Is Trump Abandoning America’s Role as a World Leader?
Ved Nanda is Evans University Professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law. He has taught at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law since 1965. Nanda is past president of the World Jurist Association, former honorary vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the advisory council of the United States Institute of Human Rights.
Is America signaling its retreat from leading the world? Will the new administration’s policies reflect President Donald Trump’s rhetoric during and after the presidential campaign? If so, will this lead to a world economic order led by China, succeeding the U.S. as the new global leader? How will it affect the U.S. pivot to Asia, the Atlantic Alliance, and U.S. relations with the European Union and NATO?
Among Trump’s notable remarks are his declaration that NATO is “obsolete” and Brexit “a great thing,” and his threats to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and impose a 35 percent tariff against Mexico and 45 percent on Chinese goods.
Trump turned his rhetoric into reality by signing on Monday (Jan 23) an executive order withdrawing the United States from the 12-nation TPP, which was a signature achievement of the Obama administration. According to the U.S. Council for International Business, the Asia-Pacific region, accounting for 40 percent of the global economy, is a key market for future growth of U.S. companies — by 2030, two-thirds of all middle-class consumers will be in Asia.
The U.S. withdrawal from TPP, a follow-up to Trump’s “America first” strategy, indicates disengagement in this vital region, creating an economic vacuum which will be filled by China. China is not a party to the agreement but will likely shape the regional economic development and rewrite the international commerce rules, certainly not to U.S. liking.
China’s initiative, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which has 25 African, European and Latin American countries ready to join as new members, evidences its determination to define a global agenda on its terms. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and several leaders of other TPP parties have indicated their intention to pursue the TPP without the U.S., and to open the door to China’s joining it.
What an irony that China’s President Xi Jinping recently championed free trade and globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Trade protectionism,” he said, is like “locking oneself in a dark room.”
With the United States abandoning the TPP, U.S. credibility will be hurt, as we will be seen as an unreliable partner. Several countries in the region, such as Malaysia and the Philippines, have already started seeking closer ties with Beijing, and Cambodia has recently scrapped U.S. military exercises.
Trump’s comments on NATO have also alarmed our European allies. He has attacked NATO because it was not set up to respond to terrorist threats and because our allies are not helping to bear the financial burden fairly. It is worth noting that, after 9/11, NATO members undertook military operations in Afghanistan in pursuance of their commitment under Article V of NATO’s charter, which obliges members to defend one another unconditionally. This commitment has also deterred Russia from aggression in Eastern Europe. Currently, the U.S. share to fund NATO is not necessarily a lion’s share, at about 22 percent, compared to about 15 percent for Germany, 11 for France, 10 for the UK, 8 for Italy, and 7 for Canada.
Led by the U.S. and based upon the values we share — democracy, human rights, free markets, and the rule of law — the Atlantic Alliance has ensured peace, stability and prosperity since the Second World War. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who will be the first foreign leader to officially visit the U.S. to meet Trump, has said she will urge him not to undermine European unity — it is certainly not in our interest to do so. U.S. security and strategic interests lie in a strong and united Europe and a robust NATO.
On the economic front, erecting trade barriers inevitably hurts U.S. consumers. Imposing tariffs, especially on China, is likely to result in retaliation and could trigger a trade war, causing great damage to U.S. jobs and the entire economy.
We need allies and closer cooperation, rather than going at it alone.