Faced by Trump’s protectionist program, Europe must rearm both from a security point of view as well as economically and intellectually.
From the end of the 16th century up to the first decade of the 21st century, Europe gained a strong advantage by inventing the modern state, capitalism and democracy. By 1900, it had managed to dominate 70% of the world population, including emerging nations. In the 20th century, suicidal wars waged in the name of ideologies were counterbalanced by the rise to leadership of the USA which, in 1918, 1945 and 1989, was the force behind the decision to opt for freedom.
Globalization has put an end to the West’s monopoly over capitalism and the world geopolitical system. However, the election of Donald Trump has brought about a definite disruption by accelerating the dewesternization of the world. From a historical viewpoint, the glorification of nationalism and the fallback onto isolationism mean the end of the USA’s universalist ambitions and mark the disintegration of the West.
Aside from protectionsim, Donald Trump’s economic strategy remains ambiguous – a mixture of lower taxes for the rich and higher income for the poor, Keynesian programs of public works and the questioning of social programs such as Obamacare. But his foreign policy remains a complete mystery – “No one knows much about [it],” as Henry Kissinger said. However, underlying Trump’s blunt and contradictory statements, there is one guiding principle and major changes to policies pursued by the USA since 1945.
The principle, summed up in the phrase “America first”, means giving absolute priority to the national interest, equated with economic advantages. With his neo-isolationism, Barack Obama has already distanced himself from the military over-expansion of the Bush administrations. Donald Trump goes much further by breaking with several basic principles of US foreign policy.
The first is free trade, which the USA has encouraged from GATT to the WTO, including the Marshall Plan and community-building. The massive rise in customs tariffs from 10 to 45%, together with the questioning of NAFTA and the TPP, and with the halt in negotiations over the transatlantic market, is ushering in a protectionist cycle.
As well as ending trade agreements, Donald Trump also intends to ring the death knell of multilaterialism and the UN system by denouncing the Paris agreement reached at the end of COP21, which, although it might not destroy the treaty, would entirely wipe out its effect since the USA is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The third turnaround is that Donald Trump has declared as obsolete and outdated the strategic alliances which have underpinned the unity and defense of democracies against totalitarianism in the past and against the démocratures [= a combination of democracy and dictatorship] and the Jihadism of the present day. He is threatening to leave the UN and to repatriate his 80,000 soldiers in Japan and South Korea if the allies do not contribute more to the cost of their safety, whilst at the same time he plans to increase military expenditure by 5%. FInally, because of economic interests, Donald Trump wants to favor pragmatic relationships with regimes ruled by strong leaders – China under Xi Jinping, Russia under Vladimir Putin, Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt under Marshal Al-Sissi. This can be seen as an extension of the business relationship between the Trump Organization with the Dogan Group (close to Erdogan) and with the oligarch Pavel Fuks, a devotee of Putin.
Even if Congress and the Washington civil service tone down these policies, this swing to protectionism and isolationism is sending out a political signal which will have major consequences. Coming after Brexit, it is ushering in an era of deglobalization which will lead to the formation of economic blocs and regional policies. It will deal the final blow to the US “Empire”, already mortally wounded by George Bush when he lost control of the bubble economy and lost successive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
US isolationism is a powerful force that worsens world instability. Europe must take this into account. It can benefit from this new situation if it manages to resist the ravages of populism by affirming itself as a stable destination for international investment and as a favored base for all entrepreneurs, talents and brains in search of security and liberty.
Europe must think of itself as a power and organize itself as such. At a time when strong leaders are making a comeback, leadership in itself is seen in a bad light: the Franco-German partnership and the European Commission must therefore be put back into working order. Being protectionist in a free trade world means cutting oneself off from growth; but remaining in favor of free trade in a protectionist world is suicidal. Europe must anticipate the American turnaround by achieving the full benefits of its internal market. More than ever before there will be no freedom without the ability to defend oneself. And Europe can no longer count on any guarantee of security from Donald Trump’s USA. It is crucial to rearm immediately, both from a security point of view as well as economically and intellectually.
Toqueville said, ”freedom cannot be established wihout morality, nor morality without faith”. With the election of Donald Trump, the USA has divorced itself from morality and faith, threatening the freedom that it has rescued on three occasions in the 20th century. Europe has depended for too long on the USA and on a Western solidarity that is now obsolete, and must now fully asume the responsibility for, and the duties of, its democracy.
(Column published in Le Point, 17th November 2016)