Power-grabbing diplomacy is undermining the USA’s influence throughout the world.
Donald Trump, instead of heading for the Nobel Peace Prize, has had to put off the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, planned for 12th June, which was supposed to end with a peace treaty and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, because there was too great a risk of its turning into a fiasco. The risk was increased by the cold reaction of North Korea to Mike Pence’s statements that promised that, if the North Korean dictator weren’t more conciliatory, he would meet the same end as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi. There could No argument could have been better if one had wanted to persuade him to maintain his arsenal of nuclear and ballistic weaponry.
Furthermore, it is become increasingly obvious that Kim Jong-un was coming to these crucial negotiations from a position of strength. His avowed objective was not to give up atomic weapons but rather to firmly reintegrate North Korea into the international community and have sanctions lifted on recognition of its status as a nuclear power. To underpin this objective, Pyongyang ensured it had the support of China and Russia and launched a charm offensive on South Korea during the Seoul Olympics followed by meetings with President Moon Jae-in on 27th April and 26th May. Finally, the closure of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, which had been severely damaged during the latest test program, crowned the regime’s PR campaign underlining its desire for openness.
On the other hand, on the American side, Donald Trump’s capricious remarks and shilly-shallying, amplified by the chaos that abounds in Washington, have made it impossible to define US objectives or any credible means of bringing about an agreement with Pyongyang – which has never fulfilled any commitments made in the past with regard to the international community. The main Asian allies of the USA – Japan and South Korea – were not consulted, and were highly concerned at the prospect of a bargain being made: the removal of intercontinental missiles aimed at the USA in exchange for approval of the formidable arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles which were a direct threat to them; and the prospect of the withdrawal of 28,500 American soldiers stationed on the Korean front line, which would leave the door open to Chinese hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region.
Donald’s Trump’s muddled withdrawal underlines the disastrous nature of his foreign policy. For someone who has always presented himself as the supreme deal-maker, he has turned out to be a serial deal-breaker. Incapable of building anything up, he makes do with pulling things down.
This is what has happened with the Transpacific Partnership which aimed to box in China’s economy and trade and which the USA, aware of the enormity of its strategic error, is seeking in vain to rejoin. There has been a similar withdrawal from the December 2015 Paris agreement on climate, giving over environmental leadership to China, which is only too eager to promote the priorities outlined in its 2025 Made in China plan. The same has happened with the July 2015 Vienna agreement on Iranian nuclear power, which, instead of leading to new negotiations, is causing oil prices to rise – thereby putting global recovery at risk – and causing dangerous military escalation in the Middle East. And the same goes for the destabilization of multilateral institutions, undermining the world order set up in 1945 based on Western principles and underwritten by the USA, thus playing into the hands of the démocratures [a combination of democracy and dictatorship], and speeding up Beijing’s chances in its race to gain world leadership.
On the other hand, nothing has been finalized with regard to resetting the ALENA agreement, and the trade war with China is turning to Beijing’s advantage given the effects on business and employment in the USA of measures taken in the fields of steel and technology, as in the case of the fool’s bargain which has meant sanctions against ZTE being suspended in exchange for extra imports of American agricultural products and the authorization of Qualcomm’s takeover of NXP.
For the moment, the results of Donald Trump’s diplomacy have been disastrous. As far as values are concerned, his contempt for institutions and international law as well as his deference to strong leaders give legitimacy to the démocratures. As far as interests are concerned, global recovery has been compromised by rising interest rates, soaring oil prices and protectionism, which cannot fail to affect the USA. At the same time, the world is becoming a more dangerous place; American leadership tools, which have been consolidated for over a century, are being systematically dismantled; the USA’s main allies – Europe, Japan and South Korea – are being targeted by trade sanctions (South Korea for steel and Germany for cars). They have been abandoned strategically by the destabilization of guarantees of security based on wide-ranging deterrents, and have been diplomatically humiliated.
Donald Trump’s claim to put deal-making on a pedestal is being limited to internal policy, dominated by inherent populism, to the detriment of the USA’s long-term interested. This goes hand in hand with a vendetta against the State Department, equated with the Washington elite, whose budget has been cut by a third. The unprecedented brain drain that has resulted explains why American diplomacy today no longer has the skills needed to undertake such complex strategic negotiations as those that are coming up with North Korea.
Power-grabbing diplomacy does no service to US power; on the contrary, its lack of coherence undermines the USA’s influence througout the world: violation of international law together with criticism of countries who do not abide by the rule of law; withdrawal from the Transpacific Partnership together with trade sanctions against Beijing; withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement together with the pseudo-denuclearization of North Korea; strikes against the Damascus regime together with the withdrawal of troops from Syria; a rearmament program which plans an investment of 1,200 billion dollars on modernization together with the desire to make Iran and North Korea give up atomic weapons. Under Donald Trump’s leadership, America is not making a comeback; it is putting the country out of the game that is being played in the 21st century – a time when China is taking the central position.
(Column published in Le Point, 31st May 2018)