise of populist forces, especially in Europe, the surprise election of Donald Trump in the United States and the continuing global economic slowdown, the decline in trade and the incomplete recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 leave an attractive political and economic landscape to contemplate the future of the global order,
This is not to suggest that folks other than my IR colleagues don’t have the necessary insights to assess the implications of current actions and events. Many do. For there is after all a need to assess the political actions, the military capabilities and the economic trends in the global order. And it remains, after all, that it it is still unclear how to determine great power capability, power and dominance. Depending on who you read, it is all about military assets; others suggest it is economic capability; and still others introduce soft power aspects as well. Thus, it is probably not very surprising that as well known an economist as Nouriel Roubini finds he is able to analyze the ‘disorder’ presented by recent events. As he declares in a recent Project Syndicate article :
Donald Trump greets supporters during his election night rally in Manhattan.
There is no doubt today about the threat to the Liberal Order. For decades we thought the the greatest threat to the Liberal Order was posed by those outsiders, the bad Russians, Mao’s China, other authoritarian adversaries.
But we were wrong!
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States poses the greatest challenge yet to the Liberal Order the United States and its allies built after World War II. Gideon Rachman in the FT , yesterday, November 8th, expressed it well:
Mr Trump’s proposed policies threaten to take an axe to the liberal world order that the US has supported and sustained since 1945. In particular, he has challenged two of the main bipartisan principles that underpin America’s approach to the world. The first is support for an open, international trading system. The second is the commitment to the US-led alliances that underpin global security.